Palm/Passion Sunday – Cycle B
Reflecting on Mark 14: 1-15:47
As I stand with the 1.4 billion Christians who will hear Mark’s Passion today I remember again why I love Jesus so much. I love him because he healed, and forgave, and brought forth the kingdom of God. But most of all I love Jesus because there is no suffering that I will ever have that he hasn’t already suffered, no betrayal or terror or agonizing death that he hasn’t also experienced. I love him for that.
I have friends who have been lied to by their family members, cheated out of pensions by their employers, betrayed by their spouses. Just after Jesus agonized in the Garden about the suffering that would soon overtake him, his beloved friend Judas brought a crowd carrying swords and torches into Gethsemane and said, “The one I kiss is the one. Arrest him.” Jesus has redeemed this.
I’ve read of mothers who have watched their children die painfully. I’ve seen my sweet husband stand, weeping, in front of the Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica, crying with Mary as she held her crucified Son in her arms. Jesus has redeemed this.
Last week my brave friend Margie dealt with the unending pain of her chronic illness. My gentle friend Karen stood grieving at the grave of her father. My gracious friends Eileen and Mike suffered through the terrors of Mike’s surgery to remove a brain tumor. My brave friends Mary Ellen and Dorothy and Eric faced another day with a terminal illness. Jesus knows their pain, their fear, their suffering. By his cross he has redeemed all of our terrors, our agonies, our sleepless, anxious nights. He doesn’t know of them. He knows them.
Oh, Jesus. We love you for that.
What particular part of Jesus’ Passion can you most understand?
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I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).
Readers, Kathy asked me to post this piece that will appear in my upcoming memoir, “My Father Didn’t Raise Sheep.” Thanks for taking the time to read my experience with the Pieta.
A Living Tableau
In grade school, I looked forward to Friday afternoons. At Saint Robert Bellarmine Elementary, Fridays began with the entire school attending mass. We would then walk back to school and work on penmanship loops, reading, and an art project. After lunch we cleaned the classroom and if there was any extra time, sister would open a large roll wrapped in brown paper. Enclosed in the wrapping was “My Little Messenger,” a weekly Franciscan publication of four pages with interesting stories and puzzles geared for each grade level. It was a magical time that I anticipated every Friday afternoon.
I remember one particular Friday in 1960 when I was in third grade. New York was preparing for the World’s Fair and the feature story was on Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” The statue was being prepared to travel to the United States for the fair. I was transfixed by the photograph and the author’s explanation for the disparity in size between Mary and Jesus. Michelangelo had to exaggerate Mary’s mass so that Jesus could comfortably rest in her arms without the entire stone tipping. The expression on Mary’s face was powerfully moving, even to an eight year old. Although I had never traveled much farther than my native state of Pennsylvania, I vowed that at some point in my life I would see the real thing.
That dream was somewhat realized in 1993 at World Youth Day. The Vatican Treasures exhibit in Denver included a copy of the “Pieta”. The statue was given its own space with some seating along the perimeter. I sat on a bench, mesmerized. The ground marble in a matrix looked remarkably like Carrara marble with veining and shading. The skin appeared soft and translucent while the draped clothing seemed like it would flow with a breeze. Tears poured down my face as I tried to take in the beauty, the pain, and the accepting face of Mary. With my young son at my side, I thought, “So that’s what it’s like to be a mother.” I became even more resolved to see the real sculpture.
When my sons were young, I studied stone sculpture and developed an even greater appreciation for the skillfulness in rendering such a poignant and emotional piece as the “Pieta.” In 1999 our family was fortunate to travel to Europe. First on my list of things to see was the “Pieta.” As luck would have it, in preparation for the Holy Year in 2000, scaffolding virtually obstructed my view. Additionally, the original was behind thick glass and difficult to really see as a three dimensional artwork. It seemed like my thirty-nine year odyssey had come to an abrupt and unsatisfactory conclusion. I don’t know what viscerally attracted me to Michelangelo’s sculpture but I do know that I was emotionally attached to that image.
In 2002, my son who had been standing at my side at the Vatican Treasures had surgery to correct severe scoliosis. He had never had a particularly robust constitution and the surgery, which became a series of surgeries, took its toll. Unfortunately, a screw had gone into a nerve and he could not walk. We were told that he would be confined to his bed for at least six months…the first half of his senior year in high school. I became mom, nurse, friend, and comforter 24/7. He was on heavy medication and experienced depression and helplessness. On one particularly difficult night he couldn’t sleep and he asked me to hold him. I climbed onto his bed and draped him over my arms. We became a living tableau of the “Pieta”. I now understood my fascination with that sculpture. God was preparing me for this moment. My heart broke, just as assuredly as Mary’s did. I took comfort in the fact that my son was alive and with me for at least another day.
Thanks for sharing this very powerful story. I am downloading this to reflect on it and to share it with friends at our next faith sharing evening. – – Cris
I can understand and connect to the hopelessness of feeling abandoned by God. But just as Jesus was not truly abandoned, so it is for us. Susan Pitchford has a wonderful book called “God in the Dark” where she looks at various mystics and her own experiences, and posits that we find our paths to God through our own darkness, whatever it is. Reading her makes me think of the Passion and how Christ intimately knows my career despair, knows my sense of betrayal by my spouse or abandonment by a family member–knows those pains better than I ever could.