Thursday, 30 January 2014

Through the [Stained] Glass


When visiting old churches, especially cathedrals, I always take some time to enjoy their collections of stained glass windows. There is something grandeur and mystical about these windows. Besides their vivid colours and their geometrical and symmetrical designs, the featured symbolism never ceases to awe. A church's stained glass is (should be!) a visual catechesis of the truth of the Faith. In the stained glass, the Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition come to life. For me, enjoying stained glass art is like listening to a theology lecture while at the same time pampering my eyes.

It is worthy of note that this beautiful stained glass is not beautiful by itself. Rather, it needs light. During the waking hours, daylight from the outside shines through the windows and gladdens the church interior. After the sun sets, it is the church's internal light — the candles — that must illuminate the darkness and gives radiance to the church's surroundings. I'm sure, some confused soul wandering outside in the dark, when he sees one of these windows, will be immediately reminded of hope, of love, of his God.

The light that shines through stained glass makes the images leap out, so that their beauty becomes lively. The best glass design, when denied proper lighting, will appear dreary and its message cannot be perceived clearly.

As a Christian, we also need to realise that we are nothing without God. King David himself already realised this when he said, "Who am I, Lord GOD, and who are the members of my house, that you have brought me to this point?" (2 Sam 7:18)

We are familiar with the story of David's life: from the youngest child that nobody accounted for, he became a harpist in the court of King Saul, then he became Israel's hero after he defeated Goliath, and finally he ascended the throne as the new king of Israel. As if those were not enough, God made a covenant with David, pronouncing that the house of David would endure forever, and that the Messiah was to be born from his line. And who is this Messiah? It's none other than God the Son incarnated!

David had surely never dreamt of any of this! Granted, God might have seen his potentials, his leadership skills, his loyalty, and his faith. But all these only came to light when David was anointed by the Prophet Samuel. In humility, David agreed to be an instrument of God, and with that, the promised Messiah could be born for us.

We are stained glass, and its brilliant design is a collection of God's many blessings: our talents, our skills, our intellect, our good looks, and more. Using all these without God is like stained glass that remains in darkness: rich and full of possibilities, but does not illuminate anything or anyone. Over time, such glass will become dusty, broken, worthless, and forgotten. We think we know how we should use our resources, but God might have other, greater plans.

But if we let God shine forth through ourselves, that means we let Him use our potentials to the maximum, even beyond our wildest imagination. This is the proper thing to do, for a lamp is not brought in to be placed under a basket or under a bed (cf. Mark 4:21). Our lives should become a witness of divine providence, because we entrust everything that happens into His hands.

Thus, let us be aware of the many blessings that God has given us, and do not be afraid to use them for the Kingdom, in ways fitting to His will. Let the light of God shine through the stained glass of our souls, so that we can be more beautiful, and our beauty give Him greater glory.

Finally, let me close today's reflection with Pope Benedict XVI's comment on stained glass:
"From the outside, [stained glass] windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendour. Many writers... have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light."

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Daily Reading for Thursday, 30 January 2014

First Reading — 2 Samuel 7:18-19, 24-29
Responsorial Psalm — Psalm 132:1-2, 3-5, 11, 12, 13-14
Gospel Reading — Mark 4:21-25

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Image: "Rosa Mystica", photography by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP

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