The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo – in the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old
The Sorrowful Mother (The Pieta) – Michelangelo –
in the millennial year of 1500 when he was 24 years old
HOLY WEEK 2021
As we face this terrible Coronavirus crisis that has so unsettled all are lives. and has caused so many deaths in our country.
This blog is a Holy Week prayer to our lady the Sorrowful Mother. The image is the most famous in the world the masterpiece chiseled by the young Michelangelo a half a Millennia ago. Even if you’re not used to praying to the Mother of Jesus, this is a good time to do so. Her prayers are powerful indeed. We haven’t gone through anything like this since the Bubonic plague in Europe in the Fourteenth Century.
While I was on my retreat the first week of Lent 2009, one of my prayer assignments was to sit before a statue of the sorrowful mother. I have always had a devotion to Mary, the mother of the Lord, and on that balmy afternoon against the background of the cypress swamp I reflected on all the mothers I have tried to console throughout the (then) forty years of my priesthood. I record for you now the prayer which was my journal note for Father Don the next day. Several of those women mentioned in the prayer are still in my life today. I dedicate this blog as I remember them with love.
Be sure to read the commentary about the 24-year-old Michelangelo and his first sculpture which follows. He chiseled his understanding of human grief, tap by tap, for two years. It is a magnificent meditation. Ponder it yourself. And unite your own prayer to our Lady to his this Holy Week. There is also a very different image of grief below that I photographed from a book.
Dearest Lady, mother of Jesus, whose tender love brought Love Itself into our world, may those who have never known the tender embrace of their own mother’s love receive the same tender care and love you wish for each of them. . . for each of us . . . as you offered the stern, yet tender love of a Jewish mother upon Jesus, the Son of God who was nourished at your tender breasts, cradled in your arms, bounced upon your knee; whose booboo was kissed by your lovely mouth, whose dead body you received come down from the Cross: You were the one from whom Jesus learned the joys of human love.
Dearest Lady, Simeon said, holding your little Child in his arms, that a sword would pierce your soul.
Did you have any idea what he meant? Did you follow Jesus throughout his ministry? Where you among the women who took care of him and the others? If so, where did you stay? Or did you stay at home in Nazareth? Did you go out to visit him when you could? To listen to him preach?
Were you in the midst of the crowds who pressed around him? Did you have a chance to be alone with him for a while? Did you give him any motherly advice? Did you wash his clothes, fix his favorite meal when he was on the road?
Did you gain a sense of foreboding as you listened to the murmurings of hostility beginning to grow toward him? What did you do with that concern?
I think perhaps you knew. You could see where this was going to end, because you kept all those foreboding things Simeon told you in your heart. Sorrow and sadness must have entered your heart long before that fateful Friday. But probably not much worry or anxiety because I think you must have said over and over: Be it done unto me according to Your word. Be it done. Thy will be done.
A mother can never be prepared to lose her son.
Fran, whose son Jimmy died at the hands of a drunk driver;
Chris who loved two children within her belly.
Dearest Lady, I think of mothers I have known
who’ve watched their children die.
My cousin, Lynda, whose beautiful child Robbie who bore her father’s and my name died in a fire at age three. I don’t think his mother ever got over that sadness. I think of Marie whose paralyzed son was in prison who couldn’t find a priest to console her after his wrongful death.
I think, dear Lady, that you unite yourself with other mothers who suffer at the bedside of a sick child.
I think of Monica whose son Andrew died of AIDS; Rosemarie, whose very popular high school senior John died of a brain tumor, and wrote a book to work out her grief; Florence, the mother of my best priest-buddy Phil who died suddenly at age 47. “What a dirty trick!” she wailed at God; the woman whose name I have long forgot whose surfer-son drowned in a storm in my first week of priestly ministry; mothers I’ve known whose sons who couldn’t escape from addiction; Monique whose son despaired and ended his life, leaving his children.
How can any of us really know what a mother must feel who must outlive her child?
And I think of all the mothers of the world who are condemned to watch their children die of malnutrition.
And the mothers who are being deported by the Trump administration, leaving behind their American-born children.
And terrified mothers who try to comfort their children caught in war-torn countries, especially in Syria and the Rohigya people
I have loved you since my boyhood. I brought you flowers in springtime to express my devotion. Still do. Today, I contemplated the sorrowful image a sculptor captured in white marble. When I gazed into the eyes of that chiseled image for just a moment, I knew what you must have felt, what my friends must have felt. And that moment was gift. A gift I will always remember.
