“When a woman is in travail, she has sorrow because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world” (Jn 16: 21). The first part of Christ’s words refers to the “pangs of childbirth” which belong to the heritage of original sin; at the same time these words indicate the link that exists between the woman’s motherhood and the Paschal Mystery. For this mystery also includes the Mother’s sorrow at the foot of the Cross—the Mother who through faith shares in the amazing mystery of her Son’s “self-emptying”: “This is perhaps the deepest ‘kenosis’ of faith in human history.”
As we contemplate this Mother, whose heart “a sword has pierced” (cf. Lk 2: 35), our thoughts go to all the suffering women in the world, suffering either physically or morally. In this suffering a woman’s sensitivity plays a role, even though she often succeeds in resisting suffering better than a man. It is difficult to enumerate these sufferings; it is difficult to call them all by name. We may recall her maternal care for her children, especially when they fall sick or fall into bad ways; the death of those most dear to her; the loneliness of mothers forgotten by their grown-up children; the loneliness of widows; the sufferings of women who struggle alone to make a living; and women who have been wronged or exploited. Then there are the sufferings of consciences as a result of sin, which has wounded the woman’s human or maternal dignity: the wounds of consciences which do not heal easily. With these sufferings too we must place ourselves at the foot of the Cross.
But the words of the Gospel about the woman who suffers when the time comes for her to give birth to her child, immediately afterwards express joy: it is “the joy that a child is born into the world.” This joy too is referred to the Paschal Mystery, to the joy which is communicated to the Apostles on the day of Christ’s Resurrection: “So you have sorrow now” (these words were said the day before the Passion); “but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16: 22-23).
—St. John Paul II; Mulieris Dignitatem