Wowed By The Shroud

This picture taken on February 20, 2012Over the past few years, dozens of documentaries on the Shroud of Turin have appeared, from History Channel, CNN, National Geographic, and even the BBC. It seems every cable channel thinks it needs to make its own documentary on this mysterious cloth which seems likely (and more so with each new research initiative) to be the genuine burial cloth of Jesus Christ at His entombment and resurrection.

After going through a few of these documentaries, I can confidently recommend these few for your consideration. Here, you can find interviews and analyses from everyone: from technical photography experts, NASA engineers, Catholic priests, Protestant scholars, Jewish skeptics, world-renown chemists, forensic scientists (they even had custom designed 3M technical tape), and more. Then, when you’ve seen and heard the mounting evidence, decide for yourself what the Shroud is.

I, for one, believe it to be authentic. And that means major repercussions when proven true. But keep this famed quote from St. Thomas Aquinas in mind:

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.

  1. This is a History Channel documentary on the Shroud’s unique embedded 3D aspect. It’s very well done and even purchased a copy, but beware of the heretical and nonsense gnostic material inserted awkwardly (and unnecessarily) in the middle of the documentary:
  2. Here’s a BBC documentary that investigates the historical timeline of the Shroud. Also well done and worth the watch:
  3. This is a super documentary from the Discovery Channel that details why the notorious 1988 Carbon-14 dating of the Shroud is misleading because of a poor sample. Very scientifically convincing and essential:
  4. A CNN documentary that is mostly well done at recapping the Passion of Jesus that led up to the Shroud, but it fails when it tries to show that the Shroud can be a photographic fake (because technical photo-experts have said it is not a fake, again and again):
  5. And a TEDx talk on the technical photo-expert’s story and claims, after his 35+ years of researching and directly studying the Shroud (short version):
  6. And a longer and more thorough version of his inside-story:
  7. And a documentary detailing the pollen samples and other foreign elements found on the Shroud, explaining its geographic and historical origins:

So! Take your pick (or pick them all) and enjoy the ride with these top scientists. Also, check out this HD digital scan (or this app)of the Shroud for you to peruse.

Music for an Intense Lent

Are you a Christian? Are you a Catholic? Stop settling for weak Lents. Make your Lent intense with these choral and chant tracks (or with these movies). Listen with the volume nice and high, and you’ll see what I mean:

This first track is a choral piece I discovered a few years ago, and its ability to creep is unequaled. For the majority of the piece, the choir is only singing one word: crucifixus… crucifixus… crucifixus… (The Crucified… Crucified… Crucified…) and the effect is stunning.

This next track is also a choral piece on the Crucifixion, by Antonio Lotti from the 17th Century. This piece is from his larger work on the Nicene Creed, but it stands alone incredibly well as a meditation on Christ’s crucifixion.

Here is Parce Domine, a chant of longing for God’s mercy, recalling the complete and profound repentance of Nineveh at the [reluctant] preaching of Jonah from the Old Testament. Lyrics, both Latin and English here, and an updated version here that is worth your ears, and don’t miss this polyphonic version!

The Dies Irae is not specifically a Lenten chant, but for funerals and for All Souls’ Day. Yet, it seems mighty appropriate, reminding us that death and judgment is our destiny, but our death can be transformed to eternal life if we surrender our life to Christ. Don’t miss this neat little documentary on this timeless piece, which has appeared in many famed movies to date! The epic lyrics here.

This last piece is the Gregorian chant of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa (The Standing Mother of Sorrows), the scene when Mary suffered and stood before Jesus nailed on the cross. The Latin/English lyrics can be found here, and a video with the proper notation is here, but presented is my favorite chanted rendition:

So there you have them, three of my favorite tracks for contemplating what Lent is meant to be. I hope these help, and maybe become your faves, too.

Risen to the Occasion

risen_posterLast week, I viewed the newest film on Jesus: Risen, and while it did not rise to the occasion of my expectations (I had great hopes for it), I did come away with a few highlights (I try not to focus on negatives). Here’s what I mean:

SPOILER ALERT

—–1. All about the Resurrection. We have a film on the Passion of Christ, and here is one about the implications of a man coming back from the dead. Many of us, Christian and non-believer alike, seem to forget that people do not do this: nobody comes back to life after being definitively dead, entombed, and decaying (you bet decay started after three days!) No near-death-experience is possible after a person’s heart is lanced and his body is wrung of blood and water.