Dearest Lady, as you yourself shared in Jesus’ passion, I ask you to be with all those whose hearts are broken in sorrow.
all of Jesus’ brothers and sisters
on this planet, born and unborn. Draw us all into that one great mystery of divine/human love which is the glory of our Christian faith: the birth, suffering, death and resurrection of the son of a young beautiful woman, Son of God, our Brother, our Redeemer. Our Friend, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
+ + + + + + +
From: ‘Guide to Saint Peter’s Basilica ‘
This is probably the world’s most famous sculpture of a religious subject.
Michelangelo carved it when he was 24 years old, and it is the only one he ever signed. The beauty of its lines and expression leaves a lasting impression on everyone.
With this magnificent statue Michelangelo has given us a highly spiritual and Christian view of human suffering. Artists before and after Michelangelo always depicted the Virgin with the dead Christ in her arms as grief-stricken, almost on the verge of desperation. Michelangelo, on the other hand, created a highly supernatural feeling.
As she holds Jesus’ lifeless body on her lap, the Virgin’s face emanates sweetness, serenity and a majestic acceptance of this immense sorrow, combined with her faith in the Redeemer. It seems almost as if Jesus is about to reawaken from a tranquil sleep and that after so much suffering and thorns, the rose of resurrection is about to bloom. As we contemplate the Pieta which conveys peace and tranquility, we can feel that the great sufferings of life and its pain can be mitigated.
Here, many Christians recall the price of their redemption and pray in silence. The words may be those of the “Salve Regina” or “Sub tuum presidium” or another prayer. After Peter’s Tomb, the Pieta Chapel is the most frequently visited and silent place in the entire basilica.
It is said that Michelangelo had been criticized for having portrayed the Virgin Mary as too young since she actually must have been around 45-50 years old when Jesus died. He answered that he did so deliberately because the effects of time could not mar the virginal features of this, the most blessed of women. He also said that he was thinking of his own mother’s face, he was only five when she died: the mother’s face is a symbol of eternal youth.
Before you go, here’s the Stabat Mater, the traditional mourning song to Our Lady. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. The translation of some of the verses follows.
At the Cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing, all His bitter anguish bearing, now at length the sword has passed.
O how sad and sore distressed was that Mother, highly blest, of the sole-begotten One.
Christ above in torment hangs, she beneath beholds the pangs of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep, whelmed in miseries so deep, Christ’s dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain from partaking in her pain, in that Mother’s pain untold?
For the sins of His own nation, She saw Jesus wracked with torment, All with scourges rent:
She beheld her tender Child, Saw Him hang in desolation, Till His spirit forth He sent.
O thou Mother! fount of love! Touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord:
Make me feel as thou hast felt; make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ my Lord.
Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ April 5th, 2020
All is ready now for the final days of our Lenten journey with Jesus. The drama of the Paschal Mystery will be re-enacted once again in parishes throughout the world. I have loved the liturgy of Holy Week since I was a boy and in this blog I hope I can share that love with you. We’ll go deep here. Please take time to reflect. Come with me now, won’t you? But STOP!
The coronavirus, has nearly brought to a halt the wonder and enjoyment we have always had with Holy Week liturgies. Gone are are the Palm Sunday processions. Gone is the Washing of the Feet at the Solemn Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Gone is the Veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. Gone is the Blessing of the new fire and procession with the new Easter Candle and the singing of the Exultet on Holy Saturday night. And the baptisms and the welcoming of new candidates into the Church will have to wait until “the All Clear Signal” is promulgated, whenever that will be (and you’ll get your palms then too ~ never fear!) This is all unprecedented, maybe since Wartime or even the Plagues of the Middle Ages and it’s world-wide. Nevertheless, we still have the events, in Jesus’ life to commemorate and this is what this blog is about.
So please join me reverently here and enter into Jesus’s last days as best we can . . . .
Jesus entered the holy city Jerusalem on a humble beast of burden ~ himself burdened with the sins of the world, Here’s the Gospel story (from Matthew 21:1-11) that (normally precedes the blessing of palms and the procession into the church . . . .
When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
William Barclay, the great Presbyterian scripture scholar I’ve been referencing, notes, what Jesus was about to do was a deliberate, planned action on his part: this would begin the last act in the drama of his life.
This was not a spur of the moment decision. He had told his disciples exactly where to find the ass and the colt; they were waiting for him.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem. He was to be acknowledged as king. He came humbly riding on an ass. Barclay says we must be careful to see the real meaning of this. In western lands the ass is a despised beast; but in the east the ass could be a noble animal. Often a king came riding into his city upon an ass, indicating that he came in peace. The horse was the mount of war. Jesus showed that he came not to destroy, but to love; not to condemn, but to help, not in the might of arms, but in the strength of love.
