If we look closely, Michelangelo’s Pieta seems to awaken in us an awareness of immortality: a desire, which is always felt, always longed for, to live beyond these heavens and this passing earth. Certainly love is the experience that brings us closest to this thirst for eternity. It has been said that loving another person means saying to them: “to me, you will not die”. Love asks for eternity, otherwise it is not true love.
Art has also been a sublime way in which man has sought immortality. Mankind has always been very aware that this life passes “like a breath” as we read in Psalm 144. From that realization comes the overwhelming desire to create works that will remain here once we are gone. Ars longa, vita brevis: art endures, but life is brief.
Clearly the artist seeks this type of recognition that lives on after the days of his own existence. It isn’t bad -on the contrary! To desire the palm of victory, when it is sought within the service of an ideal, is worth spending one’s life on. That desire is a kind of echo that opens us up to an eternity prepared by God for those who love Him.
In the case of Michelangelo, his goal was not so much to seek human glory as to seek the divine; not the crown that fades, but the one that never fades. The proof of this is in the fact that for 17 years he worked untiringly on the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica without accepting any reward, offering everything -as he used to say- “for God and for the salvation of my soul”.
In the very image of the Pieta, the evocation of immortality is reflected in the youth of Mary and Jesus. On their faces we see no traces of the passage of time. The mark of the years hasn’t touched Mother Mary’s fresh face or the face of our Savior lying lifeless on her lap.
As a matter of fact, the Virgin is surprisingly young. She almost looks younger than her own son! Contemplating the Pieta may evoke in us, if we are older, a time in our life that has already passed….but at the same time, points to the future of a life, beyond the confines of this temporary world, in which we will be, just as Mary and Jesus, glorious in heaven already – and whose youth in the Pieta points to the brilliance of the Resurrection- eternally young and immortal.
It seems that the image itself shows us the way to that immortality: to gain the “eternal youth” of heaven, there is no other way than the redeeming cross, the passion alongside Christ who dies for us, in the arms of Mary.
May She help us be closer to her Son now, so that we may someday obtain that place where there will no longer be tears, or grief, or death or pain. It is worth living for that.