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In Search of Mary's Smile

Interview With Author Rosangela Vegetti

ROME, JULY 8, 2004 (Zenit) - What was Mary's smile like?

This is the question Milanese journalist Rosangela Vegetti tries to address in her book "Mary's Smile," published by Ancora.

The author has specialized in ecclesial reporting from the diocesan and ecumenical perspectives and is especially concerned about women, minors and the family.

Q: What is known about Mary's smile?

Vegetti: Virtually nothing, as nothing is known either of Jesus Christ's smiles. This aspect of his life was not part of the cultural considerations of the time, nor were the Evangelists interested in shedding light on it. It is up to us to discover all the possible occasions in which a smile marked Mary's or Jesus Christ's face.

Given that Jesus' message is characterized by joy, it is not imprudent to think that both had a smiling attitude toward life.

Q: Why are there no traces of this in theology or iconography?

Vegetti: Probably because pain is a problem for us which distresses us, and the same doesn't happen with joy. For centuries, efforts have been made to find reasons for hope, for certainty in the face of the causes of suffering, with the solidaristic assistance of those who have known pain because they have experienced it.

In fact, it is not a question of there not being traces of smiles in theology. Suffice it to refer to what St. Thérčse of Lisieux said about Mary's smile. In iconography we also find works that go deeper and represent joyful and smiling expressions of Mary.

It must be said that joy is the foundation of the whole Christian message. Moreover, smiling is about the more personal, perhaps more human side. It is what one perceives while looking at the person with whom one is communicating.

A smile implies a coming closer, a familiar communication between two people. For centuries, devotions to Mary have not made easy personal knowledge of her as a human person. Instead, she has been removed from human history and made too heavenly.

Q: Were the people with whom you spoke when writing the book in agreement with presenting a smiling Virgin?

Vegetti: The people with whom I reflected on the topic were in agreement on the importance of opening an area of reflection which to date has been rather neglected.

Each one of them agreed to undertake a profound re-reading of the Gospel texts, of the traditions, and of the personal sentiments that Mary's smile stirred in them.

And, precisely because the topic is rather uncommon, each person responded with considerations that are not related to abstract schemes, but penetrated its most profound wisdom. I might say, therefore, that Mary's face has been enriched with new expressions.

Q: Is a smiling Mary a new model for women?

Vegetti: I would say that she is a new model for everyone, not just for women. She obliges every man and woman to rethink profoundly and to understand their own authentic value.

Mary transmits the feminine dimension in Christ's message, and elicits some sentiments that are specific to women and mothers throughout her whole earthly existence.

She transmitted to her Son the fundamental values of culture and education, of freedom in relations with other persons, and she educated him in the joy of being with others, of celebrating with friends, of communicating with neighbors and with distant persons.

During the banquet at the wedding of Cana, Mary makes her Son intervene with a miraculous gesture, and this is Mary's only intervention next to her Son, and she does so to guarantee the continuance of the celebration.

'Mary was able to wait until the end of her life to understand its grandeur in each moment, and she never felt discouraged or disappointed about what was happening, which could have saddened her, if we think of the promise God made to her at the beginning of her life.

'Mary is certainly a model for women who can see in her life all the small and great things that make up normal, family, and feminine life, beginning with the sense of personal dignity, tenacity in following one's path, and confidence in God's plans and not in one's own.


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