Exploring the Sacred
Beholding the Sacred
St. Charles Borromeo
Piety according to St. Thomas, is the gift which inspires reverence for God, the Father of all, and which enables us to work good to all through that reverence. It is the habit of worship of God.
St. Charles Borromeo showed clear signs of this gift from youth, signs that were to be his most characteristic marks later in life. His uncle, Pope Pius IV, raised Charles to the cardinalate when Charles was only twenty-three years old. Despite his high office, his concern lay with the poor. His reverence for the presence of God, whom he saw in the poor who gathered around him, led him to distribute his riches and to mingle with the simple people. He never refused audience and help to sinners, and he especially loved children. His principal work was the reformation of the clergy, who were living very comfortably at the time.
St. Charles’ gift of piety was complete, for his not only had a profound love of prayer, but this worship of God went out to all those who bore God’s image and likeness.
In our window, St. Charles is shown as the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan (the coat of arms of Milan is shown on the lower portion of the window) whose concern was the little ones, the children, those in sorrow, those suffering, and sinners. He holds a sick child in his arms who is perhaps a victim of the plague of 1576. The sick mother at his feet is an exact picture of human misery, and St. Charles’ expression is one of true compassion.
St. Catherine of Siena
St. Catherine of Siena was a Dominican Sister of the fourteenth century who was famous for her insight and discretion, her holy boldness for the sake of God’s glory, and her eminent sanctity. Catherine’s life is a fantastic tale of mysticism, determination, and holy anger all combined in a most beautiful womanliness.
The gift of counsel enables the soul to distinguish not only right from wrong, but also the good from the better, and the better from the best, so that the quest is not only for obedience but perfection.
Catherine surely possessed such a virtue to an extraordinary degree, and her gift of counsel manifested itself in the advice she gave to others. She had a tremendous following, men, and women, from all walks of life. In this window are shown two of her most famous triumphs for God’s honor. Although she was always caring for the sick and hearing those who came to her for advice, she had time to advise emperors and popes.
In this window, we see Pope Gregory XI. It was the time of the Great Schism, and the Pope had removed the Holy See from Rome to Avignon, France, in protest against the uprising of the Italian cities. It became St. Catherine’s duty to persuade the Pope to return to Rome to keep the Church together. She went to Avignon, as we see in the window, to plead with the Pope. (Her often noted physical feature are her eyes; all who saw her spoke of her large luminous eyes.) He returned to Rome and later commissioned her to go to Florence as his Ambassador to plead his cause there. She succeeded in reconciling Florence to the Holy See, though only for a time. Before her death, she was to see the Great Schism divide the church despite her efforts to avoid it.
The cardinal in the window is possibly Robert of Geneva who led the Pope’s army into Florence. He was responsible for much bloodshed. His personal life was none too honorable either, and Catherine dared to denounce the scandals that further threatened the Church. (In the Middle-Ages, the Cardinals wore colors ranging from gray, lilac, or purple to red.)
The unstable church at the top of the window is the St. Peter’s of those days and symbolizes the threat, by schism and scandal to the Medieval Church.
Seven Gifts Windows
St. Thomas Aquinas
Knowledge is the gift of the Holy Spirit which enables us to judge rightly about matters of faith and action; knowledge about matters of belief; and also how to make the faith known; how to help others believe, and how to confute those who deny the truths of faith.
St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Dominican theologian, is one of the greatest minds in the history of the church to possess this gift in a high degree.
St. Thomas wrote Summa Theologica (The Summary of Faith), a compendium of the articles of faith with detailed explanation. He had been obsessed by the question, “What is God?” and in his search for the answer, he found God. He was bold in his use of his intellect, but underlying boldness was the humility and gentleness which added its own persuasion.
In our window we see Thomas, surrounded by his disciples, teaching the eternity of God. On his breast is the sun, symbol of his brilliance, and also of the fact that this revolved around his search for, and tremendous love of the True Sun, Jesus Christ. The escutcheon is, no doubt, that of Paris, where Thomas taught at the Sorbonne. The black and white
St. Thomas stands for all time as a model of reasoning faith, science wedded to a deep realization of God.
Mary, Mother of Jesus
“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:4-5
Mary, the Mother of Christ, who is Divine Wisdom itself, is here depicted as the model of the virtue or gift of wisdom. Wisdom is the greatest of the Seven Gifts because it is the one which enables us to relish things divine. It helps us make a right estimate of things putting everything in its proper place, thus establishing true order and proportion.
