The Fabric of Our Faith
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“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25
His face looks incredibly lonesome, as if every one of His friends abandoned him in the moment of his greatest need. And sad—sad for all time. As if the weight of the whole world were upon His shoulders. There is an eternal pensiveness in His death pose.
The stabbing thorns that cut so unkindly into His scalp and the blood that flowed from His head are visible, indelible. They are vivid, tangible signs of the once painful wounds that hurt no more. The gash in His side flows with blood now etched in to the cloth, running no more but visible still. A record of one final insult visited upon Him by a soldier’s side arm.
His thumbs turn inward tightly, from the pressure of the crude nails against the radial nerves as they pierced the bones of His wrist, causing unimaginable pain. The gaping wound in the feet is visible, caused by the large nail driven into muscle and bone as if driven through a piece of wood. Preserved for all time in the fabric. Scores of blood-filled pockmarks riveted into His back by a sweating Centurion wielding a flagellum touch the fabric and testify to a brutal scourging. Leather thongs tipped with metal beads raked His flesh with incredible velocity. The fabric speaks of the indignity, suffering and humiliation inflicted on the Man, who certainly experienced every type of torture, brutality and humiliation possible, in His final hours of life on earth.
He is not painted or drawn. His face appears to be scorched onto the cloth—the product of a divine, cosmic energy—loosed at the moment of His transformation. When the Man on the cloth was resurrected. Skeptics doubt the fabric, scientists work to disprove it, atheists scoff at it, yet none can fully explain the image. The truth is that no one knows how the Man was created, how He came to be on the fabric. Therein lies the mystery that may elude mankind for all time. Perhaps it is not meant to be understood, but rather to inspire thought, awareness, or understanding of what such a Man endured at the time of His death. To me, the Man in the cloth is Jesus, the Son of God, whose transformation scorched His face into the cloth creating an imprint that was meant to linger, inspire, and remind forever. It is a visible record of His human form, His injuries, a testament to and reminder of His divine suffering and how much this Man loved His people. Or, “he” is a divine forgery, an imprint of an all too-human human created by an artist or a charlatan, whose work baffles twenty-first century science. Perhaps the Spirit worked even in a forger, to create an earthly reminder of His time on earth.
Like most people, I believed before I ever heard of or saw the fabric. It reinforces my faith, but I do not need it to believe. Whether real or not, it does not matter. I would have believed and did believe without it. I believed regardless of the Shroud, in spite of the Shroud, and, in part, because of the Shroud. In my heart I think that most people believe this way. I do not know one person who believes in Jesus only because of the Shroud. Yet, if there are such persons, how is that bad? The Spirit moves people in various ways to understand and to come to a deeper faith in Christ. Perhaps they believe because of a homily, a picture, a song, a nun or priest. Perhaps they see the stars at night and are led to believe in something greater than themselves. If they believe because of those things, then why not because of the fabric? Does it ultimately matter how people are led to Christ? Could not the fabric divinely inspire even if it did not touch His divine person?
There are those who believe without the Shroud and those who may believe because of it. Is it so wrong to seek or want proof? Even Jesus did not condemn Thomas, who wanted to feel the nail holes in His hands. He did not say, “Thomas, you believe because you see, but blessed only are those who have not seen and yet believe.” He clearly opened His arms and His church to those who believe without seeing and those who believe because they see.
Personally I believe that this fabric is the death shroud of Jesus. I want to believe and I do believe. Believing in it deepens my faith, but did not cause my faith. I will never know if I am right or wrong. And it does not matter. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins in the most painful, humiliating, and violent way imaginable. I think He chose this way so He could show people how much He loved them and how much He was willing to endure for them—how human He could be. I believed this before the Shroud, without the Shroud, and despite the Shroud. It reinforces my belief and reminds me of the suffering recounted in the Bible. It causes me to ponder the central truth of our faith.
If it is an exquisite, divine, phony that reminds us of His suffering, death and resurrection, then it is nevertheless a good thing. If it is the real thing and touched the Divine Body, then it is an indescribably awesome and inspiring thing. Whether a divine forgery or divine death wrap, it is wonderful anyway. I do not care what scientists say or do not say about it. None has yet to explain it and I take great comfort in that. No one can explain the Man, whose face is scorched into the fabric. But faith is an unscientific process. In fact, it may be the antithesis of science. We believe what we cannot see all the time. That is faith. Yet, there are those who believe only in what they can see and what they can prove. If the fabric actually touched Him, then it is to be revered and honored. It should create awe and inspiration. But if it is entirely the work of a man, whether an art object or forgery it is still a beautiful, poignant illustration of the ultimate sacrifice He made for us all. If it is real, I say: “Thank God.” But if it is a forgery that serves to remind us of His last hours on earth, I say “Thank God for the forger.” He was moved somehow, some way, by The Holy Spirit to create a poignant, stark reminder of how much He gave, how much we owe, and how many ways He suffered for the sins of us all. It is a perfect forgery or a perfect relic and either way it is good.
If the fabric of our faith is strong, we do not need the Shroud—we believe without seeing. Yet, if it causes someone to believe, leads them to the Church, or causes them to ponder for one brief moment the incredible suffering, sacrifice and gift that the Son of God gave us, it is innately good, and a proper part of the fabric of our faith.