I had expected to be very busy during Holy Week attending Mass and tending to Lector obligations I had for Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil.
My sister’s ongoing illness and a fear that they had found an altogether different mass in her esophagus instead sent me to Texas for two weeks to what the local newscasters call “The Big Country” somewhere south of Fort Worth and east of Abeline.
While she was seriously ill and hospitalized, my sister’s feared mass turned out to be misidentified and she got to convalesce at the home of our other sister while I was with her the second week. She is doing much better, thank God.
For me, while I missed Holy Week obligations, it provided a time that though fraught with personal worry, gave me a chance to decompress from all the Church volunteer activity this past year, as well as from current political news.
Instead, I spent downtime reading books on my Kindle that were like airplanes waiting to land; purchased but not downloaded to read, circling in a digital holding pattern on my I-Pad.
But first, I read “Killing Jesus,” which I purchased at the airport bookstore having forgotten it was one of those books waiting to be tapped on my Kindle. I figured if I couldn’t participate fully in Holy Week, I could immerse myself in the history that led to its institution.
(Full disclosure: politically, I am light years in separation from the book’s author, Bill O’Reilly. I also didn’t like paying money that may go to his legal defense fund for alleged sexual harassment. But the title and subject matter fit a need of the moment.)
It was actually a very interesting and factual accounting of the history of the era, including the process of crucifixion, Next to Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” it is the most disturbing accounting of the event I have encountered.
But the book that brought an interesting spiritual twist toward the end of my time in Texas was called “The Fifth Gospel” by Ian Caldwell.
This is the story of two real Catholic artifacts – the Diatessaron and the Shroud of Turin – set in a real Catholic country – the Vatican. But the two protagonists-priestly brothers-were not in themselves real, though their vocations most decidedly are.
The older brother, Simon, is a Roman cleric and member of the Secretariat, which is the Vatican’s diplomatic corps. The younger brother, Alex, is Catholic Orthodox, a teacher of the gospels, and a beard wearing, married priest who is separated from his wife and raising his son Peter in the Vatican that was homeland to himself and his brother growing up.
There is a mystery involving the death of the man mounting an exhibition at Castel Gandolfo involving the Diatessaron and the Shroud, and mysteries surrounding both very real items used as plot points in the novel. It was as interesting to learn about them as to read about life lived within the walls of the Vatican, as well as the differences between the Roman, Catholic Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox traditions.
The Diatessaron, for those who don’t know (as I now do), is a compilation of the four Gospels of the Bible to try to make them read as one story. Part of the murder mystery relates to a study of this process. While the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke have many points of agreement, incorporating the more theological John does not as this writer speaks of many things not found in the other Gospels and in a far different voice.
This is one of the struggles Alex, the teacher, has to deal with. Both he and Simon have to struggle with the history of the Shroud, how it came to Western Europe and how to use it in an attempt to unify the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, and what place the Catholic Orthodox have with one foot in each encampment.
Incorporated are the last days of a dying Pope John Paul II, who has spent a part of his Papacy trying to bring about this reunification in the face of recalcitrant Cardinals and obdurate Patriarchs.
There is Catholic and European history to be found in this book, and an interesting conclusion about what the Shroud might mean for Catholic art and iconography abjured by the Protestant world.
This is a highly recommended read for those who don’t mind having their faith questioned and tested by a “secular” novel.
Now onto my class on the Communio of the Trinity, the meaning of family and our role in the dance of the Divine.