Witnesses to Mystery

For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” Mk. 5:28

Veil of Manoppello
Veil of Manoppello

This past week I had the great honor of reviewing Ignatius Press’s Witnesses to Mystery: Investigations into Christ’s Relics by author Grzegory Gorny and photographer Janusz Rosikon, a gorgeous coffee table volume that traces the history of Christ’s relics. There, in my living room, I found myself gazing for long hours at full-page photos of the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Nails, famous chapels and reliquaries, and most stunningly, the Veil of Manoppello, the veil that Veronica had given to Jesus during the Way of the Cross which bears the image of Our Lord’s Holy Face. And I learned details about the crucifixion that I’d never known before: how the nails used to hold Jesus to the cross were most likely carpenter’s nails and how after His death Christ’s blood flowed down into the crevices beneath the rock of the cross to where Adam’s remains were buried.

I was enthralled by the detailed scientific testing that had been used to verify the authenticity of relics long preserved by the Church. In particular the section dealing with the Shroud of Turin was especially illuminating. The book details the origins of the cloth of the shroud, which was “identical to that of burial clothes found in tombs at the Jewish fortress of Masada dating back to the first century A.D.” (p. 54). The section addresses the nature of the image itself, which is a photographic negative; the “depth of the image’s coloring is just 200 nanometers–the width of one of the material’s miscroscopic cell walls” ( 69). It details the plant specimens that the scientists found on the shroud that are indigenous to the Holy Land, as well as the blood from the shroud, discovered to be type AB, found in only 4 to 5 percent of the world’s population but occurring  “more frequently among Jews, however, accounting for 18 percent of the Jewish population” (55).

Indeed the details that science can extract from these relics are simply astounding. With regard to research done on the Sudarium of Oviedo, or the scarf tied around Christ’s face as He still hung on the cross but after He’d died, revealed a condition of blood that results from pneumothorax, “the presence of air in the space between the lungs and the chest wall, which allowed a mixture of body fluid and blood to settle in the chest cavity after death,” a symptom that would’ve resulted from crucifixion and asphyxia.  This corresponds to the account from St. John who said that blood and water had flowed out of Jesus’s side after he was pierced by the soldier (158).

The intricate histories of the relics’ journeys from the Holy Land to the rest of the world were an excellent education in Church history. In fact, I was comforted to read about the Church’s history, even its tumultuous times, as it reminded me that our holy faith, including our physical tokens of it, have remained with us for so long despite extraordinary dangers.  In the seventh chapter entitled The Veil of Manopello Gorny recounts, “In 1527 during the sack of Rome L’Urbano di Messer wrote to the duchess of Urbino, ‘Holy relics have been thrown out into the streets. The Veronica has been stolen. It was passed around in taverns from person to person without a word of protest. A German, who sat sharpening the spear that had pierced Christ’s side, tripped over its staff and ran brandishing it throughout the whole Borgo'” (232). It was a beautiful reminder that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, no matter how bleak the situation appears.

I am so grateful for this book that I can bring out to show my little ones during Lent all the precious treasures that Our Lord left for us. Even my three-year-old has asked me a few times to show her again the “napkins” that were left over in Jesus’ tomb after His resurrection. Her little face lit up with recognition when I held the page with the image of the Veil of Manopello next to the picture of the Sacred Heart in our home. They see so many images during the day, I feel blessed that we now this collection of so many holy images in one spot, something that I can easily reach for when our attention might drift in Lent.

The perfect marriage of science and faith, this book provides a unique opportunity to both stoke the flames of love within the faithful as well as those estranged from the faith. The effect of reading this for me was a deeper love for the great mystery that is our Church and especially for Our Lord, who gave His very Life as a token of His great love for us.

“This book is the result of dozens of trips, hundreds of interviews, thousands of photographs and documents. It’s a journey through time (from Christ to the present day) and space (reaching from Spain to the Holy Land). It’s the discovery that scientists (‘the wise man’s glass and eye’, to quote Mickiewicz) reach the same conclusions as masses of pilgrims (‘feeling and faith’). It’s a story about how even science needs humility.” -Grzegorz Gorny

“Touching relics, photographing pilgrims and meeting scientists made me realize that my faith needs both reason and love; those two branches–science and faith–complement and strengthen each other to form a whole. You will find my experiences described in this book.”-Janusz Rosikon

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Consumed by His Mercy

although it looks like this guy could benefit from both
Though it looks like this guy could benefit from both

I came home from confession one day and patted the pockets of my jeans. They were empty. I quickly looked through my purse and coat pockets. Nothing.

