Saturday, October 1, 2011

Windows define St. Therese

Saint Therese of Lisieux is a model for us, that it is not necessary to achieve greater things in order to have a successful life, or to become a saint. She led a simple and obscure life in Carmel. She did not free her country from the enemy like St. Joan of Arc; neither did she convert people in droves, as did St. John Mary Vianney. It was enough for her to pour her love into the lowly and ordinary tasks given to her. “All is grace” she said, a few months before she died. Therese firmly believed, like St. Paul that that nothing can separate us from the boundless love God bestows on us. She allowed herself to be drawn towards the Fountain of Love. “My vocation is love,” she said, and “It is Love alone that attracts me.”
Pope Pius XI who had canonized Therese on May 17, 1925, referred to her as the Star of his pontificate. It was the pope's wish that the basilica in Lisieux be built “very large, very beautiful and as quickly as possible!” By July 11, 1937 the shrine to St. Therese was ready for Pope Pius XI's envoy, Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pius XII) to give his solemn blessing to the basilica.

Pierre Gaudin, the artist of the stained glass windows in the basilica, aimed to create a figurative work which would portray the essence of St. Therese's message. Her response to Divine Love was one of trust and love.

The north transept window, dominated by deep blues catches the atmosphere of trust in which Therese lived. Each verse of Psalm 22 is pictured by a theme from the Gospel: the Good Shepherd, the Samaritan woman at the well, the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus quieting the storm, the miracle of the loaves, the wedding feast of Cana, the visit of Jesus to Zacheus. In the rose-windows above, flowers and plants are depicted to symbolize Divine Providence in all living things. The lower windows have Scriptural references of the hen gathering her chickens, of which Therese was so fond, the eagle carrying and protecting her young, the pure water in which the stag comes to drink, and the pelican feeding its little ones with its own blood.

The south transept window, which rests above the reliquary of Therese, is a blaze of red. This color was chosen to reflect the way St. Therese responded with her own love to the gift of Divine Love. Therese is kneeling, and offering herself to the flames of love which pour forth from the pierced heart of Jesus. Consumed by this fire, she would have liked to do a thousand and one things to “capture” God's love. She felt called to be an apostle, priest, and martyr. However, she knew that it was enough to pour her love into her simple life in Carmel in order to be useful to the entire world. “Yes, I found my place in the Church, I shall be Love itself! And so I shall be everything!” she said.

On the left side another scene from the Bible depicts the disciples being sent off to teach the Gospel to all nations. This refers to her deep aspiration to become a missionary. On the right side the martyrdom of the holy innocents refers to her wish to be made a martyr. The lower panels of the window show Therese's favorite saints: the chaste St. Cecilia and St. Teresa of Avila, the soldier-saints Louis and Joan of Arc, the priests St. Vincent de Paul and St. John Vianney, the apostles Francis Xavier and Theophane Venard, the doctors John of the Cross and Francis de Sales, and the martyrs St. Stephen and Agnes. These are the saints whose particular vocation Therese would have liked to follow “whose lives and deaths proclaimed the name of Jesus on the highways and byways of the world.”

St. Therese has truly inspired both men and women, children and adults, rich and poor, religious and laity with her message of trust and love. “One day, my Beloved Eagle, you will come to take this little bird, and fly with it to the Source of where you will plunge it forever in the blazing gulf of love that is there.” (from the final page of her second manuscript)

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