What color are the eyes of the Blessed Virgin Mary? I fancy they may be green, the rarest, which is slightly more likely among Mediterranean peoples than elsewhere in the globe. But perhaps, most likely, they are dark brown—the most common eye color in the world. Regardless, I am sure her eyes are beautiful for they are “the eyes which God both loves and venerates” (li occhi da Dio diletti e venerati) and that behold the face of God most deeply (Dante, Paradiso 33, 40). This May day it might be spiritually worthwhile to meditate on Mary’s sight.
In her earthly life, Mary, like the rest of us, saw the visible things around her. When she was born she first experienced the marvelous world of light. Soon she began to learn, as babies do, how to distinguish colors, shades, shapes, and through these sensible qualities the different realities to which they belong. As she saw (and heard, smelled, tasted and touched) different things, Sts. Joachim and Anne taught her their names and she began to understand them. Thus she saw and recognized all sorts of creatures—pots and plates, tables and chairs, fig and olive trees, lambs and goats, and many more. Guided by the physical light of the sun and the light of her natural reason, she saw the things of the world, and saw that they were good, true, and beautiful. We can imagine how radiant God’s creation must have seemed to her who was without original sin; but also how dark its limits and deformities. Mary’s true vision of the material world led her to a rightful judgment of its value: she saw it resplendent with something of God’s radiance, but she also recognized its transience and its inability to satisfy the human desires for infinite light and love.
Mary also cast her eyes on other human persons. How devoutly the Virgin child looked upon her parents as they raised her! And when she and Joseph fell in most chaste love, surely they often gazed into each other’s eyes! When she saw Elizabeth filled with the Spirit, what joy shone from her eyes! Then when her Son was born, how tenderly Mother Mary looked at Him! What anxiety and relief her eyes expressed when her Child was lost and found! With what care she looked upon the bride and groom in Cana, noticing their need! How wide her eyes were opened as she witnessed Christ preaching and working miracles! How downcast they seemed when the crowds began to turn against Him! And under the Cross—how pained and tearful they became! How terrible, yet comforting, it must have been to meet the eyes of the Pietà! Then if and when she saw her Risen Lord, her eyes must have glowed in a radiant smile! How often St. John and the other apostles must have had recourse to her eyes for strength and consolation! Mary’s gaze toward others was (and is) always an expression of deep love. Enlightened inwardly by the Spirit she saw all human persons as beloved images of her Father. As she grew in her vocation as Mother of the Word, she saw in all Christ’s disciples her own children. Mary is ever attentive to the light of the dignity and beauty in each human person. Thus even when we sin, she turns her eyes of mercy toward us.
Finally, Mary saw God. Certainly she saw Jesus’s sacred humanity with her bodily eyes. But also she saw with the eyes of faith the great mysteries that He is God and that God is Triune (cf. Pope Francis Lumen fidei, 4). She lived her earthly life, like all believers do, without the beatific vision. Instead she possessed the lights (dim in comparison to that final vision) of faith and the Spirit’s gift of understanding. These graces allowed her to perceive the Truth that God was revealing in and through Jesus. Once again, since her faith was untainted by sin it is difficult for us to imagine how she experienced it. Nevertheless we know the Queen of Contemplatives lived by lights more intimate and unifying than those of faith and understanding, namely, the luminous virtue of charity and its corresponding gift of wisdom (the experiential knowledge of God). In Mary, full of grace from her Conception, these were always the guiding lights. Thus, how she “saw” God in this life was principally as ardent and radiant Love. In these more mysterious and hidden lights, she knew Him who loved her. And through them she looked on all else with eyes of love.
Antoine Saint-Exupéry sums up the lesson taught by Mary’s eyes in these words the fox tells the Little Prince: “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” (On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux). For whether it was the material world, or a human person, or the Truth of God, Mary saw all things with her Immaculate Heart and through the Light-and-Love that dwells therein. Blessed is she, pure of heart, for she sees God!
Image: Fra Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child (detail)