The streets of Manhattan had a rigorous ambiance that Monday evening. People were rushing home from work, robustly conversing on their cell phones in expensive suits, loading trucks and delivering food on bikes.
I came from Central New Jersey to attend a Theology on Tap in Connolly’s Irish Pub on West 45th Street. The topic was “The Shroud of Turin, the Case for Authenticity,” given by John Ionne, an expert on the shroud.
Ionne explained how physicists, and other experts who have examined the shroud, have pointed out certain characteristics regarding the impression of a man upon the burial cloth, characteristics for which no common explanation suffices. The impression appears to be made by the radiance of light that passed through the cloth. Ionne reminded the audience of times when Jesus resonated some kind of “light” or “power” like at the Transfiguration, or when the woman with a hemorrhage touched him and was healed, and Jesus was “immediately aware that power had gone forth from him” (Mark 5:30).
It’s easy to think of these stories metaphorically, and indeed, that is one of the senses of Scripture, but these signs in the Gospels point to a more literal reality that the shroud further confirms. There’s no other way to describe the impression of a man on this ancient burial cloth except to say that it is made by some kind of clairvoyant energy or light passing through the cloth.
It’s not blood marks (although blood marks are there as well). It isn’t any kind of oil from the skin. The shroud can’t be from the Middle Ages, as some radiocarbon dating studies suggest, because there was no technology capable of creating such an effect at that time. It’s a negative impression like that of a photograph, which forms an image from light passing through a lens. If Jesus did rise from the dead, the evidence suggests that the Shroud he left behind would look just the way it does.
The shroud is but one example of the phenomenon of Christianity. More than just a religion, it is the historical fact that something happened that goes beyond our rhetoric, something we cannot make sense of yet we have to since we cannot disprove the overwhelming evidence. God became man and rose from the dead, and all our understandings of that reality failed us. For the early Christians, the only logical thing to do was to accept what their senses and the facts of history told them, admit that their rationality has its limitations and accept the reality of the Incarnation and Resurrection in faith.
For centuries after Christ’s Resurrection, the greatest minds in the West pondered over these mysteries and did not exactly solve them. Commentaries on Scripture dominated literature, religious communities – in fact entire civilizations – were built upon the teachings of Christ because it was clear to the people of the day that God had come to show them how to live, so why should anyone bother talking about or living for anything else?
Over the past several hundred years, Western Civilization has simply been distracted. We’ve invested our time and efforts in secular philosophies, the sciences and other humanistic affairs. We’ve for the most part lost touch with the subject matter that the Church fathers wrestled with, that is: How in the world do we reconcile what happened in the life of Jesus with our understandings of reality?
Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the father. … Believe me that I am in the father and the father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves” (John 14:9-11). We often think this verse is referring to just the miracles recorded in the Gospels. But the miracles have continued past Jesus’ ascension. There’s a reason why the Congregation for the Cause for Saints requires two miracles before declaring someone a saint. The “works themselves” have carried on into our own age.
So why are we no longer baffled by the testimony of the Gospels and history itself?
As I left Connolly’s and returned to the streets of New York, I wondered what life would be like if our prosperous society let the phenomenal Christian story hold sway in academia, the media and beyond. It’s fair to say that our mission as Catholics cannot be understated. We still need to witness to the fact that the great epic of Christianity is as true as historical events can be.
David Kilby is a freelance writer for The Monitor. He attends St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Marlton, and writes for www.ramblingspirit.com.