Our parish was built without stained glass windows or much in the way of sanctuary art. It was understood, however, that at some future date these things would be added. Before doing that, though, the parish council and finance committee wanted to pay off the mortgage. Once we accomplished that feat, a committee was set up to plan the artwork and windows. Our pastor at the time gave final approval to the designs, and the results were stunning.
On either side of our altar, we now have beautiful hand-carved statues of the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, in addition to a hand-carved relief of a choir of angels that hangs behind our choir and a gorgeous crucifix with a 4′, hand-carved corpus hangs directly over the altar. Father said that it would serve as a reminder of what happens on that altar at every Mass. In fact, every part of the renovation was done with the purpose of creating a silent catechism. The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary are arranged to the left of the altar as you face it, the crucifix hangs directly in the center, and the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are to the right of that crucifix.
One of my favorite additions has been the saints’ windows. Above each of the Staions of the Cross is a saint that was chosen purposefully for our parish. We’ve been known for our hospitality, and so Saint Martha is in one window. Our parish has Francsicans, Dominicans, and Carmelites, and so Saint Clare, Saint Catherine of Seina, and Saint Teresa of Avila are present. The parish was originally founded by the Redemptorists, and so Saint Alphonsis Ligouri watches over us. The saints begin with Saints Peter and Paul and work chronologically around the church until we reach Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Saint John Paul II. Their presence in the windows reminds us of the Communion of Saints which prays with us (and for us!) at every Mass.
At Sunday morning Mass, light streams through the windows, lighting up the faces of the saints. We can see their features clearly, the the colors “pop.” The saints seem almost alive. And, really, they are alive, though we only have these images to remind us of them today. Saint Paul is alive in Christ, and the light shining through the window is a reminder of that. The Light of Christ shone through him during life, as well, and that is part of what attracted so many people to the Church as he preached throughout the Empire. People could see the light of Christ shining through him, and they wanted a bit of that for themselves.
When we are out in the world, we need to be like the stained glass windows: clearly allowing God’s light to shine through us. When we meet people, they should see that we’re different than the rest of society, that something is creating a light in our lives that the secular world cannot match. Even in our troubles, there should be a kind of joy inside of us that cannot be quenched — a hope that sustains us in the worst of times. Christ is our hope, He is our light!
But when we don’t allow the Lord to shine through us, we lose something. We might not feel like it’s not making a difference, but it can. We can wind up being more like the stained glass windows at night: dark, with features obscured. Sure, Saint Peter is still there in this window, and you can make parts of him out, but it’s obscured. This isn’t to say that we’re never allowed to be sad as Christians, but even in our times of trial, there should be evidence of our hope in Christ, that our sufferings have some kind of meaning and purpose.
When Christ shines through us, even in our sufferings, it’s beautiful to see. People notice when we cling to that Hope when secular culture says to give up or lash out, and they’re attracted to it. It’s then that we become like the stained glass windows as the sun shines through them. It’s Christ’s light in us that makes us beautiful. The silent catechism of the stained glass saints teaches us that the saints are the beautiful souls we recognize only because Christ’s light shines through them. And we become like the saints when we allow God to do the same thing with us.
What can be difficult is seeing how it works when we feel darkness inside. When our lives feel dark and nearly hopeless, we have to remember that the light that’s left is from God, and that when we cling to Him and keep on praying through the darkness, He can still show others His power and light through us. Blessed Mother Teresa suffered through a Dark Night of the Soul that lasted nearly four decades, and few people knew it. Her hope was still in Christ, and His light shone through her, though she felt a darkness inside of herself that most people couldn’t even imagine.
An interesting thing happens at night with our church. There are frequently activities happening in the sanctuary at night — choir practice, rehearsals for various sacraments, Adoration — and the lights are on inside the church. From inside, we see the windows as darkened and the features of the saints obscured. And yet we continue to pray inside the Church, offering our actions and prayers to the Father through the Son with help from the Holy Spirit. Inside the Church, we see this:
…but outside, our prayers in what seems like darkness can look like this:
Christ’s light shines through us, and it’s seen in the world, even when we don’t see it ourselves.