Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Something Missing?

Today I read an article about how the Pope went to see Veronica's veil, supposedly kept in a village about three hours from Rome. As I read the account, from a Roman Catholic source, I noticed the usual sense of wonder over miraculous things meant to verify the Christian faith. It is now thought by some that this 'veil' may not be the veil with which Veronica wiped Jesus' face as He was on the via dolorosa, but the headcloth, or "sweat cloth" found folded separately from the shroud in the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. There are some compelling data about the veil which contribute to the possibility that it is genuine, and yet, as is the case with most artifacts and relics the Church of Rome maintains, a thread of sensationalism running through the report. It's almost as if they're wanting these things to be true to bolster the Christian faith.

On the other hand, when I finished the article, I turned to some current events and doings among Lutherans, and I saw a completely different approach. Here, there was no concern at all about matters which have a direct connection to the life of Jesus, the matters reported in the Gospels, but rather, an abundance of emphasis on 'reaching people', evangelism, spreading the 'gospel', etc.

And I think that somehow, the attention given to relics and artifacts, while often bordering on superstition, is better, nevertheless, than attention given to 'sharing your faith'. The latter is too often subjective, personal, and devoid of any real Gospel content.

While certainly it is possible--and even laudable--to take the opportunity given to 'tell someone about Jesus', the emphasis on this telling has reached such a fevered pitch that, ironically, little about Jesus ends up being told at all. Rather, passing reference to who He is and what He has done might be made, while the heart of the telling is usually the invitation to receive Him, or to accept Him into your heart.

It's easy to criticize Rome for its superfluity of relics and superstitions. But I must say that there does seem to be at least a grain of goodness, if only a small one, in paying more attention to things which actually bear a better connection to Jesus than my own personal experience of His presence in my life.


Father Hollywood said...

I find myself agreeing with your thoughts on relics. Obviously, there are fakes, frauds, and phonies everywhere, as well as bad theology and outright charlatanism. We all know that. But there are also true relics, tangible things that can connect a person in a real, physical, sensual way to the distant past, including Christian saints.

There's something incarnational about this kind of hushed and wondrous piety that contemplates the martyrs and saints of old that stands in stark contrast to the empty cross and numbers on a sensationalistic website, as well as the Gnostic pursuit of "sharing my faith" or "accepting Jesus in my heart."

It's funny, we Americans are relic-hunters with houses crammed to the gills with stuff - some of it kitsch, some of it precious only to us because of familial connections. And yet, in our Christian lives (as Lutherans), we gaze (for the most part) at whitewashed walls and religious art that tries hard to be Rohrschach (sp?) tests or cutesy statues of Jesus playin soccer.

Once again, by tossing out the baby with the bath water, we're the poorer for it.

Well, at least CHI has Walther's pipe to be venerated. I guess it's a start.

john w fenton said...

When it comes to the miraculous & relics, I like what the Bible says in 2 Kng 13.20-21.