This is a re-posting of words composed two years ago on the occasion of a previous redesign of this website. There is much about these words that rings very true to me today at this point of new beginning – especially after having spent so much time preparing the photos for the new gallery.
This site has lain largely fallow for quite some time, and that was certainly not my original intent when I opened it for membership and posting last fall. Life, however, does not so easily correspond to our desires as one would like. These last months have brought me a number of powerful experiences both of the profound and tragic brokenness that marks the lives of so many as well as of the even more profound and compelling movement of grace. These are experiences to which, by and large, I could only respond with silence – silence of the heart and silence, as well, of the tongue and the pen.
Silence does not always imply stillness, however, and these last several months have been for me a time of much movement. Fully three months of the past year have been spent in Nicaragua, including three visits since last January. This itinerance has meant a certain necessary withdrawal from pursuits such as this site simply so that I could maintain my focus upon my commitments here at St. Mary Gate of Heaven as well as upon the work of preparing a revised process of preparation for those wishing to make Montfort’s Act of Total Consecration of Oneself to Jesus through Mary. That work has gone well and, much to my surprise, the draft work in Spanish has been written before that in my native language of English.
Through all of this I have felt a persistent tugging to return to this site and share something of the fruits of this time of – I am unsure how to express it – difficult beauty or beautiful difficulty. But I did not wish to do so until I felt sure of having both the energy and the focus necessary to maintain it as it merits. Even as the energy for posting here has returned, I found myself puzzled over the direction I wished to move with this site. Ironically, however, the answer has been quite literally in front of my eyes for some time without my possessing sufficient clarity of vision to realize it.
I have just returned from a trip home to Pennsylvania, and while there I had the opportunity spend some time with my camera in several churches in the small towns of the Coal Region. The treasures of art and spirituality, of a vision of Catholic belief and life, contained in these buildings has given me pause – especially in the realization of how much I myself am a product of these same powerful visual expressions of the Divine. There was a knocking in my heart as I stood with my camera before windows of stunning color and detail in silent places touched by the prayers of generations of families who, much like my own, found within the Catholic tradition a strength, a vigor, and an expressiveness which shaped not only their lives but the culture of the entire region.
Little exists, it seems, of a good photographic record of these places. That is not at all surprising, really, for such records are often scarce in places where the beautiful is a thing that meets the eye on a daily basis, and so can easily be taken for granted. The windows and the art of these buildings, have much to say, however, to that one whose sight allows him to perceive their speaking. And the stories they tell are at one and the same time aspects of that great story of God himself in the mystery of his saving love for us, as well as windows into the lives of those who worshiped in their company. These are stories that must be told, and there is an urgency of sorts with regard to the spiritual and artistic wealth of the churches of this region which are being consolidated and closed over the coming months. The loss of a few churches in rural Pennsylvania may seem at first glance to be a small thing, but the greatest of treasures are often found hidden under an aspect that is humble and unassuming. This holds true not only for the churches of the mountains of Pennsylvania’s Coal Region, but for all places where the beautiful stands each day by our side and we live without truly seeing it for we feel as if it will always remain with us.
The knocking that I have been feeling in my heart is peculiar in its narrow clarity. Windows into mystery for a Catholic are often exactly that – windows. These windows speak in their own way and they have much to tell us. And so, while this will not simply be a site dedicated to physical windows, however beautiful they may be, it is a site where everything that is posted will be done in an atmosphere colored by the spiritual theology of the stained glass windows that have colored and defined the spaces of Catholic life and worship through the centuries.