By Reverend W. Bry Shields
Pastor of St. Ignatius Parish
Here at St. Ignatius, we are indeed blessed to have received all 23 of the stained glass windows which adorned St. Joseph Church downtown for almost a century. To complement the beauty of these traditional windows, we have been able to add a Rose Window over the entrance to the narthex, and, as of Palm Sunday, an apse window behind our altar and reredos.
On the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The central panel of our new window depicts Christ the King seated on His throne, holding the Cross of victory, with the world at His feet. In the Book of the prophet Isaiah, God gave this promise to His people: ”Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…Be glad and rejoice forever for I create Jerusalem a joy.” (Isa. 65:17-18). In the last book of the Bible, St. John shares with us the Spirit inspired vision he received of the fulfillment of this prophecy: “then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And He who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new”. (Revelation 21:1, 5).
The window sections behind and around Christ the King are deep blue, the color of the heavens and suggesting the immeasurable depths of the universe. Painted on these sections are symbolic representations of heavenly bodies, the stars and planets which are guided in their courses by divine providence. At the feet of Jesus is lush green vegetation, and various fruits, reminding us of the new earth Jesus is creating, restoring Paradise to the redeemed.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus promised His disciples that “when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself”. He is now lifted up and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and In and through His church, He is drawing all people to Himself. When the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council reflected on the mystery of the Church, they noted that all persons are being drawn to Christ, and we are all called to respond by seeking holiness: “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity.” (chapter V, Constitution on the Church).
Surrounding Christ the King, in the side panels, are six saints of our own era who responded with extraordinary generosity to Christ’s call to holiness. Five of the six have been beatified or canonized in the last 30 years! You will notice that they manifest the universality of the call to holiness: three men and three women; young and old; two laypersons, two religious, and two clerics; married, single, and consecrated religious.
On the upper left panel is St. Therese of Lisieux, whom Pope Pius XI called the ‘greatest saint of modern times’, and whom Pope John Paul II named as a Doctor of the Church. A Carmelite nun who died in 1897, she found love to be the heart of her vocation, and she taught others to follow the ‘little way’ to holiness: “Miss no opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest thing right and doing it all for love.”
In the middle left panel is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom Pope John Paul II beatified in 1990. Born in Turin, Italy in 1901, he was a handsome, athletic and charismatic young man, well loved by family and friends. At the same time, he had a deep, deep love for Christ, and he drew others to the Eucharist. He belonged to the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and was devoted to the sick and the poor. “Ad Altos—to the Heights!’ is the motto he is known for, a reflection of his natural love of mountaineering, but more importantly, his ardent desire to be united to Jesus Christ.
On the lower left panel is St. Gianna Molla, a wife, mother, and physician, who was devoted to her family, to caring for the poor (whom she often treated at no charge), and to Catholic Action. When she became pregnant with her fourth child, she was diagnosed with a uterine tumor. She refused morally acceptable treatment to remove the tumor, directing her doctors with clarity and resolve: ‘by all means, I insist on it – save the child!’ Her daughter, Gianna Emanuela was born on April 21, 1962, and St. Gianna died shortly thereafter from septic peritonitis. May her cry reverberate in the hearts of all – Save the child!
On the upper right panel is Saint John Henry Newman, who died in 1891, and was canonized by Pope Francis on October 13, 2019. One of the greatest Christian writers of the modern era, he struggled for many years
seeking the truth of the Catholic faith. Perhaps his most famous hymn is “Lead Kindly Light’, written during his years as an Anglican cleric. He found, under the guidance of the kindly light of the Holy Spirit, peace in the Catholic Church, in whose communion he entered in 1845. He is a model and intercessor for all those seeking truth with a sincere heart. “Lead, kindly light, lead thou me on!”
In the middle right panel is St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who found her vocation within her vocation when she picked up a dying man on the streets of Calcutta on August 22, 1952. Mother Teresa attracted thousands to her new order, establishing around the world homes and institutes for the care of the poorest of the poor. She is known throughout the world, and shines luminously as the face of the mercy of Christ. She taught that ‘Love is a fruit always in season and within reach of every hand.’
On the bottom right panel is St. John Paul II, who died on the Feast of Divine Mercy, 2005, and was canonized by Pope Francis in 2013. His travels around the world covered over 750,000 miles, and took him to 129 countries. His writings fill several shelves in the Vatican library. He was brilliant, charismatic, and shrewd in the service of Christ and His Church. Above all, he had the heart of a pastor who wanted every man and woman to hear the message he proclaimed boldly in his first papal sermon: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!”
These six saints depicted in our apse window are among the “multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the lamb, crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 3:9-10). Every Mass we celebrate here at St. Ignatius is a participation in and foreshadowing of the heavenly liturgy. When we gather before the marble altar in our sanctuary for the sacrifice of the mass, we join our voices of praise to all the saints and angels. We ask their assistance as we, with fear and trembling, make our pilgrim journey to the throne of Jesus Christ, ‘before whom every knee will bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Philippians 2:10-11)