I groaned. I’d lost the piece of paper that had my confession on it.

It’s happened more than once, my list of uglies, big and small, floating around disguised as just one more piece of paper until someone stops to look at it a little more closely. I’ve had to snatch it out of my unsuspecting husband’s hands more than once after he’d found it on the counter or floor and unfolded it, wondering what it had been. I’ve pulled it out of my purse thinking that it was my grocery list, wincing at the reminder of what I’d done. Thankfully, it hasn’t landed in the children’s hands–most of them can’t read yet anyway–but they could probably draft it themselves, maybe even suggesting a few items that I might’ve overlooked.

I would love to burn it, relishing seeing my stinky sins getting eaten up by the heat of Christ’s love. In practice, though, it’s difficult to find time to put flame to my list when we’re busy unbundling the kids after their trip to get Mom’s heart all cleaned up. It’d most likely result in us just having to put all their coats back on and heading over to the ER.

The confession paper pyre, though, I think is the most fitting end to the list. It’d be a great reminder to me that more than just “coming clean,” those sins have disappeared, Christ eviscerating them in the ocean of His mercy. A mercy so powerful, in fact, that it far outshines even very powerful rites. A few years ago during an exorcism conference in Chicago, the exorcist for the archdiocese Rev. Jeffrey Grob remarked that “one good sacramental confession is more powerful than 100 exorcisms.”

That’s what makes encountering those old lists of sins so upsetting: in reality, they don’t exist anymore. Therefore I resolve to find some way to destroy the list in church so that it doesn’t even come home with me. Because why should I hang to it when Christ sure doesn’t?

I just need to make sure that it’s not my grocery list.

Struggling with the Celtic Crazy

Me on any given afternoon
Me on any given afternoon

Do you have a temper?

I do. And I never knew it until I had kids. To think, I could’ve lived my life thinking that I was a really great person.

I turn into this guy in intense situations like when I need to make dinner and the baby is crying, the three-year-old is complaining about the dinner I haven’t yet made, the five-year-old keeps asking when dinner is because he’s starving and the six-year-old is sweetly asking if there’s anything that she can do to help except for that one thing that I’ve asked her to do but she’d prefer not to, and my husband’s going to be home soon and I know that he’s had a tough day and I would really rather him not come home to this because I would like him to keep coming home.

Or if someone forgets to say please.

Parenthood has brought to the surface the Celtic crazy that runs deep in my blood. It’d be a cause for despair, but I recently found a saint with the same problem who overcame it.

St. Louis de Montfort. The original Marian consecration guy.

I just finished Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, and I was stoked to find such a saintly specimen of the same stock as me. Fr. Michael Gaitley begins his updated Marian consecration by looking at the saint who authored the classic Marian consecration book True Devotion to Mary.

St. Louis de Montfort was born in 1673, one of eighteen children born to the de Montforts, in Brittany, the part of France that juts into the Celtic Sea. Fr. Gaitley traces the fiery roots of St. Louis and his dad back to the Celtic warriors, from whom they must have had descended.

Often wearing nothing but blue battle paint, real Celtic warriors would work themselves into a blood-thirsty frenzy, rush into combat screaming their heads off, and wildly slash, bash, and slice away at their enemies with huge, two-handed swords. These fierce fighting men, despite their lack of discipline, armor, and order, were extremely effective in battle because of their unmatched passion and ferocity. Throughout history, nobody has wanted to mess with the crazy Celtic warriors.

St. Louis’s dad, Jean Grignion, must have been descended from these wild-men warriors, for nobody wanted to mess with him either. In fact, he was known for having the most fiery temper in all of Brittany. St. Louis…confessed that his temper was just as bad as his father’s. But Louis channeled his fiery passion not to threats and violence but to laboring for the greater Glory of God–well, except for the time he knocked out a couple of drunks who wouldn’t stop heckling him while he preached.       (p. 6)

So, let’s shoot for that. The next time the Celtic crazy comes around, you know who you can call on.