SURMISING MICHELANGELO'S PIETA AT MY DAD's DEATHBED

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The Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica. What a moving piece of art!

My friend, Rab, had spoken to me about it a few years ago. Rab would describe himself as “relatively agnostic but interested in many aspects across religions” so when he shared with me how taken he was with the Pieta I took note and cannot thank him enough.

His wife was investigating the Basilica and Rab kind of drifted over and caught sight of the Pieta. It is the work of Michelangelo. A beautiful 15th century sculpture in marble, the Pieta depicts Mary holding her dead son, Jesus, in her arms. It moved Rab to tears. 

My experience was similar. We had met Pope Francis. I needed time to surmise that and all the things that he said. We went through the Vatican Museum and much as it was impressive I was still pondering the events in Pope Francis’ private library. 

Janice went off to marvel at the art and beauty of St. Peter’s. I was at a loose end and remembered - Rab’s Pieta. I found my good friend Fr Martin Magill and asked about it. He took me over to it and it was that same wow factor as Rab experienced. 

We encouraged Janice over to join us and all three of us stood and wept. 

The theologically squeamish might shout, “It is not in the Bible.” No, it is not. That does not mean that between the cross where Mary stood watching her son die and the tomb he was laid in that she didn’t cradle his body.

However, fact is not the point. This is not theological. This is artistic. Whatever the facts, Mary did watch her soon die. She went through her valley of the shadow. She experienced that trauma. Michelangelo expresses that experience of Mary’s; beautifully, poignantly, painfully.

For Janice and I we were drawn to dear friends who lost their son to a very unexpected suicide just weeks ago. It is not the order of things for a parent to cradle their child’s body. Our friends experienced it. They said that they could have held him forever. Michelangelo captured their heartache.

Fr Martin recognised who we would be particularly thinking of. He added his own experience of far too many young suicides in west Belfast. 

All of our tears were deeply felt. Fr Martin suggested a prayer and I prayed for my friends and then all the other parents who experience what Mary went through. The love and sorrow that mingles. Again, there is something of the Gospel story that understands our humanity and our brokenness. 

As I type this, I sit by my father’s hospital bed as he drifts, thankfully comfortably, out of this life. However, tough and all as my grief is, that is how it should be. A son beside his parent. The Pieta is for all those who have to feel the sharp wounds of the wrong way round. As I sit praying with my father I remember them again too.

SURMISING MICHELANGELO'S PIETA AT MY DAD's DEATHBED