A Guided Encounter

with Picturing Mary


At the center of this painting is the face of a beautiful woman, who is illuminated by a light coming from above.  The light casts a delicate shadow on her face, while the child in her arms gently clings to her veil, as if to draw closer to his mother.  Notice how the child gazes into the distance with a depth and near-seriousness that seems to advance his years.  Indeed, in his hands is a reminder of the future, at least as placed there by the symbolism of the painter – for the goldfinch bird is a symbol of the cross those same hands would hold in years to come. 

The mother in this image is holding the child high for us to see, as if to draw our attention to the mission that is foreshadowed here in the cross.  As Mary presents her Son to us, she also presents to us the grace her Son brings by His Presence.  Mary’s vocation included her call to stand with her Son at the foot of the Cross.  One can hardly comprehend the suffering that Mary endured watching her Innocent Son suffer.  Tiepolo’s painting gives us a faint glimpse of the depth of Mary’s interior life by the contemplative look on her face.  Imagine what her heart had to endure and what patience she needed to watch the events building up to the crucifixion of Her Son. Truly, Simeon was inspired by the Holy Spirit when he prophesized that her heart would be pierced by a sword as a result of the opposition her Son would encounter. (Lk 2:34-35) Only great love and God’s grace could have led Mary to stand by her Son in silent fidelity with such patience. 

Mary was privileged to be at Christ’s side in his hour of greatest need.  She actively participated in Christ’s Passion by suffering with Him in love.  It is in this very moment of shared suffering that Christ gives His mother to each of us when he says “behold your mother.”  (Jn 19:27)  Jesus wanted us to know and experience Mary’s motherhood as He did and so Mary became our spiritual mother at the foot of the Cross, just as we received the grace to become adopted children of the Father through the Cross.

Jesus’ gift of Mary to us from the Cross reminds us that Mary is at the heart of God’s plan for saving us.  Mary was conceived without sin and is called “full of grace” because God chose her to be the means through which He would shower the world with His Presence and His grace.  Just as He first came to earth through His mother, so Jesus desires to bring us the grace of divine life from heaven through Mary’s intercession and motherly care for each of us.  It is part of God’s plan that Mary, who is full of grace, share the graces of Her Son with others.  Mary is not the source of grace but is God’s chosen instrument in sharing grace with others.  In this way, we can honor her as the mediator of the grace Christ desires to pour out upon all the children of God and on the world.

Look again at Tiepolo’s painting and the way Mary holds Jesus for us to see.  Look again at Jesus’ gaze and the goldfinch He almost holds out for us to take.  We are reminded of our own calling to endure the suffering and difficulties of life with patience.  We accept trials for the sake of the glory that lies ahead, as Christ did and as Mary did following His example.  Facing bravely the hardships, misunderstandings and pain of daily life is not easy.  We are reminded of Christ’s call to His disciples to “follow me” and of Mary’s advice to do whatever He tells us.  (Jn 12:16;  Jn 2:5) We can trust in Christ’s love for us.  We can trust in Mary’s love for us.  They have passed through suffering and know the joy that awaits us on the other side.  Let us imitate Mary’s trust in Jesus and believe that God can bring good out of suffering when grace is allowed in.  We recall the words of St. Paul that, where sin is, grace abounds all the more. (Rom 5:20) Where the Cross is, eternal life and lasting joy await.

Let us ask God for the grace to live, in imitation of Mary, the virtue of patience, so that we may bear present difficulties calmly and glorify God with our lives.

Living the Encounter

You have encountered genuine beauty today in Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s masterpiece, Madonna of the Goldfinch.  Chose to live your encounter with beauty and share it with others.  Living beautifully is living virtuously.  Reflect upon the virtue of patience expressed in Mary’s life.  Ask yourself:

Where in my life am I struggling to accept the hardships and difficulties that come to me?  Where do I need to bear my difficulties with greater calm and mercy toward others?  Choose one situation or relationship in your life in which brings you difficulty and ask God for the grace to act today with greater compassion and peace towards those involved.

Deepen Your Encounter

After you leave the exhibit, return to your encounter with beauty and remember what you learned about the virtue of patience .  Take a moment to read the Scripture passage from James 5:7-8 and reflect upon how you can continue to live your encounter by practicing the virtue of patience 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. 964, 969, 970, 972, 606, 609, 613, 616, 618

Learn more about practicing the virtue of patience  

Scripture passages related to the virtue of patience: Philippians 4:11-131 Corinthians 13:4Acts 15:12-14Acts 18:5-11James 5:7-8

Read about saints who practiced the virtue of patience:  Bl. Teresa of CalcuttaSt. Gianna MollaSt. Alphonsus LiguoriSt. Athanasius

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 as an unparalleled recipient of God’s grace: Immaculate Conception; Assumption (CCC, nos. 490-494, 966);  Mary is Mother of the Church (CCC, 507, 829); Mary is the first disciple;  Christ as the Son of Mary, from the moment of the Incarnation (CCC, 486);  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);   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);


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Madonna of the Goldfinch, ca.1767-1770

Oil on canvas

24 7/8 x 19 7/8 in (63.1 x 50.3 cm)

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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