Painting Pentecost

Jan Joest
Jan Joest
Titan Pentecost
Titian
Giotto Pentecost
Giotto
Book of Hours Pentecost
from a Book of Hours
El Greco Pentecost
El Greco

When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, in order that He might continually sanctify the Church…He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal.

…The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple. In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted children.

The Spirit guides the Church in the way of all truth.  He unifies Her in communion and in works of ministry…By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth.  He renews Her and leads Her to perfect union with Her Spouse.  The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, ‘Come!’

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council extolled the Holy Spirit with these words.

Inspiring words.  But what about paintings?  Let me confide in you that I have never found a painting of Pentecost that I like.  Eminent sacred artists have produced impressive renditions of Pentecost.  And, of course, our own Stephen Brailo, of St. Andrew’s in Roanoke, has done for us a beautiful new baptismal mosaic, in honor of our former pastor.  Msgr. Miller will visit next week at the 11:30 Mass for the dedication.

brailo mosaic
new mosaic at St. Andrew’s in honor of Fr. Tom Miller, by Stephen Brailo

No offense to any of these artists.  Of all the events depicted in Christian art, Pentecost poses the greatest challenge.  For an obvious reason:  The subject of the work of art is

Invisible.

“It is better for you that I go,” said the Lord Jesus.  “Rivers of living water will flow from within the one who believes in Me.”

The one who believes.  Faith.  In the invisible.

Christ made the invisible God visible, by becoming a man.  But then He ascended to heaven, out of our sight.  From the true Temple above, He pours grace out of His own human Heart, upon the whole earth. It is better for us that He went.

That’s the thing about paintings of Pentecost:  Jesus isn’t in them.  He had completed His earthly pilgrimage by then.

The great artists have painted Christ, in the various events of His pilgrim life, so as to depict visibly the invisible life within Him.  But painting the third divine Person, Who comes as a gentle wind, a breath, tongues of flame, a dove, an anointing, an interior inspiration…  Well, I’m no artist.  But I do know that painting something invisible is downright difficult.  I think our Stephen Brailo deserves a lot of credit!

The Holy Spirit does make Himself perfectly visible in one way, though.  By filling the hearts of the people He makes saints.

The Invisible shows Himself whenever a Christian bears witness to the hope that is in us.  The unimaginable Spirit comes into view when someone has the courage to reach out in love.  The gentle Spirit speaks when a parent or teacher or friend gives good advice, or soothes the pain, or encourages.

In other words, the invisible Holy Spirit is as visible as the living, breathing Church.  The Church, consecrated in truth, burning with divine love, marching with certain hope towards the glory that awaits us.

How about this, dear artists?  The third Person of the divine Trinity left Himself so difficult to paint, because He Himself is a painter.  The Master Painter.

He painted the adorable natural world, using a brush that could make a universe out of nothing.  He painted the unique beauty of the High Priest of all creation, Jesus Christ.  And now He paints us—whenever we allow His holiness to overcome our sinfulness, and we do something good for God.

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