Monday, July 12, 2010

Sacred Relic Stolen: Prayer Requested

Last week, on July 1, someone at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston learned that a piece of the true Cross wasn't in the Cathedral's Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It had been stolen.

The secular side of this incident is being handled by the Boston Police, who were called as soon as the theft was discovered. Their investigation is continuing.

On the spiritual side, I'll quote the Archdiocese of Boston:
"...In the Christian faith, the Cross of Christ is an expression of the triumph of Christ over the powers of darkness. Fr. Kevin O'Leary, the Rector of the Cathedral, added: 'We are deeply troubled that this sacred relic was stolen, and we pray for those responsible. We ask the faithful of the Archdiocese of Boston to join the Cathedral's parishioners in praying every day for its return.' "
("Relic of the True Cross Stolen from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross," Archdiocese of Boston's Facebook account (July 12, 2010))
The rest of the information about the theft is from the same source, by the way.


No pressure, but I don't think it would hurt for folks who aren't in the Boston archdiocese to pray for the Cathedral of the Holy Cross's relic to be returned. Actually, it might help.

I've written a little about my take on prayer, before.
That's the important part of this post: There's been a theft, and I'm passing along a request for prayer.

My guess is that not many Americans know much about the True Cross: and that what some think they know just ain't so.

True Cross?

Mark Twain made some witty remarks about the True Cross in "The Innocents Abroad." What can I say? Mark Twain is a very talented, and very American, writer. He lived in the 19th century. He had attitudes about religion and gadgetry that were quite in keeping with his times.

I'm a devout Catholic, living in the 21st century. And I am about as sure as I can be that the True Cross is just that.
Covering Two Millennia in 171 Words
Combining what I read in "The Catholic Encyclopedia" with what I've heard from a few Catholics whose judgment I've learned to trust, here's a super-short summary of the True Cross we have today.

A few decades after the Crucifixion, Jerusalem's administration went through an abrupt set of changes. It was that Masada thing. Summarizing and over-simplifying, Roman forces finally got frustrated with revolts, and destroyed Jerusalem.

Fast-forward a few centuries. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. Catholics call her Saint Helena. She was in Jerusalem in 326 A.D., and found a pit in the Golgotha area where wood left over from crucifixions was tossed. She went through the debris, so I'm told, touching a person with some affliction with one piece of wood after another.

"Unscientific?" Maybe: but CT scans wouldn't be invented for a very, very long time when St. Helena was around.

Anyway, she eventually found a piece that effected a cure. Or, by some weird coincidence, the person just happened to be cured when the wood was around.


Just like the Saracens just happened to start leaving Constantinople alone around 717-718 A.D., after "...a solemn procession was organized in the city displaying the image of the Mother of God, the Theotokos, and the relic of the True Cross...." (Benedict XVI (April 29, 2010))

Sure, miracles involving the True Cross could be coincidences. But the way I see it, if you roll 'lucky seven' once, that's nothing special. If you keep rolling 'lucky sevens' - you've probably got loaded dice.

Or, maybe all the people who witnessed miracles over the last few millennia were liars. Particularly considering the unpleasantness some of them went through as an alternative to fessing up, I rather doubt that.

Then, there's the matter of little bits being chipped off the True Cross over the centuries - and the original piece is still there. If that was an ordinary hunk of wood, I'd say there was something unusual about so much being removed, without the source being significantly diminished.

Since the True Cross is the piece of wood that my Lord was crucified on, I'd still say there was something unusual about so much being removed, without the source being significantly diminished.

But I wouldn't say that it's impossible.

I've discussed my take on miracles before.


One of the witty things Mark Twain said about the True Cross involved its "invention" by St. Helena.

It's true, by the way. Quite Catholic sources (including at least one cited near the end of this post) refer to the "invention of the Cross."
Doesn't Everybody Know What Invenire Means?
St. Helena didn't "invent" the True Cross.

Or, rather, she did.

Except the word is invenire.

Here's the situation:
  • St. Helena isn't an American
  • Most Catholics aren't Americans
  • The standard, universal, language of the Catholic Church isn't American English
    • It's Latin
  • St. Helena didn't speak any sort of contemporary English
    • And neither did anybody else in her day
(There's an interesting history of English on the English Club's website, by the way.)

When the English translation of a Catholic document, or even a Catholic document written by a Catholic scholar in English, uses a word - it may not mean quite what the 'average American' thinks it means.

Which reminds me of Faustina Kowalska's diary - and that's another topic.
When an "Invention" isn't an Invention
Just about every American today should know what an invention is. It's a gadget or process that somebody develops.

Except for music majors, who should know that an invention is also a kind of music. Which, by a stretch, is a special case of what Thomas Edison was known for.

Then, there are those Catholics: most of whom, as I said, aren't Americans.

For us, if we've dug through our history, and know Latin, an "invention" can be:
  • The sort of thing that Edison is famous for
  • A sort of musical composition
  • An invenire
Let's remember that the Catholic Church's common language is Latin.
"Invention" - as a Scholarly Catholic Term
"INVENTION: From the Latin invenire,to come upon: the discovery, whether accidental or deliberate, of the saint in its original burial place (loculus or cubiculum), leading to its veneration1 and possible translation."
(Saints Alive)
Then, there's this interesting bit:
"...Discovery and invention are united in their etymology: invenire in Latin means to come upon, to find or invent. Invention is both finding and creative power...."
(Materiality and the necessity of poetry, "Critical romanticism on a visit to the past," Michael Shanks, Stanford University, California, (1992, published 1995 as "Archaeological realities: embodiment and a critical romanticism"))
I really wish that learned Catholics who use contemporary English would realize that many of their readers aren't Stanford scholars, don't understand Latin, and aren't some guy with a blog in central Minnesota. But that's yet another topic.

Worshiping a Piece of Wood?!

I'm a Catholic. That means that I worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 232-367, for starters)

That also means that I must not worship any other person or thing. (2083-2141)

Venerating relics and images, however, is okay. (1674, 2132)

No wonder so many folks are confused about Catholics and Catholicism.

Back to Boston

Finally, what this post started with: I've prayed for the return of that relic of the True Cross. It's your decision, but you could do the same.

Related posts:More mentions of the True Cross:More, about veneration of relics:
1 "Veneration" isn't used very often in American English, so here's a definition of the term, as used by Catholics.

I've added links to relevant parts of the Catechism.
"VENERATION (OF SAINTS): Showing devotion and respect to Mary, the Apostles, and the martyrs, who were viewed as faithful witnesses to faith in Jesus Christ. Later, veneration was given to those who led a life of prayer and self-denial in giving witness to Christ, whose virtues were recognized and publicly proclaimed in their canonization as saints (828). Such veneration is often extended to the relics or remains of those recognized as saints; indeed, to many sacred objects and images. Veneration must be clearly distinguished from adoration and worship, which are due to God alone (1154, 1674, 2132)."
(Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church, V)
More, from the Catechism: 1378, 127, 1090.

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