This is part of an exhibit titled "Mystery and Faith: The Shroud of Turin" on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington. The exhibit opened Feb. 26, 2022, and runs through July 31. CNS photo/courtesy Museum of the Bible

Editorial: God so loved us

  • April 21, 2022

During Holy Week, debate erupted on social media — quelle surprise — over the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. One would-be stumper hoped to best everyone by demanding rhetorically: “If it’s not an image of Christ, how do you explain it?”

Uh, no. That is commonly known as the fallacy of the excluded middle. Assertion isn’t affirmed just by absence of alternative explanation. Between your insistence and my resistance lies a myriad of alternatives.

What the debate did confirm is the power of the Shroud to draw a crowd, which is likely the reason the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., opened an exhibit in late February displaying the burial cloth of a man purportedly tortured and crucified. In another bit of logical leaping, the man tortured and crucified is held by many to be the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

The Church, it’s crucial to emphasize, has kept its feet firmly on neutral ground by taking the position that any Shroud proof will emanate from science. Faith will stand alone and disinterested in claims and counter-claims. Jesus would no doubt have done as much.

“Lest you would see signs and wonders, none of you will believe,” He is quoted in John’s Gospel, showing His trademark exasperation to the official from Capernaum asking for remote healing of his son.

Of course, from the infinite mercy of His heart, He immediately does the Jesus-uitcal thing and supplies the requested cure, which has the predicted effect of giving the official and his family reason to believe.

Talk about your stumbling block. Throughout His ministry and even after His Resurrection, Christ inveighs against the human, all too human, need for signs and wonders for faith. He then fills four Gospels, the Acts and St. Paul’s letters with what uber post-modern semioticians call signifier and signified.

We need to see. Imitating Thomas, we need to touch. We crave engagement of our senses, as evidenced by the Museum of the Bible making its Shroud exhibit interactive so visitors can wave their hands above the cloth for an audio explanation of its significance. Fittingly, curator Brian Hyland says it doesn’t matter that the item is a mere facsimile of what might be a clever forgery. We live, after all, in 2022 when reality itself has become a wholly relative social media construct. Imitation of fakery is a staple of our logged on lives.

Yet, even as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of metaverse reduce our world to metaphor, Hyland misdirects us when he calls the Shroud a “powerful symbol of God’s love.” We don’t need to look at ancient (or possibly medieval/Renaissance) linens for that love. We can, as Catholics, simply stand before a mirror, or better yet each other, and make the Sign of the Cross. There is a real world gesture that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son for our salvation. No excluded middle there.

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