By Father Dennis Meinen
View from the Scooter
What would you like to be known for after you die? Would you like to be notorious (famous or well-known, typically for some bad quality or deed like the camera-carrying paparazzi who stalk famous or infamous people) or one of imminent character (great, important, outstanding) like Pope Francis or Mother Theresa?
I would like the undertaker to fix me up with a smile on my face and offer door prizes for everyone, so that people leave with a smile on their faces.
How about this way? French Cardinal Jean de Billheres, who served the church in Rome, wanted to be remembered long after he’d died. To achieve this goal, he hired Michelangelo to make a memorial for his tomb that would capture a scene that was popular in Northern European art at the time: the tragic moment of the Virgin Mary taking Jesus down from the cross.
Actually, that undersells de Billheres’s request. Michelangelo’s exact job description for the project was to create “the most beautiful work of marble in Rome, one that no living artist could better.” While other sculptors might have balked at such an intense demand, Michelangelo was confident he could complete such a task. The Pieta is considered by many to be his greatest work.
Did you know that there is a life-sized replica of the Pieta at St. Michael Church in Sioux City?
“I have always had a love for this piece of art,” said Father David Hemann, pastor. “When I studied in Rome for four years, once a week, I would visit it.”
When Father Hemann was named pastor of St. Michael’s in 2012, he envisioned how perfectly the Pieta would fit in the church’s narthex.
“There was this beautiful black marble background with skylights that I knew would be the best setting,” he said.
Because of the generosity of several people, an exact replica of the Pieta, resides at my parish in Sioux City.
I found out more on Michelangelo’s Pieta. Michelangelo claimed that the block of Carrara marble he used to work on this was the most “perfect” block he ever used. This was the only work of Michelangelo to which he signed his name.
In more modern times, the Pieta has experienced some colorful events. In 1964, it appeared at the New York World’s Fair. In 1972, a Hungarian-born man (later found to be mentally disturbed) rushed the statue with a hammer and hit the left arm of the Virgin, which came off, and her head, breaking her nose and some of her left eye. Today, you can visit the statue at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
At Holy Spirit Retirement Home, residents pray the stations, not only during the season of Lent, but whenever we are moved to do so. I sometimes ask residents to tell me which station means the most to them.
I always thought that the 5th Station of the Cross (Simon helps Jesus to carry his cross) appealed most to me and maybe it still does, for I daily carry my cross. The station also tells me to have the humility to ask for help to carry my cross(es).
After reading the story of the Pieta, I am also affected by the 14th Station of the Cross, Jesus is Placed in the Tomb.
Here is a portion of a poem of St. Teresa, Carmelite of Lisieux, known as the Little Flower of Jesus. It describes the tenderness of another person who wished she could hold her crucified Lord.
To the Sacred Heart
Beside the tomb wept Magdalen at dawn,
She sought to find the dead and buried Christ;
Nothing could fill the void now He was gone,
No one to soothe her burning grief sufficed.
Not even you, Archangels heaven-assigned!
To her could bring content that dreary day.
Your buried King, alone, she longed to find,
And bear His lifeless body far away.
O Heart of Jesus, wealth of tenderness!
My joy Thou art, in Thee I safely hide.
Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese, and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.