Friday, May 22, 2015

Come Holy Spirit: Paul

St. Paul Preaching in Corinth
Paul traveled through the interior of the country and down to Ephesus where he found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They answered him, “We have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” He said, “How were you baptized?” They replied, “With the baptism of John.” Paul then said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Altogether there were about twelve men. Acts 19:1-7
Now to be perfectly honest, this is not Paul preaching in Ephesus; it is Paul preaching in Corinth, but there were no pictures of Paul preaching in Ephesus that I could find. There is a picture of Paul working miracles in Ephesus, so surely the Holy Spirit was there, too. 

Miracles of St.Paul at Ephesus, Jean Restout
And here is a picture of Paul preaching.

Painting of Paul from Cave of St. Paul in Ephesus, ca. 450 AD
A bit further on in Acts, Paul tells of another action of the Holy Spirit in his life.
But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. What will happen to me there I do not know, except that in one city after another the Holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me. Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace. “But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again." Acts 20:22-25
Once again, the Holy Spirit brings a message that isn't what one would want to hear, but Paul is steadfast. He knows that soon he will suffer, but he has suffered before in the cause of Christ and is willing to do so again. I wonder if never seeing his friends again wasn't one of his greatest sorrows. That last line is so very sad. When I read it Mass I teared up a bit.

Martyrdom of St. Paul, Stefaneschi Altarpiece, Giotto 
I looked quite a while before I found a picture of St. Paul's martyrdom that I liked, and then when I finally found out who the artist was, it turned out to be Giotto. 

Paul's severed head lies looking heavenward. It's interesting to see that a severed head retains its halo. The angels mourn his death . . .

but who is that woman on the hill, and what is that white thing that she is casting into the air to be carried away in the wind?

The Web Gallery of Art says that this is "a maiden" and that the cloth is one that has soaked up the blood of Paul. It flies up to heaven where it is a awaited by an eager recipient.

Is this the Father? I don't know. He looks like he should be the Father, but he has wings. Maybe it's an angel appointed to take the cloth to the Father. He is in a mandala that is being carried by the angels.
Come, O Spirit of Wisdom, and reveal to my soul the mysteries of heavenly things, their exceeding greatness, power and beauty. Teach me to love them above and beyond all the passing joys and satisfactions of earth. Help me to attain them and possess them for ever. Amen Prayer from Day 8 of  Novena to the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Come Holy Spirit: Breath

Appearance Behind Closed Doors, Duccio di Buoninsegna
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. [Jesus] said to them again,l “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:19-23
This painting looks like the exact opposite of its name, but we will just have to trust that Jesus and the apostles are inside. I really wanted to find a picture of Jesus breathing on the apostles. I know have seen one, but I have looked for days in every place I can think of and can't find anything. This is the first appearance of Jesus to His disciples after the Resurrection and this is the only picture I can find of this appearance.  There is some debate about this scripture as to whether this is another description of Pentecost, or if the apostles received the Holy Spirit here in some different way. I certainly don't know. It was, however, during this appearance that Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Christ Taking Leave of His Disciples, Duccio di Buoninsegna
This, alas, is not a picture of Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit on his Apostles, but it seems as if it would be a fair representation of it. The quiet reflective mood of the apostles and they way they seem to be hanging on every word that Jesus speaks is what you would expect of a group of men being instructed by someone who has returned from the grave, and sending them on a grave mission without him.
Come, O Spirit of Counsel, help and guide me in all my ways, that I may always do Thy holy will. Incline my heart to that which is good; turn it away from all that is evil, and direct me by the straight path of Thy commandments to that goal of eternal life for which I long. Prayer from Day 7 of Novena to the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Come Holy Spirit: Baptism

Baptism of Christ, Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel
After Jesus was baptized, he came up from the water and behold, the heavens were opened [for him], and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17
At first I thought that Giotto once more portrays the Holy Spirit only as light, but then I noticed this.

If you look very closely, you can see the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove over the head of Jesus. It must have been more visible before this fresco lost much of its lapis lazuli. 

And look at John's hand. We see the same hand position that I talked about in the hand of the angel here.

In this fresco, angels watch intently from the left bank, holding the garments of Jesus. We recognize those robes as those he wears in the other frescoes. John the Baptist wears some sort of ceremonial robe over his rough garments, and behind him stand who? I thought that the man with the halo might be one of the disciples, and somewhere, I can't remember where, someone said he is Andrew. I also first thought that the person in blue was Mary, but I noticed the figure has no halo, and then I noticed he seems to have a little beard--definitely not Mary, but who? I think I could spend a year doing research on these images.

The mosaic below is from the Baptistery of the Basilica of St. Mark (San Marco) in Venice. It's the same basilica where the mosaic of the Holy Spirit in the waters of creation is found. 

Baptism of Jesus, Baptistry of the Basilica of St. Mark, Venice
Here we see the three angels (in red socks!), and John, again wearing some sort of covering over his camel's hair. Behind John is an ax laid, as in Matthew 3:10, to the trunk of a tree.

The Holy Spirit hovers above the head of Jesus and Jesus, being blessed by the Father, the Spirit and John, is holding his hand in the water in the same position mentioned above, blessing all the waters of the world.

And who is this in the water with him in danger of drowning?

