We all face difficult days, days of problems and increasing worry, when each step forward seems difficult and progress slow and laborious. This July was a succession of “those days” for me. Solace arrived, however, through a book I picked up at St. Leo Abbey Gift Shop, the Benedictine Abbey near Lakeland, FL: Home of the Assumption: Reconstructing Mary’s Life in Ephesus by Antony J. Alaharasan.
Dogma of Mary
Those who are devoted to the Blessed Mother know at the heart level what Church dogma confirms: Mary is the mother of God, perpetually a virgin, the Immaculate Conception; and, after her death she was bodily assumed into heaven. The Blessed Mother is our mother too, given to us by Jesus at the foot of the cross:
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. —John 19:26,27
In Ephesus with Mary
Alaharasan’s book, Home of the Assumption, is a chronicle of his pilgrimage to Ephesus and onward to Nightingale Mountain where the Blessed Mother is believed to have lived with the Apostle John until her death. The site thought to be her house and the location of her death and Assumption into heaven was located through the visions of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich, a German nun who lived in Munster Germany. Bedridden for 12 years, Sister Anne Catherine never left Germany, but she gave precise enough detail for searchers to locate the remains of the house she described more than 50 years after the details were written down. The remains of the house were dated to the first century.
The possibility that Mary’s house (now a shrine) may have been found isn’t what helped me refocus my priorities. What helped me is the context of her life there.
Sitting in my mother’s house, 550 miles from my home, I picked up Fr. Alaharasan’s book and as I read the details I was enveloped by a peaceful feeling that began with an awareness of the events of the Blessed Mother’s life in Ephesus.
It is thought that Mary arrived in Ephesus with John because of the Christian persecutions. Once again, she was a refugee. This time she was in Ephesus, the financial center of Rome’s empire (and Rome’s second largest city). There, she walked past shrines to pagan gods and goddesses, including the Temple of Diana, one of the wonders of the ancient world.
In my thoughts, God’s own Mother seemed small in comparison to the pagan world around her, yet she remained undeterred, courageous, confident in faith. I was struck by the knowledge that Mary’s “yes” and unwavering faith is a shield for us. She endured much hardship and pain throughout her lifetime, and she is here today to help lead us to her Son. Reflecting on her life and faith made my problems seem small. The Blessed Mother’s life helped me refocus my priorities and to remember that God is in control. His promises are forever.
A Prayer for Now
Mary and the Apostles all faced a harsh world with a new loving message. Through their faith, love and sacrifice—and the sacrifice of so many who arrived after them—we have received the faith that began with them and continues on today. We, the pilgrims, share an identity with Jesus, His Apostles, and Saints victorious, and we enter the world each day unashamed of our Lord and our heritage.
May the Lord enkindle the light of faith in our hearts to help us understand how important we each are to the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed Mother, please keep the spirit of Truth alive in each of us and help us share your Son’s Gospel in deed and word as we go into the world daily to share our God-given love, gifts, and talents with others. Amen.