May 27, 2018: The Most Holy Trinity - Pastor’s Corner
I was on a mission. The clock was ticking. Scurrying down the long hallways of Madrid’s famous Prado Museum during our St. Dominic’s pilgrimage, I was eager to soak in the works of the European Masters. Knowing that our Museum visit would be brief, I had done some pre-pilgrimage research so that I might spend some quality time with my favorites. High on my list: the works of Dominic Theotocopoulos, the 16th century painter who is better known as El Greco, the Latin nickname which is a nod to his Greek heritage. Famous for his elongated figures saturated in surreal colors, I am drawn to his art as a fusion of the Byzantine iconic tradition with the expressionistic techniques, which he pioneered. Among other treasures, I was keen to view the work, which established his talent and fame: The Holy Trinity (1577). Commissioned for the High Altar at St. Dominic’s in Toledo, El Greco situates the Father, Son and Spirit, not in display of power or glory, but in the sorrow of the aftermath of the Crucifixion. Inspired by Michelangelo’s pieta, El Greco places the Father in the same position as the sorrowing Mary, cradling the lifeless body of his Son. Framed by six angels, a geometric triangle traces its way from the face of Father to the visage of His son and finds resolution in the hypotenuse, which extends to the Holy Spirit, hovering as a dove above. For all its color and vibrancy, what leapt to my eye was the face of the Father. Illumined by the light coming from the Holy Spirit, the compassion of the Father’s face is remarkable. The grief and sympathy, which radiates from the Father stands in sharp contrast to the more stolid, reserved countenances of which I am familiar. Compassion on the face of Mary is expected. Compassion on the face of the Father is striking. My brief time spent with El Greco’s Trinity sparked a mediation of the Father’s compassion.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. Often marginalized, as the product of theologians opining in ivory castles, the revelation of the Trinity is not only a unique hallmark of our Christian faith, but a window into understand our relationship with God. Reflecting on El Greco’s Trinity reveals the relevance of this great truth for our daily spiritual life.
We do not often think about Father in terms of compassion. In fact, there is ubiquitous, if false impression that there is difference between the God of the Old Testament and God of the New Testament. This lie perpetuates the notion that, in the Hebrew Scriptures, God the Father is often angry, stern and judgmental. What is “new” about the New Testament is that God is revealed as compassionate love. This dichotomy is false and its poisoned seeds have been sewn by many an errant scholar and theologian. In fact, if you compare both Testaments on a percentage basis, Jesus is far more prolific and direct in his warnings, condemnations and parables of judgment and destruction than His Father with the Chosen people. In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul begins his letter with a moment of praise which highlights one the central characteristic of God the Father. As an Old Testament scholar, St. Paul says: “Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Compassion is at the heart of the Father. From freeing his Chosen People from slavery to forming a covenant with them; from leading the complaining Israelites through the desert to establishing them in the promised Land; from rescuing the exiled Jews from Babylon to the rebuilding of the Temple: the Old Testament is the story of a compassionate Father guiding, correcting and leading his children to the place of promised inherence. No matter how they fail and fall, no matter what they suffer, God the Father is there with them and for them. This finds full expression in the New Testament where the God who cannot suffer by nature, choses to suffer with us (com-passio) as the Father sends his son to show us the extreme depths of kindness and mercy. As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, we reflect on the compassionate face of our Father. This week you’ll have an opportunity to say the Our Father at Mass, around the dinner table or at your bedside. As you name God as Father, leave behind the false fears of God as a punishing, vindictive father. Strive to see the face of the Father in your struggles and challenges. Endeavor to be the face compassion to those in need. ~ Fr Michael