I believe that it is a soul, my soul maybe, or yours, perishing in sin, who will be saved by the blessed water.
Come, O Spirit of Understanding, and enlighten our minds, that we may know and believe all the mysteries of salvation; and may merit at last to see the eternal light in Thy Light; and in the light of glory to have a clear vision of Thee and the Father and the Son. Amen. Prayer from Day 6 of  Novena to the Holy Spirit.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Come Holy Spirit: Overshadowing

Annunciation, Fra Filippo Lippi
I wrote about this painting of the Annunciation in December. I think that this small, almost unnoticeable image of the Holy Spirit might be my favorite.

The Holy Spirit never calls attention to Himself, He is always calling our attention to the Lord, working behind the scenes to fill us with grace. This, I suspect, is why it is so hard to find pictures of the Holy Spirit doing the things he did in the scriptures. There are also remarkably few prayers to the Holy Spirit, and despite about 50 years of the Charismatic Renewal, there aren't that many songs about the Holy Spirit either. 

I chose to put the Annunciation at the center of this novena because it is the apex of the action of the Holy Spirit between Creation and coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Everything before the Annunciation led up to the Incarnation of Our Lord and everything after proceeds from it. And nobody knew.

In Giotto's frescoes of the Annunciation in the Scrovegni Chapel the only indication of the Holy Spirit is a barely visible light shining on Mary from above. 

The Annunciation, Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel
Mary and Gabriel aren't even in the same space. Their little rooms are on either side of an arch, below a scene of the God the Father sending Gabriel to Mary. The drawn curtains indicate that we are seeing something that is usually hidden. Unlike most scenes of the Annunciation which are filled with symbols, these spaces are bare except for Mary's reading desk. This desk is almost ubiquitous in paintings of the Annunciation, but usually there is a copy of the scriptures, a book or a scroll sitting on it. In this image, the desk is bare but Mary holds the book which she has been reading. Her face is the face of a woman deep in thought. Gabriel holds a scroll. He brings the message of salvation. The expression on his face is intent and urgent. Unlike Mary, who receives the light, he is radiating light.
Come, O Blessed Spirit of Knowledge, and grant that I may perceive the will of the Father; show me the nothingness of earthly things, that I may realize their vanity and use them only for Thy glory and my own salvation, looking ever beyond them to Thee, and Thy eternal rewards. Amen. Prayer from Day 5, Novena to the Holy Spirit

Monday, May 18, 2015

Come Holy Spirit: Ezekiel

Ezekiel, Michaelangelo, Sistine Chapel
Then he said to me, Son of man, take into your heart all my words that I speak to you; hear them well. Now go to the exiles, to your own people, and speak to them. Say to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear: Thus says the LORD God! Then the spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling noise as the glory of the LORD rose from its place: the noise of the wings of the living creatures beating against one another, and the noise of the wheels alongside them, a loud rumbling. And the spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went off, my spirit angry and bitter, for the hand of the LORD pressed hard on me. Ezekiel 3:10-14
I searched high and low for a picture of the spirit lifting Ezekiel, but only found pictures of his vision. This is what was making all the noise that Ezekiel describes.

Ezekiel's Vision, Raphael
I love Ezekiel's face in the fresco by Michaelango. You can see the anger and bitterness he felt from the Lord's hand pressing hard on him. Look at the set of his mouth, and the posture of his body, and that hand.

I really like this scripture because it emphasizes how God's Word, when it comes to us, doesn't always seem to be a blessing. I think of Jeremiah saying, "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be were too strong for me, and you triumphed. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me." I can remember hearing that scripture from Jeremiah 20 at Mass one Sunday, and thinking, "Amen to that." Thing is, I don't remember how he duped me now, or anything about the situation.
Come, O Blessed Spirit of Fortitude, uphold my soul in time of trouble and adversity, sustain my efforts after holiness, strengthen my weakness, give me courage against all the assaults of my enemies, that I may never be overcome and separated from Thee, my God and greatest Good. Amen. Prayer from Day 4 of Novena to the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Come Holy Spirit: David

Anointing of David, Synagogue of Duro-Europos
Jesse had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth with beautiful eyes, and good looking. The LORD said: There—anoint him, for this is the one! Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers, and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David. Then Samuel set out for Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:12-13
Again, we can't see the Holy Spirit in this image, but we know the ways in which David was empowered by his anointing. He was brave and mighty in battle and compassionate and just (most of the time) but his great strength was his great love for God. That makes the prayer for today  (below) particularly appropriate.

The Synagogue at Duro Europos in Syria was discovered in 1920. I've been trying to remember what I learned about this in my early Christian Art class, but I find that's not much. The fact that the walls are covered with biblical illustrations is very important because it is so unusual to have illustrations in a Jewish temple due to the restrictions of the Second Commandment. It is one of the oldest synagoges in the world. Wikipedia says that there is an Aramaic inscription that has been dated to 224 AD, and everything I've read puts it in the early third century.

The most helpful article I found is here. Author, Adam Blitz, writes of the temple's discovery during the Arab Revolt of 1920. The frescoes are currently (or were when this post was written) in the National Museum of Damascus, and when Blitz wrote this post in 2013 he was concerned about their safety during the Syrian uprising. I don't know if they are still safe. I hope so. I was happy to see that I can't find anything on the internet that would indicate otherwise.

You can see more of the images at Wikipedia Commons.
Come, O Blessed Spirit of Piety, possess my heart. Enkindle therein such a love for God, that I may find satisfaction only in His service, and for His sake lovingly submit to all legitimate authority. Amen. Prayer from Day 3Novena to the Holy Spirit