In his divine wisdom, the Lord reaches out to the faithful using words and means that resonate in their hearts spiritually, culturally and personally. That includes outreach by way of his mother, who embraces a cultural and personal spirituality that includes at times: her appearance.
“We know historically that Our Lady looked a particular way,” explained Father Gary Selin, formation advisor and assistant professor of theology of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. “She had a historical body.”
That historical body, while on earth, had a particular look: she was Jewish. But since her flawless human body was assumed into heaven, the Blessed Mother has been depicted in countless ways: light-skinned, dark-skinned, olive-skinned, black. In her work of transporting divine messages from heaven to earth, she has been known to take on the look of those she is trying to reach.
“Since Our Lady’s Assumption she’s been watching over, really, the whole world,” Father Selin said. “The fact that Mary sometimes appears as an Indian princess, or black, Japanese, or as a northern European demonstrates that God meets us where we’re at.”
A couple of those examples include the Blessed Mother appearing as an Indian princess, with child, when speaking to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City in 1531 (Our Lady of Guadalupe); or being depicted with black skin when communicating with schoolgirls in Kibeho, a small town in Rwanda, Africa (Our Lady of Kibeho).
“Jesus was a Semitic from Palestine, maybe a bit swarthy-skinned,” Father said. “(But) he wasn’t African, Asian; he looked like whatever a Jew looked like.”
And so did his mother. However, by appearing as “one of us,” she has been able to more effectively get through to those that she—and her sone—are attempting to reach.
“We understand her love for us,” Father Selin said, “in becoming one of us.”
The Blessed Mother love for her children on earth has been evidenced since the time of the Ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Father Selin said, through her watchful eyes in a very maternal way over the entire Church.
“At God’s bidding, she’s has intervened in time and space to ask us to remember Jesus,” he said. “To remember the Gospel of conversion and transform to her son.”
Through God’s grace and her many faces—Our Lady of Kibeho, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima, and many others—Mary, the Mother of God, has demonstrated she is the universal mother to all peoples.
“She can incline herself to all five continents; to all people from the beginning to the end,” Father Selin said. “She has that motherly love and relationship to all of us.
“And she’s always pointing us to Jesus.”