This is the next installment in the occasional series on our church windows. We are now at the pair of windows between Station 12 and 13. These windows depict the Sacrament of Confirmation. In the left-hand panel as you face the window you see a white bird. This is a representation of the Holy Spirit, based on the passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel about the Baptism of Jesus: “After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming upon him.” (3:16). The other Gospels have similar passages. Ever since the Holy Spirit has been represented as a white dove. You can see another representation of the Holy Spirit as a bird in the windows of the Mary Chapel.
Personally, I do not find the dove a very impressive symbol. Pigeons are a type of dove after all, and don’t get me started on how I feel about pigeons. When I was pastor at Old Saint Mary’s Cathedral we had to hire a special cleaning company to remove decades of accumulated pigeon poop in the church bell tower. They wore HazMat suits and had to take all kinds of environmental protection procedures. By the time we paid for the cleaning and repaired the damage the pigeon droppings had caused it came to $30,000! Hence, I am not a fan of pigeons or of doves generally for that matter.
Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as wind, and this is an image I find much more appealing. In St. John’s Gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (3:8) Here in Central Texas we know that on a hot day a cooling breeze is most welcome, bringing refreshment and relief, and in difficult, contentious times in our life, the Holy Spirit can bring relief, refreshment and calm. However, we also know, from super-storm Sandy for example, that wind can be tremendously powerful, indeed irresistible. The Holy Spirit can also be a strong driving force in our lives, as well. So I find Jesus’ image of the Holy Spirit as wind to be much more compelling. Of course, it is difficult to depict the wind on a glass window, and this may be why artists prefer using the image of a dove.
In the right-hand panel we have yet another representation of the Holy Spirit. There are seven red items lined with white that look like a bunch of tulips. I believe these are the artist’s attempt to represent seven tongues of fire, such as descended on the disciples on Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-4). Thus St. Luke depicts the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. Why are there seven on this window? Why, for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit! I am certain you memorized the list of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit for your Confirmation, but if you have become a little rusty on that part, here for your edification are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord (CCC 1845).
Finally there is a gold colored cross, which I take to represent the anointing with Chrism on the forehead in the sign of the cross. When the bishop confirms someone, he dips his thumb in the Chrism (olive oil with perfume that was consecrated during Holy Week) makes the sign of the cross on the confirmation candidate’s head, and says “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” That is the heart of the conferral of Confirmation.
I hope this window will cause you to stop and reflect on your own Confirmation, on the gifts you received, and how well you put those gifts to use in your life now.