Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Shroud of Turin:
Passio Christi, Passio hominis

"In the hour of extreme solitude, we shall never be alone:
Passio Christi, Passio hominis."

Meditation of Pope Benedict XVI
Cathedral of Turin
Pastoral Visit to Turin
May 2, 2010

Dear friends,

This is a much-awaited moment for me. In another occasion, I found myself before the Holy Shroud, but this time I am living this pilgrimage and stop with special intensity. Perhaps, it is because the passing of years is making me understand even more the message of this extraordinary icon; perhaps, or I should say especially because I am here as the successor of Peter, I carry in my heart the entire Church, indeed the whole of humanity. I thank God for the gift of this pilgrimage, and for the opportunity of sharing this brief mediation with you, which was suggested to me by this solemn display, namely “the mystery of Holy Saturday.”

It is possible to say that the Shroud is the icon of that mystery, the Icon of Holy Saturday. It is a burial linen that was wrapped around the body of a crucified man. It matches what the Gospels say about Jesus, who was crucified around noon and passed away at about 3 pm. In the evening, since it was the Parasceve, the eve of the solemn Sabbath of Passover, Joseph of Arimathea, a man of wealth, and a distinguished member of the Sanhedrin, courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus to bury in a new sepulchre that he had hewn out of the rock not far from Golgotha. After he got the permission and having bought a linen cloth, he took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in the tomb (see Mk, 15:42-46). This is what the Gospel of Mark says, which finds support in the other Evangelists. After that, Jesus remained in the sepulchre until the dawn of the day after the Sabbath. The Shroud of Turin offers us the picture of His body, laying in the tomb during this period, short in time (a day and half) but long and infinite in value and meaning.

Holy Saturday is the day of God’s concealment. As an ancient homily says, “Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. . . . God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has risen up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear” (Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday, PG 43, 439). In the Creed, we also profess that Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day He rose again."

Dear brothers, in our times, especially in the last century, humanity has become especially sensitive to the mystery of the Holy Saturday. God’s concealment is part of the spirituality of today’s mankind, in an existential and almost subconscious way, as the heart’s emptiness has grown ever more. Towards the end of the 19th century, Nietzsche wrote, “God is dead. . . . And we have killed Him.”

Christian tradition almost fulfils this well-known statement to the letter. We often repeat this during the Way of the Cross perhaps not fully realizing what we are saying. After two world wars, Nazi and Communist death camps, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our age has become more like Holy Saturday. However, the Shroud is also a source that whispers in silence, and we can hear it and listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday. The darkness of this day represents a question mark for all those who ask questions about life, especially believers. We too must cope with such darkness.

Yet the death of the Son of God, of Jesus of Nazareth, has an opposite effect and is totally positive, a source of consolation and hope. For this reason, it makes me think that the Shroud is like a “photographic” document, with its “positive” and “negative” side. It is exactly like that, the darkest mystery of faith is at the same time the brightest sign of boundless hope.

Holy Saturday is like a “no-man’s land” between death and resurrection. The One and Only has entered this “no-man’s land,” crossing it with the marks of His Passion for man: Passio Christi, Passio hominis. The Shroud speaks to us about that moment, witness to that unique and unrepeatable in-between moment in the history of humanity and the universe when God, through Jesus Christ, shared not only our death, but also our staying in death. This is the most radical form of solidarity.

During this “time-beyond-time,” Jesus Christ “descended into Hell.”

What does this mean? It means that God, as man, reached a point where He could find His way into the extreme and absolute solitude of mankind, a place untouched by any ray of love, where total neglect reigned and where no words of comfort could be heard, a place called Hell. Jesus Christ, by staying in death, crossed the threshold into the ultimate solitude in order to lead us into transcending it with Him.

All of us have occasionally experienced a dreadful feeling of being neglected; this is what scares us the most about death. As children, we are afraid of being left alone in the dark, and only the presence of someone who loves us can reassure us. This is precisely what happened on Holy Saturday. In the reign of death, God’s voice rang out. The unthinkable happened: Love penetrated “Hell.” Thus, even at the darkest moment, when human solitude was at its most absolute, we could hear a voice call us, see a hand reach out towards us, taking and leading us out. Human beings live to love and be loved. If love could penetrate the realm of death, life could thus reach into it. In the hour of extreme solitude, we shall never be alone: Passio Christi, Passio hominis.

This is the mystery of Holy Saturday. The light of a new hope appeared out of the darkness of the death of the Son of God: the light of the Resurrection. I think that looking at this sacred linen through the eyes of faith we can perceive something of this light. Indeed, the Shroud is immersed in that deep darkness, but it is also bright. I think that if thousands and thousands of people come to venerate it, not to mention those who contemplate at it in pictures, it is because they do not only see its darkness but also see its light. They do not see the defeat of life and love, but rather their victory, the victory of life over death and love over hatred. They see Jesus’ death but also catch a glimpse of His Resurrection.

Within death, the pulsating beat of life can be felt because it is inhabited by love. This is the power of the Shroud. From the face of this “Suffering Man” -— bearing the passion of mankind in every age and place, including our passions, suffering, difficulties and sins, i.e. the Passio Christi, Passio hominis —- comes a solemn majesty and a paradoxical power. This face, these hands and these feet, this chest, all this body speaks. It is a word that we can listen in silence.

How does the Shroud speak? It speaks with blood, the blood of life. The shroud is an icon written in blood, the blood of a man who was whipped, crowned with thorns, crucified and wounded on the right side of His chest. The image imprinted on the Shroud is that of a dead man, but the blood speaks of His life. Every trace of blood speaks of love and life, especially the large spot in the chest area, which marks where much blood and water flowed after being pierced by a Roman spear. Such blood and water speak of life. It is a source that whispers in silence. We can hear it and listen to it in the silence of Holy Saturday.

Dear friends, let us praise the Lord for His faithful and merciful love. Starting from this holy place, let us behold in our eyes the image of the shroud, let us bear this word of love in our heart, and let us praise the Lord through a life full of faith, hope and charity. Thank you.

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