Santa Maria Novella
“In the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, the Fresco of The Holy Trinity of Masaccio is one of the best examples of the early Renaissance scientific approach to creating the convincing illusion of space within a painting.
It is here, on one of the walls inside the Church, that Masaccio painted his fresco in 1424.
The title of the painting comes from the three key figures: Christ on the cross, God the Father standing on a ledge behind Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly, God the Father is shown standing on a platform in the back, which is not an “otherworldly” place (where He would be traditionally depicted), but instead a realistic space which follows the laws of physics.
Mary and Saint John are also present at the Crucifixion at the foot of the cross, and one step down from them are Masaccio’s donors to either side.
Unlike the biblical and divine figures, the donors are meant to appear to be in our space (the space of the viewer), and not in the recessed space in which the Cross is located”.
John 16: 12-15
12“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I still have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now.
13 When the Spirit of truth comes,
he will guide you into all the truth;
for he will not speak on his own,
but will speak whatever he hears,
and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
14 He will glorify me, because
he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
15 All that the Father has is mine.
For this reason I said that
he will take what is mine and declare it to you’”.
The Holy Trinity is the deepest of all the mysteries. The idea that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit -and yet one God- has been the Church’s teaching since the very beginning so we know it is revealed Doctrine, but if asked to explain it, then it is rather more difficult.
Perhaps the Trinity is not a Doctrine to be understood. Perhaps it is more a way of living with the Great Unknown, but now revealed by Jesus, of God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Saviour.
God revealed himself to us as a Community of Persons therefore we must imitate God by living in community with others. Individualism or isolationism is not of God. This focus on community reminds us that we must work in collaboration with others. Each of the Three Persons-in-One has a unique function but all geared towards the same purpose: The salvation of human beings. We will work and come together in harmony with others for the common good. No responsibility discharged for the good of others is insignificant.
The Reaction of the Disciples
It must have been a huge shock for the Disciples to learn that Jesus was going to leave them. Believing He was the Messiah, they left the things of the world behind to follow him and experienced a real sense of belonging.
Their immediate fears would have increased when He stated that there was to be persecution and some even killed! Jesus explained that it was for their good that He returned to the Father and be able to send them the Holy Spirit.
Among other things, the Holy Spirit would embolden the Disciples; guide them in wisdom and truth; remind them of everything Jesus had told them; and more generally provide salvation through rebirth to new believers; reveal what would happen in the future; comfort, guide and have fellowship with us.
Jesus has pointed to the Cross, but the Disciples have not been able to understand. They expect a warrior-king and cannot imagine a Suffering Servant. They are not yet ready to bear the burdens that lie ahead -to see their Lord executed alongside common criminals- to be jailed, beaten and crucified for their faith.
But Jesus does not ask the Disciples to face such issues now, while they are still weak. Instead, He leaves them to a time when the Spirit will be present to guide and strengthen them.
God can only reveal as much as we can understand. Paul puts it this way: “… God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”.
Receptiveness to the Guidance of the Spirit
Now this varies widely. Some people shut out the Holy Spirit. Others seek the help of the Spirit in times of trouble, but pay no heed when all is well. Others still do hear the voice of the Spirit, but only faintly through the din of competing voices. Some receive the counsel of the Spirit gladly and become almost spiritual giants. I can think of a few, but of course it is Mother Teresa who comes immediately to mind.
The Spirit of God is always active; He is always revealing himself to us. He is still revealing truth to us, but it is not only consigned to theological truth.
When Häendel wrote the Hallelujah Chorus he explained: “I saw the heavens opened and the Great White God sitting on the throne”. When someone discovers a new life-saving drug which will bring life and hope to suffering humanity, that is equally a revelation from God.
The simple fact is that Revelation does not come to us from a book, but from a living Person. The nearer we live to Jesus, the better we will know him. The more we (try to) become like him, the more He will be able to tell us.
A global society
However, we must acknowledge that the world keeps turning and the Church in the days of John, today and always finds itself trying to understand and live its faith in the midst of social, cultural and global circumstances that change rapidly.
The question we are left with is whether we will listen to the Spirit and be open to newer and deeper understanding of our faith and to the implications of the revelation of Jesus for us today.
The internet, social media and 24-hour news cycle give us an immediate awareness of local and global crises that challenge us for a Christian response, the war in Ukraine being the most obvious example of this.
What is the Christian response to this reality? Can we, like John, trust the Spirit to guide us in discerning what it means to live out our Christian faith today?
This passage shows the complete unity between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It shows the “community side” of God. It is the blueprint of how society should be operating on earth: harmony, unity and love.
On the one hand, this is not happening. The media is full of misery and discord, and yet on the other hand, millions of people are loving to a fault, who work for peace and unity. Look at those who strive for harmony where there is none and put themselves at risk within family settings or in a much more frightening situation of conflict in society.
Life will never be perfect here on earth, otherwise we would never long for heaven and unity with God. But we are called to strive to create a little piece of heaven wherever we can.
“Glory be to the Father,
Who by His almighty power and love created us,
making us in the image and likeness of God.
Glory be to the Son,
Who by His Precious Blood delivered us from hell,
and opened for us the gates of heaven.
Glory be to the Holy Spirit,
Who has sanctified us in the Sacrament of Baptism,
and continues to sanctify us
by the graces we receive daily from His bounty.
Glory be to the Three adorable Persons of the Holy Trinity,
now and forever. Amen”
· I hear Jesus say that He has much more to say to me.
How do I feel about that?
Am I, perhaps, afraid of what Jesus might ask of me?
Am I afraid to listen to him in case I hear something I don’t want to hear?
“Lord, strengthen my ability to receive and listen to your Spirit, to remember
that your Spirit speaks your word to me!”
· I have much more to tell you.
What areas of Church teaching should I learn more about?
How can I learn more about these areas?
· He … will declare to you the things that are coming.
What anxieties do I have about the future?
What obstacles keep me from being a prophetic voice?
· He will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
How do I show respect and submission to the deposit of faith of the Church?
How do I share that deposit of faith with others?