Steve Taylor Arts
These three panels were mounted in St. Paul’s Church Center for the New Evangelization (in historic Ellicott City, Maryland) on Friday, December 13, 2013, and Bishop Rozanski presided at the 175th anniversary celebration Mass on Sunday, December 15, which was followed by blessing of the paintings by our vicar Bishop.
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On this page:
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“A great light from the sky suddenly shown around me.”
— Acts 22:6
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- Veni Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorum visita,
Imple superna gratia,
Quae tu creasti pectora.
- (Come Creator Spirit,
Visit the souls of Thy people,
Fill with grace from on high,
The hearts which Thou hast made.)
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Christian life grows.
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“Where You are is
the pleasantness of spring,
the radiance of summer,
the fecundity of autumn
and the repast of winter.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas
from the Prayer for the Attainment of Heaven
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“The Son of God will come riding on the clouds of heaven, and we symbolically look east for his coming.”
— Archbishop Alexander Sample
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Christianity is the luminous religion.
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The painting is named Receiving the Gift of Faith because the movement of divine grace begins in each person as knowledge in the heart. The very first glimmers of faith ‘harken out’ beyond the human rational and material: “there is more to the world than we see with our eyes or touch with our hands.” Some One Greater is guiding, always. We are enfolded by a spiritual world before all other worlds: God’s indestructible dominion of light, wisdom, truth.
The picture reflects the two paths which bear faith: the first, being taught by fathers and mothers who received it the same way, in the inner sanctum of ‘the domestic church’ – the Catholic family home. The second is conversion, when a person previously unexposed to Christianity learns what Jesus of Nazareth has done for every human on earth, inviting a person to choose to believe in His gift of eternal life. The painting illustrates the decisive moment of homecoming, faith born after prodigal wanderings and ‘winters of ignorance’. The painting is organized in vertical halves around a line intersecting a new moon and the face of a cliff, to show the simplicity of crossing from lost to found in Christ: by faith.
“The season of Advent is the time of man’s original religious instinct. Never will we experience our primeval homesick yearning for God more actively and alertly that in this season of [candle] wreaths. Advent is the time of the God-seeker. The original longing within every human heart is a great impulse toward the hidden and distant God, a longing to wander in that far-off, forgotten homeland of the soul.”
— Fr. Alfred Delp
Along the path to the castle, a sprouting stump recalls Jesse from which came the shoot that would save the whole world at Christmas.
The early days of Ellicott Mills expressed a yearning for connection with Rome of the Old World. Like Rome, it named seven hills that surround it; a river “Tiber” that runs through it, into whose original Roman waters Christian martyrs were thrown, and for which crossing was a metaphor for spiritual conversion; and in its “Tarpean Rock”, originally a site of executions for traitors against the Roman state.
In the depiction, Ellicott City’s “Tarpean Rock” is restored to pre-1860 presence, a 60-foot stanchion of granodiorite left by B&O Railroad cliff-cutting and track-laying work. The serpent head-shaped Tarpean Rock cannot fail to suggest Golgotha. On the Rock is a young tree in the shape of a triple-beamed Papal Cross, symbol of Christian Revolution, the conquering of pagan empire. The conqueror is Christ, Crucified.
The picture unfolds from the long bend in the river and the railroad tracks, intoning the theme of journey and arrival.
A stone’s throw away from the Tarpean Rock is Ellicott Mills Station, the first railroad terminus in the United States and in the world. Ellicott Mills was in 1836 the first ‘end of the line’. The foreground cuts abruptly the railroad tracks, which might be imagined as a symbol of limitation or unfreedom.
Adjacent to the tracks, a stone staircase climbs up to the refuge of “Angel Castle”. The hungering soul begins to ascend, out of the carnal valleys of error. If the splendors of spiritual light and distance – Love’s supernatural Kingdom, are to be seen, the soul accepts to be lifted up and cooperates with ascension into the spiritual life, by grace.
In cruciform Angelo Castle, with its large central gothic window, Catholic clergy lived for two years during the construction of St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church. It is in Angelo Castle, the first catholic church in Ellicott City to be precise, where the first Mass was offered, planting in the midst of American homestead the gathering seeds of grace.
