Why Stained Glass Windows are Wonderful

It is always a very odd experience for me to go into a church that has clear glass windows (it’s rare, but does happen). Even though I don’t think about it often, it drives home the fact that almost every church has stained glass windows. Rather than seeing the outside world, you are drawn into the story of the church you have entered. This is different than the type of story being told by a casino (which often does not give vision to the outside world, either). In that case, the lack of windows seeks to dull the mind and prevent the patron from remembering outside responsibilities. Stained glass windows, in contrast, are not about dulling the mind or trapping the person. The purpose is to elevate the soul to see past the immediate demands of daily life, and return back to our responsibilities with minds refreshed.

Stained glass windows acknowledge that we as human beings are easily distracted. We can probably all remember times in school when a window became a distraction to staying focused on the lesson! Not only does the stained glass keep us from the distraction of outside things, it also gives us something to reflect on when our minds wander. When our attention drifts from what is happening in the liturgy, the windows give us something better to contemplate than our to-do list. The Scripture scene or saint depicted in it can help draw us into prayer despite our wondering thoughts! As human beings we need more than just words to feed us. Beauty speaks to us about other truths of our faith, and can draw us to an encounter with God. Our imagination gives us another avenue to enter into reflective prayer.

So, the next time your mind wanders in church and you get sidetracked looking at windows, give thanks that the design had your situation in mind!

Installation as Pastor

Today I was honored to be officially installed as the Pastor of St Malachy and St Elizabeth! You may wonder: didn’t I become pastor last year? Well… not exactly. I was appointed as “Parish Administrator,” which is the common practice in our diocese for the first time a priest is placed in charge of a parish or group of parishes. Up until this assignment I had always been assisting another priest. Canon law (the collection of laws within the Catholic Church) distinguishes an Administrator from a true Pastor. So, it is true that last year I was entrusted with the pastoral care of these parishes, but it was in a more provisional way (my dad referred to this role as being an “imposter pastor!”). By granting the canonical title of Pastor, Bishop Jenky has deepened my call to serve these parishes.

It has been an honor and a joy to spend this year of preparation/on-the-job training at these two great parishes! I very much request your prayers as I seek to give an ever better response to the call of the Lord. I am excited for all of the great possibilities that this next year holds! God bless-

The Eucharist and the Parish

One of the very special events in the life of a priest is his “first Mass.” This is usually celebrated at his home parish the day after his ordination. When I was preparing for mine, the line that kept coming to my mind was what Jesus tells his apostles at the Last Supper, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you” (Luke 22:15). It was the fulfillment of many years of preparation, and I was so happy to celebrate it with the community where I had grown up (even though it was probably the most nervous I have ever been celebrating a Mass!).

Indeed, the last thing Jesus chose to do before going to his arrest and death was to institute the Eucharist. Jesus emphasized the desire he had for this celebration because it was to be the foundation for the new community he was founding. This communion with his Body and Blood was to be the lifeblood of his “mystical” Body: the Church. St Paul uses this image in a powerful way in Chapter 12 of the first letter to the Corinthians. He says that the Church is the Body of Christ. Each of us is a member of this Body with our own mission and gifts. The body is not a single part, but there is a unity within the distinct parts. Pope Francis speaks of this as “harmony,” which avoids the opposite errors of stale uniformity and destructive disunity (see his first homily for Pentecost as Pope, 19 May 2013).

I think it also teaches us something very important about what a parish is supposed to be. To use another phrase from Pope Francis, he speaks of the parish as a “community of communities” (The Joy of the Gospel, paragraph 28). This is similar to St Paul’s description of the Church as a unified Body with many parts. In our parish we have a variety of communities. Our goal is not to lose what is essential or unique about each of these communities, but similarly not to break down into isolated units. It is our unity in the celebration of the Eucharist that stands as an essential part of what we do together as a parish. We might think of this as the heart that pumps blood through the body. If a hand tries to separate itself from the heart it will wither. If we lose our connection here, we will not bear fruit. There will be events that fall mainly within one of the communities here, and we want to keep all of the distinctive life and gifts manifest in them. Our parish will be at its best, though, when we keep these parts connected in the unity of the parish through union with Christ in his celebration of the Eucharist.