The whole city of Jerusalem was awash with visitors in preparation for the Passover at this moment. Barclay also notes that thirty years later a Roman governor had taken a census of the number of lambs slain for Passover and found the number to be about a quarter of a million. Now, Passover regulations stated that a party with a minimum of ten people were required for each lamb which meant that there were about two and a half million people in Jerusalem at the time Jesus entered the holy city!
The crowd receives Jesus like a king. They spread their cloaks in front of him. They cut down and waved palm branches (and that is why we bless and distribute palms and this day is known universally as Palm Sunday.)
They greeted him as they would a pilgrim, Barclay notes: “Blessed be he who enters in the name of the Lord.”
They shouted, “Hosanna!” The word means, “Save now!” and that was a cry that a people addressed to their king or their god. (Interesting ~ I didn’t know that!)
So, we see that Jesus action here was planned and deliberate, similar to those of the prophets of old who would put their message into a dramatic act that people could not fail to see or understand. Jesus action here was clearly a Messianic claim, or at least when a few days later he would be the cleanser of the Temple, an even more dramatic act in which he was to rid the Temple of the abuses that defiled it and its worship.
To conclude, then, Barclay had made three points about this story . . .
+ It shows Jesus’ courage. He knew he was entering a hostile city. All through his last days, in his every action is there is a “magnificent and sublime defiance” –“a flinging down the gauntlet.”
+ It shows us his claim to be God’s Messiah, God’s Anointed One. And the cleanser of the temple.
+ It shows us his appeal–not a kingship of the throne, but a kingship of the heart.
In today’s liturgy, when the procession reaches the altar inside the church, and the people settle into the pews, the mood of the liturgy radically changes dramatically. It becomes somber as the ministers at the altar and the congregation prepare for the solemn reading of the Passion—this year from the Gospel of Matthew, that’s usually proclaimed with several voices. But I’d like to reflect a moment on the New Testament reading from Philippians 2:1-11 that precedes it because it captures the essence of the meaning of this day . . . .
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Johannes Metz wrote a little book Poverty of Spirit, in which he says . . .
Have we really understood the impoverishment that Christ endured?
Everything was taken from him during the passion, even the love that drove him to the cross . . .
His heart gave out and a feeling of utter helplessness came over him. Truly he emptied himself . . . He became utterly poor. [Thus] he accepted our humanity, he took on and endured our lot, he stepped down from his divinity.
He came to us where we really are ~ with all our broken dreams and lost hopes, with the meaning of existence slipping through our fingers. He came and stood with us, struggling with his whole heart to have us say ‘yes’ to our innate poverty. [God’s faithfulness] to us is what gives us the courage to be true to ourselves. And the legacy of God’s total commitment to humankind, the proof of God’s fidelity to our poverty, is the Cross.
[The Cross is the sacrament, the sign] that one human being remained true to his own humanity, that he accepted it in full obedience.”
Thus each of us has the opportunity to embrace our own poverty, or as I have been saying in Arise for the past two years we have the opportunity to accept whatever brokenness shows up in our own lives and find the treasure buried within. But this goes against the grain for us in American life. We are told to keep up with the Joneses. And so we strive for power, prestige, possessions.
“Poverty of spirit is the meeting point of heaven and earth,
the mysterious place where God and humanity encounter each other,
the point where infinite mystery meets concrete existence.”
And now, here’s my prayer . . . .
Lord Jesus, here we are at the beginning of Holy Week once again.
We can’t raise our palms this year,
But we’re here, trying to be faithful to you as best we can.
We will try to read the story of your sacred passion and death so that we can understand and accept more fully how much you loved us
And now we learn that You really meant it!
You weren’t just pretending to be human;
You immersed Yourself in our misery,
You got down in the muck with us
~ accepting it all, even death on a cross.
Jesus, help us to embrace our humility,
our poverty, our brokenness, our share in Your cross.
May this Holy Week truly be holy for us even if we can’t be there in church this year but that we too will rise again with You to new life
and receive anew the gift of the Spirit.
To You, Lord Jesus, be glory and honor forever! Amen.
Before you go, dear friends, here is a beautiful song, The Power of the Cross. Click Here. Be sure to enter full screen.
Have a fruitful Holy Week. I will publish again throughout the week.
Here are the today’s Mass readings. Click here. To get back to this page, go to the top left corner of your computer screen, click on the < back arrow, and you’ll be right back here. I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire passion story according to Matthew. I have also provided you a commentary on this gospel (and also the other readings), if you’d like to reflect on them further. Click here.
Acknowledgements Johannes Baptist Metz Poverty of Spirit / Translated by John Drury / Paulist Press / New York / Mahwah, NJ / 1968, 1998
William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Matthew- Volume 2 The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975 / pp. 238 – 243.