A Guided Encounter

with Picturing Mary


Fra Lippi’s portrayal of Mary and Jesus in this painting shows the mother and child caught up in a moment of tender embrace.  Their facial expressions convey a deep, personal experience taking place interiorly for both Mary and Jesus.  Each one reaches out to hold the other person with both hands.  There is a sense of not wanting to let go but of remaining in that moment.  There is a small trace of sadness in their faces, as if they want to cling to each other now, as if they know a time will come when they will not be able to embrace.  All love has an element of sacrifice in it.

Think of the gift that it is to be able to love another person as Mary and Jesus do in this picture.  Their gesture is one of generosity and given for the good of the other.  Our God and Father in heaven generously gives His Only Son in love for our sakes. (Jn 3:16)  Jesus lays down His life for every human person in order to set them free from the chains that bind them for a life of freedom in the power of the Holy Spirit.  No greater gift can come to us than the gift of God Himself and the gifts He pours out on us through the Holy Spirit.  What a great mystery that the inner life of the Eternal God is all gift!  What unbounded generosity!

Return to Fra Lippi’s image of Mary and Jesus embracing each other.  Reflect upon the gift of their lives to each other that accompanies that moment.  We know from our own experience that a gift is only truly a gift if it is done freely and generously, when the giver is seeking nothing in return.  This is true generosity and benevolence – to desire and to will the good of the other person.  To love in this way is to love with true freedom.  This is the way God the Father loves us – giving Himself to each of us, especially in the gift of His Son Jesus.  Jesus loves us by giving us the gift of Himself, especially in his total self-emptying on the Cross.

The purpose of God’s outpouring of Himself in Love for each of us is that we experience the true freedom of being children of God. When we live in the freedom that comes from our awareness that God has come to dwell within us and to keep us in His grace – then we are truly free.  We are no longer bound by sin and slavery to our passions but we are free to embrace Christ, as Mary did, and we live in generous abandonment to God’s will for our lives.

Let us ask God for the grace to live, in imitation of Mary, the virtue of generosity, so that we may give of ourselves in a willing and cheerful manner for the good of others.

Living the Encounter

You have encountered genuine beauty today in Fra Filippo Lippi’s masterpiece, Madonna and Child.  Chose to live your encounter with beauty and share it with others.  Living beautifully is living virtuously.  Reflect upon the virtue of generosity expressed in Mary’s life.  Ask yourself:

Who in my life is most in need of generosity at this time?  Is there anyone I know who especially needs a kind word of encouragement or the gift of my time and attention to feel that someone is listening and supports them?  Stop and think about a specific way you can help them by an act of generosity.  Make plans to accomplish this good and generous deed.

Deepen Your Encounter

After you leave the exhibit, return to your encounter with beauty and remember what you learned about the virtue of generosity.  Take a moment to read the Scripture passage from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 and reflect upon how you can continue to live your encounter by practicing the virtue of generosity in your life.

You've encountered beauty in Mary and her virtues.  Continue to live your encounter and live beautifully for others.

Inform Your Encounter

Read more about this Reflection from the Catechism:  CCC, nos. 505, 1, 315, 1604, 27, 355, 460   

Learn more about practicing the virtue of generosity 

Scripture passages related to the virtue of generosity:  John 21:3A2 Corinthians 9:6–8Philippians 2:3Tobit 4:7–8Matthew 25:34–40

Read about saints who practiced the virtue of generosity:  St. FabiolaSt. Martin of ToursSt. Guiseppe MoscatiSt. Elizabeth of Hungary  

How is devotion to Mary different from worshiping Mary?
Learn about True Devotion to Mary

Mary’s Unique Role as Intercessor
Scripture Directs Prayer to Mary

Standards/USCCB Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework for Young People related to this reflection
Unique role of Mary, Mother of God including the Annunciation and Mary’s “yes” (CCC, nos.484-487); Mary and her role in the life and prayer of the Church (CCC, nos. 484-511, 721-726, 963-972, 829);  Universal call to holiness (CCC, nos.826, 2012-2014, 2028, 2045, 2013);  Dignity due to being made an image and likeness of God (CCC, nos. 1, 1877); Freedom God gave us, (CCC, nos. 1730-1748);  Education for freedom (CCC, nos. 2207, 2223, 2228, 2526); Accepting and living the grace of redemption by practicing the virtues (CCC 1803);   Types of virtue, (CCC, nos. 1804-1832); Prayer in the life of a believer: lectio divina (CCC, nos. 1177, 2708); Jesus Christ reveals the Father to us, who we are, and our call to holiness;  By becoming man, and by his Death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ unites us to God (CCC, nos. 461-464);  We become the free adopted children of the Father through Baptism (Gal 4; CCC, nos. 1265-1270);  The Word became flesh (the Incarnation) (CCC, nos. 525-528, 456-478) to save us by reconciling us with God, who loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (CCC, no.457); that we might come to know the depth of God’s love for us (CCC, 458); to be our model of holiness (CCC, no 459); to make us partakers of the divine nature (CCC, nos.457-460);


Fra Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child, 1442

Tempera on wood panel

45 ¼ x 28 in. (115 x 71 cm)

Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence

View online at the National Museum for Women in the Arts exhibit Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea

Share your Encounter

What did your encounter bring?   Share your experience and inspirations with others.  #MeetMary

PicturingMary.com is funded by private individuals who support the NMWA exhibit and offer the website materials for visitors to deepen their encounter with Mary as a woman, mother and idea. The reflections were written by a woman religious, Sr. John Paul Maher, O.P., who is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

Elisabetta Sirani, Virgin and Child, 1663; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay. Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts