“You have Mary’s eyes.”
My friend leaned across the cafeteria table, holding my gaze and smiling as the noisy, post-Mass Sunday-brunch crowd wove around us. She had been telling me about an idea that had renewed the way she looked at her relationship with the Blessed Mother: finding ways in which she and the women surrounding us at our small, Catholic college resembled Mary. My friend didn’t just focus on similarities in heart or personality; she also found joy in different physical characteristics that made her think of our mother in heaven. In the women around us, she would notice Mary’s smile or Mary’s laugh or the way someone’s hugs made her think of Mary’s arms.
That day in the cafeteria, she shared with me that I have Mary’s eyes. My friend could have stopped there, but she took her meditation a step further and stumbled upon a beautiful truth. After prayerful reflection, she realized: “I have Mary’s body.”
We take after our heavenly mother
What did my friend mean when she said she had “Mary’s body?” Not that she looked exactly like the Blessed Mother. Not that she had been given all the beautiful qualities of Mary that the Church has confirmed in dogma. Instead, my dear friend meant that the same womanhood that Mary possessed was hers as well. That the same bodily vessel Mary had been given to love and serve the Lord was hers as well.
There is a beautiful, sacred truth in this, I believe — a truth for all women. As a woman, there have been so many times I have intentionally or unintentionally compared my body to the bodies of other women, whether that be the actress in my favorite movie or one of my best friends. We are created in the image of God, wired to find beauty in the bodies he so carefully knit in our mothers’ wombs. However, while our bodies were created inherently good by our loving Father, we — myself definitely included — can still struggle to see that, falling into comparison and idolization.
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While I had no trouble subconsciously comparing myself to others, I had never considered how I might look like the Blessed Mother. But when my sweet friend told me that I had “Mary’s eyes,” I felt connected to Mary in a way I never had before. Somehow, the Blessed Mother seemed closer. It reminded me of when I was growing up, attending a family reunion with my parents. There would always be a distant relative who I had never met, and they would hug me, kiss me and marvel: “You look SO much like your mom/dad!” It always made me happy that people could see the resemblance between me and my parents.
Fast forward to that cafeteria table. Using my friend’s beautiful insight, I could now remind myself that I also resemble my heavenly mother. Instead of falling into comparison, I could praise God for the ways the women around me reflected the beauty and dignity of the Blessed Mother. This became a type of imaginative prayer for me, to look for and find Mary in the women around me. Mary wants to lead us to healing from comparison so that we can proclaim the greatness of the Lord that is present in our sisters around us.
Mary is ours
I realized that Mary has gone out of her way to present herself in a way to which we can relate. In each of her apparitions, she appeared as a woman of that culture and ethnicity, dressed in clothes and colors that were familiar to her children in that area of the world. She looked like them. She looks like me. This is so profound and comforting — she has identified with all of us, even to the extent of physically presenting herself as someone we resemble.
Even back in Israel, at the time of the Gospel stories, she was a real woman. Her hair may have frizzed in the heat of sunny Nazareth. Her eyes might have crinkled in the corners when Joseph told a joke. She could have talked with expressive hands and given tight, tender hugs to Jesus with her strong, capable arms. Mary is ours. She looks like me. She looks like you. She is close to us and all our unique experiences. Though she came into the world immaculately conceived and was assumed into heaven, Mary was still a woman. She was a woman whose body changed and gave birth and may have even borne scars, stretch marks and other things the world would call “imperfections.”
And God made his home in her. He made his home in her body. It was his living tabernacle, the ark of his new covenant.
Mary shows us how to be handmaids of the Lord
Christ made his home in Mary and she brought forth the Light into the world. In this, God has highlighted the dignity of womanhood, and of the female body, which now not only brings life into the world, but has brought forth the One who gives us eternal life. While we may not have Mary’s special mission, we, too, are created good by the same loving God. We can imitate her as we carry Christ to those around us, since he dwells within our souls as a result of our baptism. And we, as women with our gift of receptivity, are able to receive others into our hearts and to use our bodies to serve and love those in our paths, building up the kingdom of God. In all of this, we imitate Mary who was handmaid of the Lord from the moment of her fiat when she received Christ into her immaculately-conceived body, to the day she helped to lay her son’s body in the tomb, to the day her son gathered her body in his arms and assumed it into heaven to be with him forever.
That day in the crowded cafeteria, my friend told me, “The way you look at people, the way you see them is so like Mamma Mary. I can picture her having eyes like yours.” We were surrounded by so many women who all looked different — and yet, I saw that they all had Mary’s eyes, too. As women, we uniquely reflect the heart of God, but we also reflect the heart of our heavenly mother.
I will be forever grateful to my friend for showing me how to see Mary in myself and in others. And I hope that, one day, when I meet my mother in heaven, she’ll look familiar — because I have seen her reflected so often in the women I am privileged to be surrounded by every day.