Christ, the Helmsman

Grounded in ancient tradition, this work of art in a stained glass window on top of the main entrance of our seminary chapel, depicts an allegory of the Church. The Church is represented as a ship; its mast is a cross supporting the sail. We also see that the helmsman is the ancient symbol Chi-rho, which represents Christ. The boat is sailing on very turbulent waters; however, it looks perfectly steady.

What does all this mean? The answer to our quest can be found most perfectly in the gospel account on the calming of a storm at the sea (Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25). Jesus was in the stern, asleep. His disciples woke him up and he said to the sea: “Quiet! Be Still!” The wind ceased, and there was great calm. Jesus then questioned the faith of his disciples.

The great theme of this artwork then is faith. The faith of the believer who is already inside the ship will always be tested by trials, difficulties, and discouragements. The turbulent waters allegorically portray this negative reality. However, the good and faithful disciple allows himself to be led by the Master; by our Lord Jesus. He is the captain of the ship. The disciple must rejoice and recuperate strength when he finds himself not in isolation but in a community of believers who are “sailing” towards Heaven, towards perfect happiness. This community of believers has not gathered on their own but each one of them has been called by Christ to be a support of one another in fraternal charity. The symbol of the Holy Spirit in the sail signifies the reality of this calling. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit in baptism that every member of the church is inserted into this journey towards perfect charity in Heaven. Right away we notice that this is not an ordinary boat, but a special one whose strength to be moved does not come from natural wind, but from the Spirit of Christ. This boat reminds us that Jesus is the captain of the ship, “He is the head of the body, the Church (Col. 1:18),” and we, as his members, need to cultivate a strong faith in close relationship with Him to arrive at our final destination.

Understanding the identity of the priest as someone called by Christ in a special way to act in His name and in His Person for the sanctification of Christ’s flock, the seminarian may reflect through this artwork on his future identity as leader of Christ’s people. Just as Christ is the steersman of the ship, the priest is also the steersman of the community of believers that has been entrusted to him. He is to lead them to holiness, with prudence, charity and strong faith.  

By Ricardo Arriola, seminarian for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.


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