Though they happened freely in Ellicott City, how often might the home-chapel masses of earlier American faith pioneers at times of religious intolerance and persecution, be called to mind? Our community today stands on the shoulders of many ancestors of the faith who persevered during days of public unwelcome, even to earliest Roman times when Christianity was illegal, forcing clandestine Masses.
Skimming the river on a tangent toward the castle staircase are two slate-colored juncos, the plain bird of winter, whose dark grey and white feathers suggest penitence and humility. The lowly and contrite make entrance unto God’s household. The birds flight cuts effortlessly across the ’slave-track of sin’ – faith.
The two: no one ever arrives at hope in Christ’s gift of eternal life alone. We come to the faith with assistance: through others and with others, sometimes leading, sometimes in mutual discovery, or following others who go before us. Isn’t this deeply true? But even when the soul arrives, this awakening is sweeter still in the midst of community, when others share it.
The castle reminds us today to keep strong one’s faith and to pray for its strength, in a time of increasing societal marginalization and religious persecutions.
The ‘new’ phase of the moon marks when it is between the earth and the sun, with the dark side of its disk facing toward the earth. The new moon has been said to indicate the sorrow of all creation at the death of Christ. Through the God murdered by His own creature, death is ‘allowed to taste God’, and death will be and is, undone forever by the Resurrection.
The darkened side of the moon is a symbol of human soul stretched to the limits of separation from knowledge of God. The prodigal soul at the farthest wanderings from the Maker, finally knows that awakening out of aloneness, out of isolation from God, beckons.
We remember the dark midst into which Christ incarnated to announce salvation and redemption – at the Midnight Nativity. “Silent Day ...” and “O Holy Day”, we do not sing. The Savior comes at the very moment of night’s deepest dark, on the brink of the abyss.
The scene might symbolize also the fervent Christian suffering desolation and aridity in the spiritual life, ardently begging to be remembered, found and favored by the Lord again.
“Where have You hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning?”
— St. John of the Cross
in The Spiritual Canticle
“We can believe in God because the Holy Spirit, a gift of the Risen One, enables us to receive the living God. Thus, Faith is first of all a supernatural gift, a gift of God.”
— Pope Benedict XVI
The Transforming Power of Faith
The center picture gives witness to the cosmic eminence of the Eucharist, the real and true presence of the Divine Lamb in the sacrament, the perpetual sustenance of Christians. A pillar of light ties the host to the Supernal heights, an explicit reminder that through the Mass we receive Purity itself, Heaven Himself, salvation according to the measure of our faith. As catholic Christians by faith and love first (not first by name or identity) we must all help restore ‘Eucharistic literacy’, to truly understand what we are doing and receiving at Mass, so that we may proclaim it to others.
Single sentences from the picture:
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The ordinary, invisible action of the Supreme, in Sacrament.
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“The Lord gave them Bread from Heaven.”
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“... On earth as it is in Heaven.”
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In Your presence Lord, all becomes One, Heaven and earth are joined.
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“The daybreak from on high will visit us.”
— Luke 1:78
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You arose from the dead to raise us out of the shadow of death into endless light.
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“We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song!”
(The picture is an ‘Alleluia’.)
— St. Augustine
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“The light increases and soon it is midday, when the soul is dilated in the Sun.”
— St.Padre Pio
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“My help shall come from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
— Psalm 121:2
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The one who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."
— Revelation 21:5
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“Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad, let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy.”
— Psalm 96:11
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“The heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of His hands.”
— Psalm 19:1
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The Church is a healing sacrament.
The Church is the sacrament of Jesus.
The Church is the Body of Christ.
The Church of the Living God, is Jesus.
Jesus is the Light of Grace.
Jesus Christ is the Eternal Sun, our light and our life.
“Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
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“You have a miracle at every Mass, when the bread and wine are transubstantiated into My very Body and Blood.” ... “I am going back to My Father, but I am not leaving you all alone, because I leave you the Eucharist, that is, your Jesus made food for men. And I leave you the Friend: the Paraclete. He will guide you.”
— from Ch 631, The Gospel of Maria
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The Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist is “the bread of eternal life of the new world that is given us today in the Holy Mass, so that starting now the future world begins in us.”
