|Some of the Stain Glass Windows at John V, Bettendorf, Iowa, photo by J. Berta.|
Lent began Wednesday. As I type this, I'm both pleased and surprise to report I've made it through two of the "no meat" days. Usually, I'm off the wagon by this point. Before I plunge into the topic at hand, I feel compelled to clarify I'm not a particularly observant Catholic. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I'm confident I shall never win the following, in this order:
1. The Tour de France; and
2. An award for consecutive Mass attendance.
So it was with a bit of surprise that I found myself at Ash Wednesday Mass, bright and (certainly) early that morning. (There is a back-story to why I was there and I'll get into that in a possibly later blog post.) Yet there I was, at St. John Vianney's Church. I usually attend Mass (when I go, as mentioned above) with my Dad at our home parish of Our Lady of Victory. That is about 20 minutes away and due to other scheduling conflicts, making it over there was not going to happen. So, off to St. John's I went.
St. John Vianney's is a beautiful church. It was built late 60s/early 70s and has that look of a newer church. It is not trying to be something it is not- i.e. some Gothic cathedral. Instead, it is its own place. I could tell by looking around at the gathered faithful this is a place of spiritual and emotional refuge for many. (I should also add physical as it was damn near zero degrees that morning.)
I have put a link to this church's website below if you'd like to check it out, it is a wonderful place. More significant to me is their mission of "active social justice." It this world and at this time, we need all of that we can get.
So for those of you reading this who may not be Catholic or of a similar Christian faith that observes this event, you might be thinking, "Jeno, what's Ash Wednesday?"
Fair question, here's an answer.
Ash Wednesday begins the period of 40 days leading up to Easter. It is a time of reflection and for some, sacrifice. I've got a link to Ash Wednesday below if you'd like to learn more (or perhaps what you've forgotten for fellow almost-lapsed Catholics like me.)
In any event, Lent's begun. And for the first time since 2009, I was there when it kicked off. I was glad I was there. I might not be there for another Lent for a while, maybe never. Yet I was glad I was there for this one.
I do not want to discount the significance of the Ash Wednesday Mass or any celebration of the Mass for that matter. My Dad goes to Mass everyday. He's not alone. There are, I suspect, millions of people attend Mass regularly, certainly weekly. So I do not want to mock, trivialize, or (the worst offense) condemn with faint praise the event of Mass. For many people, attending Mass matters more than just about anything. Just because I am not one doesn't mean I cannot appreciate this priority.
So back to Wednesday's Mass. I am sitting there observing the service while not deeply into it. I was sitting in the back and could see the windows pictured in the photo posted above. It was then that I saw the sunlight hit the stained-glass. It first crept across the left side of the window, like water spilled on a floor. Then the entire window was illuminated with a glow that gave birth to a brilliant brightness. The colored glass dazzled, as if it was dancing with the sun with the offertory prayers providing the rhythm.
It was pretty cool.
It also caused me to recall a picture of a stained glass window I had seen on line a while back. I've got a picture of it posted here:
|A stained glass window of the Catholic Saint Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, public domain/fair use claimed, from Wikipedia, full cite listed below in the credits.|
This is the image of the Catholic priest Fr. Maximilian Kolbe. I've got some links below. He was a Polish Priest who perished in the Holocaust. He died when he volunteered to take the place of a prisoner who had been randomly condemned to death by starvation and dehydration. Aside from being burned at the stake, I cannot think of a worse way to die.
From what I read, Fr. Kolbe faced his death with dignity and a stoic resolve. He accepted his fate. Oh and the man he swapped places with, he survived the war.
I wonder how he could have faced such a horrific, brutal death in such a way. Science tells us that the body needs food and especially water to live, to function. Yet Fr. Kolbe lived. As the information posted below states, the Nazis killed him with poison to clear out the cell. He must have reached a point where he neither feared death nor felt his suffering. He knew what was on the other side for him. I wonder if in his cell he saw each day's sunrise as not another day of suffering but a future promise of what awaited him.
Light and darkness are a central part of our lives. The sun rises, it sets. The brutal cold of the winter eventually, grudgingly yields to spring. It can be a hard transition. Many of us are sick of winter and wondering when this ugly cold will break.
I'm ready for spring as well. I cannot wait until it is warm enough to run outside, to have grass to cut. In the meantime, I'll take what I can get, even if that is a bit of bright light early on a bitterly cold winter morning at the beginning of Lent.
Back in 1989, Bob Mould released his Workbook album. One of my favorite songs is "See a Little Light." Here's a sample of the lyrics:
"I see a little light, I know you will
I can see it in your eyes, I know you still care
I see a little light, I know you will
I can see it in your eyes, I know you still care..."
It is a terrific song. Here's a link that I'm going to insert both here and the credits of one of my favorite performances of this tune. It deserves "marque" billing. (Yup, it's that good, IMHO)
In a way, it's a heartbreak song. In another, it's a promise of something better that awaits. I cannot image how Fr. Kolbe endured his most unjust fate with such grace. I can only conclude he saw his suffering as a mere mortal inconvenience on his way to eternity. He saw every sunrise as God's way of saying, "I have not forgotten about you, my Son,...and I love you."
As I conclude this blog post, I still think about the wonder of the sun hitting the window right when I was sitting in front of it. Science will share with me a series of facts that make it a daily event. All true, no quarrel from me. However, science cannot account for me sitting where I did, when I did. Science cannot account for me happening to look up when I did (and NO, I was not on my iPhone at Mass, I had it on airplane mode) to see the light hit the window.
It was a little light at first. Then it grew into something more. I'm glad I was there to see the whole thing.
As to anything else from this experience, that's all I've got. You'll need to talk to someone with a much better G.P.A. than me to get more out of the experience. If you do, please let me know what you learn. I'd be grateful to know.
In the meantime, I'm happy with the little light I saw on that cold morning a few days ago.
Be well my friends and R.I.P. Fr. Kolbe,
"Kolbe-szombathely" by Primaryspace - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kolbe-szombathely.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Kolbe-szombathely.jpg
Read more: Bob Mould - See A Little Light Lyrics | MetroLyrics
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vz8FaFNMi6w (March 7, 2014 published date on YouTube, standard YouTube License and fair use specifically claimed for this post.)