Christians refer to Mary as the Seat of Wisdom because she was closely united with her son. The church applies to her the Scriptural text: “Wisdom has built herself a house.” (Proverbs 9:1)
In this window, we see Mary at the Wedding Feast of Cana, where Christ worked, at her bidding, his first public miracle. Pictured here, Christ is in conversation with the bride and the groom. Mary has already mentioned to Jesus that the young couple has run out of wine, and he has seemingly rejected her unspoken request. Mary, however, knows her son. She knows that charity and kindness must prevail over what seems to be her son’s awaiting a better hour, perhaps a more urgent necessity. Although the wine itself is not terribly important, the contentment of the newly married couple is. More than that, however, Mary sees in this incident the “chance” for Jesus to pay tribute to the intrinsic goodness of the married state.
Because Mary had not been in the habit of asking her son to manifest his divine power, this implicit request for one is a departure from her usual role. He seems to say, “No,” but she understands that he will. She, therefore, accepts her new role as intercessor and tells the stewards quietly, “Do whatever he tells you” as she gestures toward Jesus.
Her wisdom prompted her to see the value of the situation, caused her to approach the problem without emotion, and led her to cooperate in the design of God in instituting and blessing the state of marriage. Too, she knew her son’s will, which he could make something great out of a little thing.
Jesus, of course, did what his mother was confident he would; he changed water into excellent wine.
Fortitude is the courage to do what one knows is right and helps one overcome obstacles that hinder one from faithfully living out the relationship with God. St. Joseph is depicted as the model of this gift.
In our window, he is shown working at the carpenter’s bench. He stands strong, tall, and determined, all qualities that marked his life as he fulfilled his roles as husband to Mary and foster father to Jesus.
We do not hear much about St. Joseph in Scripture; however, his silence is eloquent in that it speaks of great fidelity to God’s will despite the obstacles he faced. His silent determination and heroic fidelity allowed him to face the controversy that surrounded his marriage, the journey to Bethlehem, facing rejection, providing for his family, and moving his family to protect them from a tyrannous murderer. He was a witness of faith not necessarily by what he said, but rather through his action. Joseph met each obstacle with strength and trust in God’s unfolding plan.
At the base of the workbench is a pot of flowering lilies. They are a symbol of virtue, purity, and obedience to God every step of the way. Behind him is the town of Bethlehem, city of his ancestor, King David. Through adoption, Jesus is the Son of David, the promised Messiah of a longing people.
Fear of the Lord
When Moses approached the camp, and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. Exodus 32:19-20
By molding the golden calf and worshiping it, (lower left corner of the window) the Jewish people broke their covenant with God. Moses, anger making his figure mighty and dynamic, dashed the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Moses showed both that the Israelites had broken the covenant and that the people were unworthy of the benefits of the law. Moses thus upheld God’s honor.
In the window, horizontal clouds harken to the fact that Moses’ meeting with God was hidden by a cloud, and they also signify the sublimity of Moses’ mission as a messenger to God’s people.
Moses’ violent actions, destroying the tablets of stone and the idol, too, awakened consciences in the people. They were humbled and stricken at the sight of their sin. The virtue of Fear of the Lord does the same for us. We see ourselves as we are before the face of God, sinners in need of reliance on the all-holy, all-merciful, and all-just God, our loving God.
St. Augustine of Hippo
“The gift of understanding enables us to perceive the truth, not only to "assent" to it, but “see into” it. The gift clarifies truths of our faith and gives us insight into them. Now we see as in a glass, darkly; then face to face. But the gift “shines” that glass so that we see not so darkly.
St. Augustine of Hippo was a man who had known life from one side to the other. As a young man, he lived a worldly, licentious life and was converted through the prayers of his mother, St. Monica, and the sermons of St. Ambrose. After his conversion, he became a priest and later Bishop of Hippo, in Africa.
He became a great orator and later wrote his Confessions and City of God. God granted him tremendous insights into the truths of faith and the science of his spiritual life. He understood human nature, too, because of his former failings. The church has given him the title of “Doctor of the Church” because of his writings and the great contribution to understanding our faith.
In our window, Augustine wears the vestments of a bishop. He glances up and out the window; his expression is one of serenity and content. All signifies the inner vision he enjoys of the divine things he will one day see face to face.
The monk with him is his secretary.