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“Heaven comes down to Earth, the tomorrow of God descends into the present and it is as if time remains embraced by divine eternity.” The Mass is the work of Heaven on earth.
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“We celebrate that which has been accomplished and look forward to that which is to come. We at the same time participate in the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb, the heavenly liturgy. At the altar, heaven is joined to earth as we enter into the eternal mystery.”
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At the end of the long night of death and sin, the rising of Christ, the Sun of Justice, brings joy and hope for the life to come. In the light of the Resurrection we see and live anew.
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“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of Justice arise and health in his wings.”
— Malachi 4:2
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“The Sunday Eucharist and Sunday itself is the special day of faith, the day of the Risen Lord and of the gift of the Spirit are the true weekly Easter. For 2000 years, Christian time has been measured by the memory of that “first day of the week” when the Risen Christ gave the Apostles the gift of peace and the gift of the Spirit [Jn 20:19–23]. The truth of Christ’s Resurrection is the original fact upon which Christian faith is based, an event set at the center of the mystery of time, prefiguring the last day when Christ will return in glory. Precisely through sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Day also becomes the Day of the Church when she can effectively exercise her role as the sacrament of unity.”
— Pope John Paul II
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“You nourished your people with food of angels and furnished them bread from heaven, ready to hand, untoiled-for, endowed with all delights and conforming to every taste.”
— Wisdom 16:20
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This universal food is Him, Who is Light.
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“Heaven is essentially the region of this fire which only descended to earth to ascend thither again, and to carry us there with it. Jesus is the Sun of Love, the true light that enlightens and enkindles supernaturally every man born into the world.”
— Fr. Jean Nicholas Grou
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“Everything smiles in the purest light in the newness of a heavenly spring.”
— Jesus on Heaven to Fr. Peter Arnoudt
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“If we could climb to the top of a mountain and look down on the panorama of Man’s salvation history, we would see that mankind was created solely for the purpose of returning to its Creator – God our Father.”
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“Awake, o sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
— Eph 5:14
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“At every hour are we called to awake from the darkness of spiritual sleep into the glorious light of Jesus Christ. We put our trust in the promise of that eternal day when all shall awaken, with the man born blind, in the kingdom of light, where they shall drink from the stream of delight and see all things by the one true light.”
— from Magnificat
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God is found in the gentle breeze perceived by Elijah. God is encountered in the ordinary.
The gardener bending, seemingly distant, or unaware of His friend, says soundlessly, “I worked the miracle today for you, soul, while you were not able to look.”
We expect God to be like a human jeweler or lapidary, mincing carefully with fingers the object of handiwork. But Our Love is Jesus, asleep in the boat. Miracles have God’s invisible process and silent signature all over them, though we want very much to see the miracle deed actually performed in real time. His poetry of transformation eludes all of His creatures’ grasping eyes and minds.
Does He not always prefer the ineffable? Growth happens, it is organic, utterly free, certain without ever being forcibly scripted. “The Kingdom grows how and where it will, and none of us are going to stop it.”
“O Lord, our God, you have replanted on our earth the garden lost in Eden, and you have sent a new Gardener to till the soil plowed by the wood of the cross. He, who is both the farmer and the seed, has watered the earth with his life’s blood, shed for our redemption, make us grow in his likeness by the power of his word dwelling in our hearts. Amen.”
— A prayer from Magnificat
The Barn Swallow and the Goldfinch signify the celibate vocation – two finest songbird flyers, always free, that delight in all things, with God. The Barn Swallow reminds us of the humble beginner in God, a ‘little one’. The Goldfinch reminds us of the humble confessor, to always return to God, if we go astray.
Shown roosting and perching, the Kingbird and Cardinal pairs signify the married vocation. Jesus to Maria Valtorta: “Marriage is second in dignity only to God Himself.”
The turtledove pair signifies the consecrated vocation of men and women to the Church, who in their obedience bound ever upward toward Heaven. Theirs, the flight of true faith and perfect obedience, knows no obstacles.
