Stained Glass Images of God: Friday of the 29th Week of Ordinary Time

Romans 7:18-25a; Luke 12:54-59

As a young man I spent several years attending a church that I thought had the most beautiful stained glass windows. I used to love sitting there early in the morning or late in the afternoon, watching how the sunlight made those images so warmly luminescent. I never liked going there at night when most of the lights were out. In the darkness the images appeared so lifeless, dull, and indistinct.

Those memories came to mind as I thought about today’s readings. Every person conceived in original sin knows firsthand that struggle between light and darkness within ourselves. We have been given both knowledge of the light – what St. Paul calls “the law of God” – and the darkness of concupiscence, or the tendency to do evil – what he calls the “law of sin.” The saints are no different. Stained glass images may depict them as solemn, haloed people in pious postures, but they were flesh and blood just like we are. They felt all the same joys and sorrows and they knew the frustration of feeling trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of knowing the right yet so consistently doing the wrong. It was one of the greatest saints known to us, St. Paul himself, who wrote of this frustration, Miserable one that I am! (Romans 7:24)

In today’s gospel, Jesus points out why we’re miserable. It is our failure to read the signs of the times and to settle with our opponent. The opponent may be the devil, and it is convenient to blame him, but many times we don’t need his help; we are our own worst enemy. And our enemy knows us very well. When we’re caught up in the darkness of sin and feel its misery, he fools us into thinking that all we need to feel better is more of what made us sick to begin with. This was portrayed perfectly by C.S Lewis in his novel The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Remember how Edmund craved the Turkish Delight? He couldn’t eat enough of it yet the more he ate the worse he felt, the more addicted he became, and the easier he was for the witch to manipulate. Our Turkish Delight may be money, power, or control. We think, “If only I can get more, I will be satisfied,” only to find upon getting it that the emptiness we longed to fill is still there, maybe worse than before. Like those stained glass windows in the dead of night we become lifeless, dull, indistinct images of God. Who couldn’t sympathize with St. Paul as he asks, Who will deliver me from this mortal body? (Romans 7:24)

Of course, he knew the answer for he says, Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 7:25). St. Paul knew that even the darkest night gives way to dawn. What makes a saint a saint is not that they rid themselves of their concupiscence but that they did as Christ taught; they settled the matter on the way. Their repentance set the example for us in three ways. First, they made a firm resolution to turn from the darkness of sin and live in the light of Christ. This happens in Confession when we pray an Act of Contrition, telling God that we are sorry for what we have done not only because we fear his judgment but because our sins have offended him, who is all good and deserving of all our love. Second, the saints amended their lives, which again is obeying the voice of Christ who through St. John the Baptist urged us to show fruits of our repentance (Matthew 3:8). Third, because they knew that they would never in this life be free of concupiscence, the saints spent the rest of their lives cultivating the virtue of hope. They have come to realize once and for all that the redeeming light of Christ is the only sure hope against the ever-looming darkness of sin.

king-1841529_640That is the image I think of now when I think of saints. Not images set in glass that glow with the sunlight, but people who now and forever glow with the radiance of the one true Light – Christ, the Morning Star who never sets.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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