Yet here Jesus is, alive (yes, we Christians believe this absolutely, even to the point of death), and not merely a resuscitated zombie of a corpse with gangrenous flesh. Jesus is healthy, strong, powerful, and yet still gentle and smiling. Jesus is glorified.

I don’t know about you, but if my friends abandoned and betrayed me, and my enemies tortured and massacred me, first thing I would do after my resurrection would be vengeance. Vengeance! (Be thankful I’m not God.)

But Jesus? He actually lived (and lives again) what He preached. He loves His friends and His enemies. We see this in the film especially when He even welcomes Clavius, the tribune who ordered Jesus’ heart stabbed, to join Him and His Apostles on their journey.

—–2. Which brings me to the point about Clavius when he says what he wants most in life: “a day without death, peace.” Isn’t that what we all want? A day when life kills death? When death no longer has the final say? When death is not the end? Well, that is exactly what Clavius and we have now in Christ.

Once the resurrection happened, death lost its final say: death died. It means that God is greater than death, that death is nothing, that we should not fear death since Jesus can flick it away like it was a leaf. Imagine Jesus: Oh, I’m dead… boo hoo, what can I do, what can I do… hmmm… I know — I’ll just get up!

It’s really that easy for God. And if He can raise Himself up, what makes anyone think He cannot raise others?risen-an-exclusive-movie-clip-for-tbn-youtube-370

—–3. Lastly, now that Jesus is resurrected, that also means that everything He teaches and says is true (and we gotta follow Him). He really is God. Because if He died and stayed dead, even though He said He would rise, then we would just dismiss Him as a liar or an idiot. But He actually came back. Just remember this: God not only became a human for you, not only was born for you, not only lived for you, suffered and died for you, but He even came back from the dead for you, to love you.

You must be pretty special to Him, for Him to go through all that trouble for little old you…

—–4. So go see Risen if you wanna. Nothing in it really put me off or can make me ward you off, but one thing’s for sure: once I saw it, I don’t think I’ll ever make time for another viewing. It wasn’t that special. The book is definitely better. And yet for a better and more thoughtful review, please see Dr. Taylor Marshall’s here.

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The Avatar and the Pope and the Passion

KorraMy brother first introduced to me Avatar: the Last Airbender eight few years ago when it was still on TV. And since The Legend of Korra (LOK) started airing, I’ve been more and more surprised by how much goodness the two series has. Not only is the story tightly writ, but the characters also exhibit virtues (sacrifice, pro-family and pro-life) and the overcoming of struggle, as well as dealing constructively with the consequences of bad decisions. Both series are very mature, not merely for kids (in fact, there’s a lot that only mature viewers could grasp).

Anyway, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to post about the LOK, and this weekend’s season finale really gave me no way to ignore posting. Here we go…

SPOILER ALERT

PopeFrancis     1) Though the show involves reincarnation,* the line of unbroken succession from Avatar Wan to Avatar Korra hints very much at the Catholic line of unbroken Apostolic succession from Saint Peter to Pope Francis.

This is especially interesting since though each avatar is carrying on the “spirit” of the past avatars, each avatar is still unique (which seems to go against true reincarnation)! Korra is not Aang is not Roku is not Kyoshi is not Kuruk is not etc. Just like how Francis is not Benedict XVI is not John Paul II is not John Paul I is not Paul VI is not John XXIII is not Pius XII is not etc.! Each pope continues the office of Bishop of Rome (aka: the Papacy) as an individual, just like how each avatar continues the office of Bridge between the Human and Spirit Worlds (did you know “Pontiff” [one of the Pope’s titles!] comes from the Latin Pontifex, which means “to make a bridge”).

And if this symbolism isn’t enough, it hit me recently that when a pope leaves office, the next pope is always a surprise choice! That’s the same with the avatar! Nobody knows who the next avatar will be, just like how nobody knows who the next pope will be. It’s all up to some unknown power (Holy Spirit!) working with the Conclave that determines the successor!

