In today’s Gospel, the Lord compares the sadness of His disciples to the birth-pangs of a new mother. Although I have never assisted at the birth of a child (except my own, but of that I have no precise memory!), I am told that there sometimes comes a moment when the mother thinks she will die, so great is the pain. She is in anguish, and the bringing forth of new life is, in a way, her death. In a way, only. And then, when the babe is born, she is, so to speak, reborn, and joy fills her heart that a man is born into the world.
It is very significant that the Lord would use this universal — though strictly feminine — experience to tell us something about the spiritual life. Birth-pangs can be terrible, they can be dangerous to the life of the mother, it still happens that women die in childbirth.
The spiritual life is the life of God in us, but there is no proportion between us and God, and therefore the fruition of God’s life in us is, of necessity, going to cause a crisis, a crisis that allows the soul to be born to God, only inasmuch as it dies to self. If the mother refuses to suffer, she cannot give birth, and the world remains deprived of offspring that will perpetuate the race. If the soul refuses to die to self, it cannot be brought into the life of God, and it cannot bring life into the world.
Good thing to remember. The Lord gives great joy when He reveals the beauties of life with him, just as the woman is caught up in the ecstasy of love with her husband which allows her to conceive. But for that conceived life to be brought into the world, there is only one path, and that path is fraught with danger.
To bring the life of grace into the world, Jesus the Good Shepherd had to die. In order for that same life He gives to be conveyed to others, the soul must suffer. And that is why spiritual paternity, like maternity, includes the anguish of childbirth. St Paul says as much when speaking to the Galatians whom he calls: “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!” (Gal 4:19).
That is why souls consecrated to God know what paternity and maternity are about. That is why when a soul perceives the call to give itself to God, it should not fear not having offspring. For souls, like babies, are born through suffering, and the consecrated soul is called to bring many souls to the life of grace. Such is the mystery of Easter: death leads to life, Calvary leads to the Empty Tomb, suffering leads to joy.
“When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you”. (Jn 16:21-22)