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Gospel in Art: A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come

  • Father Patrick van der Vorst

Madonna and Child, by Giovanni Battista Salvi, painted late 17th century © Christie's London

Madonna and Child, by Giovanni Battista Salvi, painted late 17th century © Christie's London

Source: Christian Art

Gospel of 10 May 2024
John 16:20-23

Jesus said to his disciples:

'I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.

A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a man has been born into the world.

So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you. When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions.'

Reflection on the painting

In today's gospel reading, Jesus draws upon the experience of childbirth to illuminate for his disciples the impending events of his passion and death. He parallels the pain a woman endures in labour as the necessary precursor to the profound joy of holding her newborn child for the first time. Just as the joy of new life eclipses the pain of childbirth, Jesus explains that his forthcoming suffering and death will lead to the jubilant resurrection of Easter. Despite the sorrow of his departure, Jesus reassures his disciples that this temporary excruciating pain will give way to the joy of his triumphant return to them in just three days. The temporary sadness of Calvary will be overcome by the eternal joy of Easter.

This late 17th-century painting by Sassoferrato is a very tender portrayal of motherly love. It captures the profound joy a mother experiences after enduring the physical pains of childbirth. Through delicate brushwork and emotive expressions, Sassoferrato conveys this intimate bond between Mary and the infant Jesus. Both have their eyes half closed, emphasising the tender affection between them. The maternal care is also radiating from Our Lady's gentle, loving hands.

The Lord's presence to us will see to it that sorrow will not have the last word in our lives either. Jesus says to his disciples and to all of us, 'Your sorrow will turn into joy'.


Gospel in Art:
Today's Reflection:


Apostleship of the Sea

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