A great copper beech, in dark red-green foliage, reminds us of Christ’s many spiritual tears, poured out in the Passion, with His blood, to wash the world clean; a symbol of the monumental co-redemptive grief of the Prince of Martyrs and His Holy Mother, for God’s needful creature humanity. Before this giant tree stands a lone telephone pole, with single beam. The ‘cross’ and ‘the tree of sorrows’ are on the other side of the street from the parish grounds – ‘outside the walls of the city’ – in communion with the lost of ‘the world’ and the ‘to-be-saved’.
At the center foreground twelve steps are an entrance into the painting. Many in modern time have come to or returned to Jesus, to the Church, addicts searching for freedom – ‘tax collectors and prostitutes’. Sinners today are often addiction sufferers. Addicted to control, addicted to ego or self, addicted to any number of private preferences, addicted to intoxications of many kinds; every person needs the Savior God and to know freedom in Him. Am I ‘poor’ in health? Am I ‘poor’ in freedom?
Two paths diverge from the direct but steep spiritual climb of the steps, one to the left leads to Dohony Hall which has served as shelter for the homeless. The materially poor are served by our Church.
The right path leads upward to the New Evangelization center, the spiritually poor seeking the kingdom through knowledge of Christ and formation in His doctrine.
“The Catholic Church of Jesus is the Church of the poor.”
— Joseph Ratzinger in “Theological Highlights of Vatican II”
The parish building windows are all shown uncurtained, signifying continuous openness to the inpouring Light of God and a welcoming of all pilgrims who come to the Church of Jesus’ doors, from everywhere in the world.
The painting embraces the Resurrection and Pentecost, the time of holy proclamation of evangelical joy. It is also holds forth the Mass as the unending, continuous Pentecost. The Eucharist is our refuge, our wellspring of grace, our spiritual ‘living room’, our home, the center of Christian Life.
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“The clear light of Gospel doctrine shines upon us, in and through Holy Mother Church, like the sun in its meridian glory.”
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“In preparation for rulership over all things, the Church is to shine like the sun.”
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The painting reveals an iconic morning hour, half past ten. But light upon the scene is also from the permanent vertical noon Above, the light of the Eternal Sun, the Father of Lights.
The picture is a parable of light.
The Church of St. Paul the Apostle at 2012 is a microcosm of the Church on earth; in the history of its buildings is a symbol of all of its merciful works. The campus structures have variously served as sanctuary, school, hospital, cloister, shelter, refuge.
The portrait adds one non-Church building to the grouping. A former county high school of stone converted into apartment dwellings is shown half-eclipsed by the copper beech. Notably, this same structure rose from the rubble of the same-sited Rock Hill College, a boy’s preparatory school founded by St. Paul’s first pastor, Rev. Henry Coskery.
“The Second Vatican Council affirmed that the Catholic Church refuses nothing of what is true and holy in non-Christian religions. Indeed, it exhorted Catholics to recognize, preserve and promote all good, spiritual and moral – as well as socio-cultural – values that they find in their midst, all of this with prudence and charity.”
— Final Report of the 1985 Extraordinary Synod
The spirit of Christ, born of the Father before all ages, goes before the Church Conscious, as prevenient grace, appearing as the beautiful, good and true in human cultures; the hidden Spirit of Love already present. As Saints Cyril and Methodius encountered what was already “with us” outside the holy land in the first native cultures of southeast Europe, so we today anticipate ‘secular saints’ and works of love where they are found outside the Church.
“The bright light of the Risen Sun Jesus Christ, shines to all parts of the earth. Let us walk in his light and follow in his way, that, reflecting this brightness, we may enlighten the eyes of the blind with faith and hope. Amen.”
— A prayer from Magnificat
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
— Mark 16:15
St. Paul’s new church and school, as seen in 1966 at completion, exemplifies growth in the Church during Autumn’s season of relinquishing and fertilization. The Church is a living organism, which must at times endure pruning and “drawing down” in order to spread forth again in vigor.
The painting is depicted in overcast suggesting that the journey of Christian faith includes times of work and fasting; willingness to be made hungry for the Lord, willingness to risk the sharing of The Faith with others, willingness to leave the zone of self content.
The light is chosen, as in the first two pictures, emanating left to right, ab orientem, from the symbolical east, the direction we face awaiting Christ’s return in glory. Yet the overall scene is illuminated chiefly again from above.
