This May, I will have the blessing and privilege of co-hosting a tour to the Shroud of Turin exhibit in Italy.
Catholic author and speaker Steve Ray, his wife, Janet, and I will be leading three busloads of very eager Catholic pilgrims to the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, where the shroud has resided since 1578 and will be on exhibit for 44 days from April 10 to May 23.
That’s why I was so excited about being able to attend a seminar given in my area recently by a well-known shroud expert, Russ Breault (www.shroudencounter.com).
I have always been fascinated by the shroud. I can remember the first time I saw the mysterious image. It was in the mid-1970s during my high school years, and the news of experiments about to be done on the cloth were making headlines. I was reading the local paper one morning, and the image caught my attention. I can remember thinking to myself, “I could actually be looking at the face of God.”
Now the Church considers the shroud a matter to be left to the scientists in terms of making the determination regarding authenticity. But the Church also says the shroud can be a beautiful tool for prayer and reflection. In 1998, during an address in Turin, Pope John Paul II called the shroud an “intense and agonizing image of an unspeakable torment” and “a challenge to our intelligence.” For the believer, he added, the shroud is a “mirror of the Gospel.”
“If we reflect on the sacred linen, we cannot escape the idea that the image it presents has such a profound relationship with what the Gospels tell of Jesus’ passion and death, that every sensitive person feels inwardly touched and moved at beholding it,” he said.
As Breault explained, the best of the best in chemistry, photography, forensic pathology, botany, archaeology and a long list of other disciplines have extensively studied the Shroud of Turin, and they still can’t determine just how the image appeared on this piece of cloth. They have concluded, Breault said, and Pope John Paul also noted, that the image is that of a crucified and severely tortured man. The details of the man’s torture and death line up extremely closely with scriptural references to Christ’s crucifixion.
Although I am eager to learn more about the cloth, especially in preparation for our pilgrimage, what left me speechless at the end of Breault’s shroud presentation wasn’t the facts, test results, studies and, frankly, enough information to make anyone’s head spin. Instead, it was a question Breault proposed that really struck home with me, as someone whose expertise centers on the media and media influence. Breault asked, since we live in a media-saturated culture in which we communicate more with images than words, doesn’t it make perfect sense that God may have just preserved the cloth for this particular time in history?
It does, indeed, make a lot of sense. After all, at a time when young people are using some form of the media 53 hours a week and adults are doing the same 40 hours or more a week, how else could God break through all the noise in our lives — MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, satellite television, cell phones, texting and more — unless he decided to use the same means of distraction, images transmitted via the media, to grab our attention?
We may never have the answers to those questions or be able to determine conclusively that the shroud is truly the burial cloth of the King of Kings. But in an age of images, it is something worth pondering, especially during this holy season of Lent.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of Catholic Connection, produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.