Power of The Pietà
Whether it is the Stations of the Cross, a fine sculpture, a cru-cifix or a stained-glass window of a scene from the Bible or Church history, the purpose of all sacred art is the same: to draw us to Jesus.
And, often, it works. Beautiful depictions of the Blessed Mother, in particular, have helped me immeasurably in coming to terms with my limitations. In paintings, icons and sculptures, she has shown me how to accept the cross of my disability, spastic cerebral palsy.
Of all the depictions I’ve ever seen of Mary, it is Michelangelo’s Pietà — in which she cradles her son’s body after he has died on the cross — that does it best for me. In it, she says to me: “You can unite your struggles with mine.”
Mary saw her perfect son, Jesus, broken for me and you. I have often parked my wheelchair before a replica of the Pietà at a nearby church. In my mind’s eye, I see Mary holding me in her arms.
One night back in March of 1992, I sensed her consolation through this remarkable image in a special way. A friend picked me up for the 7 p.m. Mass. It wasn’t an ordinary day. It was a day my faith would be tested. My brother had died just hours earlier, and I would need the strength of the Eucharist to cope with the excruciating sense of loss I felt. I received our Blessed Lord in holy Communion to cope with the reality of the next few days.
On most days when I attend Mass, I sit toward the front. This night, I sat by myself near the statue in the back of the church. As I sat there by the Pietà, I was consoled. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mary holding my brother in place of Jesus. I was comforted by my heavenly mother as never before.
As I sat there waiting for the start of Mass one recent evening, I closed my eyes. I recalled the story of how Mary saved a couple from embarrassment at their wedding when they ran out of wine. She gave the servers instructions regarding her son: “Do what-ever he tells you” (John 2:1-11). At that feast, she initiated the first of Jesus’ recorded public miracles.
But that wasn’t the first time Mary got a glimpse of how important she was to her son’s mission. There was a foreshadowing of her future trials much earlier, when Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus in the Temple and Simeon forewarned her: “You yourself a sword will pierce” (Luke 2:35). Through it all, Mary’s patient but perseverant love shone through, changing the world.
I used to wonder, quite often: If Mary loves all her children with the same love she has for Jesus, why would she allow some of them to spend their days on earth with a physical or mental disability? Why would she not ask her son to heal them?
I have come to believe the answer is this: Precisely because she is a loving mother, she wants noth-ing more than to bring us, her children, to her son. She knows what each of us needs to get to heaven. And she never takes her eye off that ball. We won’t all be healed in this lifetime, but we can all be saved.
God the Father chose not to reveal his entire plan to Mary at the Annun-ciation. But in Michelangelo’s Pietà, we see the depth of her acceptance — and we are encouraged to emulate her example.
Holy Week is now just a week away. I hope you, too, can find a Pietà in which to picture yourself.
Bill Zalot writes from