Third Sunday of Lent
March 23, 2014
Reading 1 ex 17:3-7
Responsorial Psalm ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
R/ (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Reading 2 rom 5:1-2, 5-8
Gospel jn 4:5-42
Click here to LISTEN to this week's homily.
From the financial report of the Church of the Nativity, December 31, 1966, one can read the following: “The new, modern Church will be both impressive and inspiring; as an expression of your faith in God and your gratitude for His many acts of loving kindness toward you it will stand into the 21st century to challenge your children and theirs to give Him first place in their lives as you have in yours.” Bishop Loras Watters, Pastor A year later, December 17, 1967, the new church was dedicated by Archbishop Byrne. If you were asked to name what part of the structure most inspires, many would probably mention the stained glass windows.
Why do our churches have stained glass windows? It all goes back to words that are part of the priest-presider’s prayers as he invites the congregation to sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy.” There he prays, “And so we, too, give thanks and with the Angels praise your mighty deeds, as we acclaim.” The congregation then takes up the song of the heavenly hosts, the angels who are depicted on the wall behind the altar, the song mentioned both in the Prophet Isaiah and in the Book of Revelation, ch. 4:8 from the Bible: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts . . .” For our prayer here, is quite simply a joining of the heavenly praise of our God, so that in faith we believe heaven joins earth and earth joins heaven. And, what is the heavenly worship of God like? The same Book of Revelation describes this praise as follows: “the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven…having the glory of God, and her light like a most precious stone, even like a jasper clear as crystal…and the city was pure gold, like clear glass…whose foundations were garnished with all manner of gems: jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst…” It is because of our joining this heavenly worship that Christians have used stained glass in churches, especially since late Romanesque and the especially Gothic architecture permitted large windows in churches. The colored glass then has two meanings: First, it evokes all those glowing gems that adorn the heavenly Jerusalem. Second, with light as the primary biblical symbol of the divine presence, the streaming in of light reminds us that God’s presence is with us.
The same financial report from 1966 included a detailed accounting of the resources spent to provide this place where we can join the heavenly worship of God each week. Among the expenses of the nearly 1.3 million dollar project is a significant line: Loire Glass Company: $20,750.00 These world-famous artisans of stained glass, founded by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France, provided the glass that reminds us in a special way of the divine presence in this place. Here is the signature of the artist—with the year of his work—1966. I think most would agree that the artistry of Monsieur Loire has contributed mightily to the vision of Bishop Watters that our church would be a place where generations would be inspired.
Like the rest of us, at least those of us around the same age as our church or older, our windows have begun to show their age. Within the last couple of years, it has become apparent that our windows will need some significant maintenance if they are to survive to inspire the next generations of our parish. What’s the problem? In a nutshell, when a famous Iowa thunderstorm blows in, and especially when a strong wind comes directly at the windows, it is not only outside that it rains! Obviously it is not good for the inside of our building for it to rain anything but divine grace. My first idea—to issue umbrellas on rainy days, was not something our parish’s pastoral council could agree to.
Instead, what needs to be done is this: notice, our glass is actually 348 panels of stained glass embedded in mortar. Here is one of the 348. Upon examination, the firms who will restore our glass has stated that, in general, the glass remains in good condition. The issue is the sealing around each of the panels. Over time the caulking has hardened and decayed, shrinking so that it no longer holds the windows firm and the keeps the rain out. Some are in better shape than others—but we can say that about us too! Notice, for example, this window, still quite firmly in place. But, its neighbor is another story—see the difference! Not only is the water a problem, but we are told that our glass, still in good shape, will be imperiled if something is not done.
After receiving multiple bids from firms that restore stained glass, having received the counsel of our parish’s finance and pastoral councils, and after having received approval from the Archdiocese, we have accepted the proposal of Glass Heritage of Davenport IA to restore our windows. What will be done? Each of the panels will be removed, taken out of doors, the old seal around each window will be removed, new seals made with much more durable materials than existed 46 years ago will be put in place, and the windows will be returned. When will the project be done? We expect it to begin and be completed in the later summer, perhaps in August and lasting about a month. Gosh, what will a project like this cost our parish?
The amount: $122,600 plus tax. It is at this point that I’m pleased to tell you of the generosity of some former members of our parish: Almost exactly one year ago, we celebrated here the funeral of Theresa Grace. In her will, in her generosity she and her husband, who preceded her death by about seven years, left our parish and their parish approximately $74,000. In discussion with Theresa’s family, they have seen it fitting to have us dedicate these funds to the project to reseal our stained glass windows. Allow me to thank the family of Joseph and Theresa Grace for this most generous and lasting gift to our parish! The Graces have put us far along the way to providing for this needed restoration of our windows. We will need to raise another $60,000 to complete the project.
In the name of your parish community, both present and future, I ask you to consider a donation to support this project. To reach our goal, we ask your family to consider a gift of $175 towards the project. This amount equals the cost of resealing one of the 348 panels—after the generosity of the Grace family of course. As always, some of us can afford more, others less. If you are able, I invite those who are more able to make a larger donation; those less able would need to make a smaller donation—but I hope all can take a part in this important project for our parish—so that all will have their part. We will be sending families registered in the parish information to help with making a contribution to this project. In the past, we have also relied on the donations of some of our regular guests and we would most appreciate your help again!
St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans reminds us what we do in the midst of these windows--“We boast in hope of the glory of God. . . because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We are God’s children, who here experience the glory of God, God’s very presence, poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, the very power and presence of God, through the prayer and Eucharist we share each week.
Might our efforts to preserve our church as a place where we experience and praise God’s glory received be fruitful for our faith and the faith of those who will inherit this place of prayer and worship.