Growing as a Christian: Mary’s embrace of her son

By Jeff Hedglen

4/18/2014

Notre-Dame-Pieta-WEB.jpg

Descent from the Cross by Nicolas Coustou. (Photo by Prajinadhyana / courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Years ago I was blessed to see Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  There were so many beautiful things to see there, but the image that has stayed with me more than 20 years was the Pietà by Nicholas Coustou that is behind the altar. I wanted to stay and stare at it for hours, but my tour group was moving on to other sites, and I had to leave this glorious statue of Mary holding her now dead son, both being attended to by two angels.

Mary is looking up to heaven with her arms outstretched with a look that is at the same time anguish-filled and questioning. It is such a profoundly human moment, yet at the same time, it is sublimely divine. Mary is holding her son, the Son of God, while looking up to her son’s Father. So much is happening in this moment captured in stone.

I can only imagine what is going through the mind and heart of Mary. My guess is that the answer is, not much. The violence of the last few hours culminating with watching her son take his last breath has to have left her numb and in a state of shock. Yes, this moment had been predicted by Simeon when she and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple all those years ago, but now that prophecy was fulfilled. There was no comfort in it, just the raw reality that her son is dead and in her arms.

As I meditate on this image, my mind wanders back to another moment when Mary held her son, but this one was in Nazareth and his life on earth has just begun.

I wonder about all the other times she held her son throughout his life, certainly many times as a child, maybe during stormy nights, or during times of prayer, for sure after she and Joseph found him in the temple after three days of looking for him. Mary holding Jesus must have been a common occurrence, probably less as he grew older, but not one of those embraces prepared her for this embrace.

Holding her son at the foot of a cross could not have been in her plan, yet here she was fulfilling another plan, a plan set in motion by her “Yes” to the angel.

In a certain way this was not the last time she held Jesus. Mary’s presence among the disciples in the frightful hours after Jesus died, and then discovering that Jesus was alive and all that that meant for them and the world, and then in the ensuing years as the Church was formed, in all these moments, Mary was holding the Body of Christ, and thus, in a certain way she was holding her Son. But these also were not the last time she held her Son. Her final embrace with Jesus is still happening in eternity.

Meditating on the Pietà also leads me to wonder about the ways I too can hold Jesus. Colossians 1:27 says that Jesus lives inside me, so I certainly hold Him in a spiritual way, and each time I serve the poor I serve Jesus, and thus I embrace Him then too.

When I read the Word of God I hold Him in my mind and heart, and when I encounter the Body of Christ here on earth, I am caught up in his arms once again. But the most intimate and overwhelming way that Jesus and I embrace comes every time I receive the Eucharist, for in that grace-filled Sacrament I hold Him physically for a few moments in time.

The Pietà is, certainly, a poignant scene, but it is not the culminating moment in the Paschal Mystery. The whole of Good Friday finds its meaning in the dawn of Easter Sunday. So when we meditate on the image of mother and son at the foot of the cross, we must not have our gaze end there, for the pain of the cross always calls us to the glory of resurrection.

Because of the Resurrection, Mary’s last embrace of Jesus is not at the foot of the cross, and, down through the centuries, we too continue to be invited to embrace our Savior in a multitude of ways. All leading up to the time when we too embrace death, only to be born again into eternity with Jesus awaiting us at the gates of heaven, with arms open wide, ready to continue the embrace, forever.

heglen-button.jpgYears ago I was blessed to see Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  There were so many beautiful things to see there, but the image that has stayed with me more than 20 years was the Pietà by Nicholas Coustou that is behind the altar. I wanted to stay and stare at it for hours, but my tour group was moving on to other sites, and I had to leave this glorious statue of Mary holding her now dead son, both being attended to by two angels.

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