“Beyond the somber clouds, the Beloved Sun still shines.”
— St. Theresa of Lisieux
The school painting is a subdued reflection of the Mother parish portrait. A road appears at the bottom foreground rising from left to right and turns a corner to skirt the church and school, in that order. In this ‘preview pass’, the Holy Spirit prepares those He calls. Once the chosen accept the call, we come into the very presence of God through the sacraments (church) and become the children of His household through the Word (school).
The infield of the church loop is planted with evergreen and deciduous trees in autumn glory. Of the former, we might think of Christian faithful who have always known the Truth and remained pure. The other trees are ‘on fire’, these might be seen as the souls of conversion, those who because of having been lost, know what God’s favor means with greatest zeal.
Mary of Magdala, the former woman of sin possessed by seven demons – symbolic of total loss of freedom (i.e., addiction) – is set free by Jesus’ power over unclean spirits. Mary Magdalene, among all the sinful of history, is chosen first to encounter the Empty Tomb and the Risen Savior. She burns with the love of Who He Is, the true knowledge of His Aramaic Name, Yeshuah: Salvation.
The parish campus is surrounded by sapling evergreens, symbol of souls awake in the attributes of God’s youthfulness – ‘the child of God’. The appearance of St. Paul’s new church, renamed Church of the Resurrection in 1974 after St. Paul’s embryonic creed in Corinthians 13, comes in the early wake of the Second Vatican Council, whose four conclaves (1962–5) were all held in the Autumn of their years.
The parish is encircled by a long horizon of mature trees – perhaps the elders of Ellicott City’s ‘St. Paul’s-inside-the-walls‘, who raised the monies and built the buildings and eventually set this daughter free to become a new parish, a new Catholic family. We might also see the many-colored horizon of trees as the many ‘colors’ of the human family the world over waiting to meet the revolution of Christ’s saving love.
The overcast reminds us it was probably not easy nor always smooth, true of all growth in the Church and in each of us. Do I accept hardships as the pathway to peace?
The loving work of the Church and the Catholic family as a whole has been made more explicit in the wake of Vatican II. In the United States, Vatican II was completing in the midst of deep national examination of civil and human rights. This national awakening included tolerance and compassion and a mobilization of care extended to all those compromised by previous imperfect human laws and injustices. Vatican II encouraged true love of ‘brother and sister’.
The Cross is ever composed of two members. It has been preached down the centuries that the verticality of the Cross symbolizes Jesus’ ‘grace of union’, perfect identification with the Divine; and the horizontal beam His unlimited embrace of humanity. The Cross itself proclaims simultaneously the heavenly Love of the Father and the Love of all human persons.
The painting preaches the Council mandate of brotherly love through a horizontal presentation. To love our neighbor as ourselves is the lesson of His outstretched arms; the proof of our faith by the care of others with our own hands and hearts.
This horizontal emphasis of Christian charity toward others never precludes the greater commandment: Love of God above all things. Jesus summarized the commandments to just two: Love God and Love your neighbor. After Vatican II, the Catholic family has readily embraced the natural horizontal work of charity: if I love my neighbor, I love God.
Loving God includes honoring God, thanking God, worshipping God, and receiving what God alone gives. More radically we love God not for what He does, but for Who He is. Scripture does not teach ‘worship thy neighbor’. Worship, an act of love, is for God alone. Our Catholic Christian heritage shows us centuries of chapels, churches and cathedrals, and all manner of arts, conforming to the essence of ‘finest offering’, a love moving vertically toward Our Father Who is in Heaven. The painting thus also expresses like an open letter, what is our charity toward God, for Himself alone? What are the best fruits, offered to Him in His house? The vertical Church, expressed in the historic St. Paul’s sanctuary, expresses an exclusive love of God, reaching up to Abba in love with our best.
“The wild goose is a symbol for the Holy Spirit used by the Celtic peoples of Ireland and Scotland. This ancient symbol embodies the untamable and unpredictable nature of the Spirit and is a reminder that the Spirit is a disturber as well as comforter. With her awkward gait on land, the wild goose conveys a sense of foolishness, which is how the values of God’s upside-down reign appear to the world. In flight, the wild goose exemplifies an outrageous wildness as her great wings beat with exceptional power, implying the capacity to achieve the apparently impossible.”
