In the calm and relaxing months of summer, the Church has settled back into the routines of Ordinary Time. After the spiritual shakeup of Lent and Easter, Ordinary Time often is a welcomed change. Particularly wonderful is the opportunity of resting with the lives of the many saints whose feasts dot the month of July, including St. Ignatius of Loyola (July 31).
St. Ignatius certainly is one of the best-known religious figures of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Having lived from 1491 to 1556, he saw the great upheaval resulting from the Protestant Reformation. Unlike the Reformation that saw Christendom beginning to fragment, Ignatius experienced a spiritual shakeup in which God began to reassemble the pieces of his life. A man of great intensity, his midlife conversion brought him to turn his focus from the pleasures of the world to the purposes of the Lord.
Peter Paul Rubens is a similarly well-known figure of the Counter-Reformation’s artistic side. He was born on the eve of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in 1577, leading his parents to give him the names of both apostles. A leading figure in the Flemish Baroque style, Rubens employed the bold intensity characteristic of Counter-Reformation art — making him an appropriate interpreter of St. Ignatius’ likeness.
As one gazes at the portrait, one immediately is struck by its focused directness: The lone figure of St. Ignatius stands illuminated against a dark background, staring into a bright opening within stormy clouds. His face, bathed in light that almost seems to crackle like lightning, conveys a sense of calm determination. His hand rests upon a book containing the famous Jesuit formula — Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam — followed by words from the bull of Pope Julius III. “To the Greater Glory of God” is the message similarly carried by his eyes. The bold red and gold of his chasuble reminds the viewer of the boldness of the Christian message and the priestly vocation. One can discern the delicate detail of the gold embroidery and almost feel the weight of the heavy fabric. The weight of the chasuble reminds one of the gravity of the sacred liturgy.
As we remember the apostles Peter and Paul who gave Rubens his name — and the desire to serve Christ and his vicar on earth that gave Ignatius his focus — there is a reminder to pray for our own Holy Father. We remember the focused intensity and calm determination that marks our own desire to serve Christ.
FATHER JUSTIN HUBER, who has studied a number of historical artistic techniques, was ordained in 2010 and serves as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Washington.