     2) Another point: at the end of the Legend of Korra’s first season, we see her being guided and nurtured by all the past avatars. This, to me, amazingly presented what we Catholics believe about the Magisterium and Church Tradition, in that all the saints and popes and bishops of the past have left us with a huge counsel that we can refer to in time of confusion regarding Church teachings. Their prayers, intercessions, writings are all available to the Church to help guide and nurture us! When I saw the army of past avatars backing up Korra in her darkest moment, I saw something very much like the Communion of Saints. It was beautiful, and we as Christians have that with us as the cloud of witnesses that St. Paul mentions in Hebrews 12:1.

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]

[the Crucifixion of St. Andrew by Peter Howson]


     3) At the end of LOK’s third season (the 1st and 3rd seasons deal with very mature themes), I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There Korra was, willing to sacrifice herself to save an entire people (and the world). When she was bound, the Red Lotus (like the Pharisees) fixed her limbs into a CRUCIFORM. Yes, it was not an actual wooden cross, but the X-shape is exactly the same as how St. Andrew was crucified for his love of Christ. And not only that, but Korra struggled greatly to restrain her power; just like how Jesus refused to manifest his divinity and come down from the cross… Korra also refused to enter the Avatar State. She suffered on the X (which isn’t much different from a t), and her agony reminded me of the Passion of the Christ. Even the poison that the Red Lotus inflicted on Korra was symbolic: the venom was metal based, as the nails in the Crucifixion were metal based. The venom was applied onto Korra through her arms and legs, as were the nails were driven through Jesus’ wrists and feet.

Korra on the CrossAnd finally, when Korra fell under the effects of her crucifixion, her father holds her in a way that mimics the Pieta, when the Blessed Mother holds her Son. At Jesus’ death, the devil howls and laughs in victory (presumably), only then to discover that the Resurrection is God’s last laugh against sin/death/evil. The same happens in LOK: Zaheer laughs out loud (I refuse to type LOL, even though I just did), only to recoil in outrage and horror when Korra is revived after the extraction of the metal (poison/nails) from her body.

Here’s a big difference though: Korra is greatly wounded by the persecution, to the point of being restricted to a wheelchair. Exhaustion and sadness is obvious in her eyes. She won, but certainly looks defeated — not much different from a zombie. Contrast this with Jesus after His Resurrection! He is teleporting all over, visiting His loved ones, cooking breakfast for his apostles, taking hikes and roadtrips, even sharing stories and rising to Heaven! So obviously, Korra (and the other avatars) is not presented as a god in any way. She is mortal. Don’t get it twisted.

     4) And so, I look forward to what the writers (Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko) of this series have in store for following seasons. They have not let me down these past nine years since 2005’s first series’ launch. May the Holy Spirit bless and inspire them to create greatness. I mean, they did hire the very Catholic Gene Yang (author of the Rosary Comic Book) to author the comic series that told the story of Zuko’s long-lost mother!

*a note regarding reincarnation: if it were truly real in the show (and in real life), then why bother trying to save others? It wouldn’t make a difference to save Korra, just let her pass on and return via another life (instead of having her continue to endure her present life through a broken spirit and body). Unless… unless it’s true that we are all unique and unrepeatable individuals who are worth saving at every effort. Unless… it’s actually more meaningful and more beautiful to believe that we all are special and have our own customized destinies. In short, I disbelieve the existence of reincarnation because it’s simply meaningless and not beautiful. Reincarnation shows me nothing but a vicious cycle of hopeless repetition. My Catholic Christian faith shows me that God is love, truth, beauty and goodness. Don’t mind me if I’d rather have faith in that.

**Lastly, considering the writers have already exhibited blood-bending (water), and breath-bending (air), I only wonder when bone-bending (earth/minerals) and brain-bending (electrical neural activity) will be manifest. I truly appreciate that they used these frightening prospects only to serve moral stories (and not mindless mayhem), and also have shown restraint in presenting these terrifying abuses of power.

For the HolySmack take on more of Korra, including the series finale, check here: Closing Thoughts on Korra