— Text from the Ritual of Installation
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
The goose in her ungainly walk on land also mimics our ungainliness as mere creatures fixed only upon earthly things and our free, but limited, human powers. This is contrasted with the smooth, effortless, powerful flight of the goose. Flying geese show how beautiful we become riding in the breath of grace: souls always on our way to Heaven, by the perfect bond of charity; love of God and others.
Geese also fly in formation – and we are reminded that no one travels to Heaven alone. Jesus sent his followers out by twos. No one can evangelize alone.
“Wherever two or more gather in my name, there am I in the midst.” As teams of two, understood not as two people yoked together in all possible moments, but who commit to gather regularly in the same place, to pray and strengthen faith through fellowship, to pass around the riches of the Father’s house, to edify, inspire each other, as we are doing now.
Two geese break the vertical limit of the painting’s right side. The flight out of the picture space communicates the very nature of true faith. All Christians must step continually out of the known and into the unknown. And who doesn’t know, young or old, this essence of life’s structure and music? Even if you are an atheist, it is impossible to make any kind of journey on this earth without faith and grace, confirmed in the daily “assumption” that many different persons will stand at their appointed stations waiting to serve us.
The geese also communicate the constant westward movement of the Spirit, ‘migrating’ always from the symbolical east. It is a movement into the future without fear, nourished and watched over by Grace.
The geese are observed flying into the ‘margin’. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has instructed us to love the poor, to go where the poor are, to the margins of our world. We take love, joy, light, compassion, care, all straight from our Nourisher, to pour out the bounties of Christian beauty upon the poor.
All three pictures are enclosed or nested in another larger window, which at first intuition seems neutral or empty. The Christian knows that the so-called ‘real world’ is embraced by a larger, invisible world, the realm of Spirit, the eternal unseen, the kingdom of grace. The white margin signifies not Heaven itself but the spiritual hope that is the embrace of Heaven at all times.
Each picture includes a bright element into this white space; which is directly ‘begot’ by its source (i.e., from God), but which gathers itself in a purpose to impact our life here. We call this invisible symphony or play of lights ‘the movement of the Holy Spirit’.
A special concentrating of this whiteness expresses in each picture, respectively:
It has been said and often re-quoted that Vatican II ‘opened the windows of the Church’. It is useful to imagine an open, stained glass, window.
The stained glass is a symbol for the One eternal family, the Body of Christ, the children who have been ‘adopted’. The opened window is a sign of the Church’s dynamic nature which continues to receive children from all heritages, generations, cultures and nations.
As it is today, anyone can enter the ancient One Church, right where they are. Meaning, many persons live near a parish with a ‘vernacular’ liturgical culture. In the family of parishes throughout the world is revealed a tremendous plurality of sacred character.
From the Vatican and from our cathedrals and basilicas, we see a singular, high liturgical culture that leaves behind all ‘geographical’ markers of diversity, to display a collective quintessence, speaking in angelic, anticipatory resonance with the glimpse of Heaven in the Holy Mass, the City of God. The Church invites all its children to make pilgrimage to a basilica or a shrine where this contact with unearthly holy reverence waits to leave an indelible mark, a gift that keeps echoing in the memory of a soul, helping to sustain faith.
The door is always open that leads to The One Table, the unending unity of family, living in hope beyond death in Christ Jesus. All Christian believers hope to arrive in the country of Heaven, the eternal, living, pureland of God. Our liturgy places us in proximity to this divine realm every Sunday.
The Council helped us to understand more finely the nature of the Church that she is a unity and a totality; she holds to an unchanging core while able to grow herself continually because it is the work of a living God who seeks, finds, grows and gathers all children. The Church of Jesus seeks and welcomes all into the One fold, to build the ’unity kingdom’, stretching over unimaginable distances of time, to assemble the Whole, eternal Body of Christ.
The Light in the Church is the Light of the Eternal Sun Jesus – living in the faithful. It comes from on high. It is the supple openness and readiness of Mother Church to love all orphans wherever we come from; to love every one everywhere, as Jesus instructed. To Love, as I have loved you.