Okay. The point of this story is that I was blessed. So blessed that I was able to serve as a deacon in a Mass at the home of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Ephesus. As in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Sound unbelievable? It was glorious. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. Just two weeks ago. Sound impossible? Read on.
There is much that I’d like to do in this sharing. Perhaps make it three or four articles. But in summary, let me say that on the eastern coast of what is now the country of Turkey, there has been civilization active in a land of Mediterranean beauty, warmth and great growing conditions. It has supported dates, fruits, melons and cotton and it featured a seaport that was active from even before the arrival of Christianity.
Our (Catholic Answers) cruise ship docked at the port; it has a different city name. We quickly boarded our tour bus and a Turkish guide started giving us pre-Christian and then Christian history for this area. In 15 minutes or so we were out of the city and headed up a gentle mountain road which took us to the ruins of early Ephesus, and on up to the (alleged) home of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the last nine years of her life. Okay – I used the word alleged because there is a story about how this site came to be discovered.
Here is a (very) brief narration of the story of the BVM home. There is a nun, beatified by John Paul II on October 3rd, 2004. She is Venerable Ann Katherine Emmerich. But, let’s go all the way to the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. There was at that time, a German nun, this Ann Katherine Emmerich. It is said she was almost illiterate, however she was definitely noted for her holiness. For the last 12 years of her life, she was a bedridden invalid. There was something unusual about her: although she had never traveled out of Germany, she was apparently gifted with unprecedented knowledge and visions of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Sr. Ann was also given visions of the life of the Blessed Mother Mary… including the years of Mary’s life after the Ascension.
Sister Ann knew of people, places and situations that she wouldn’t otherwise have known about. And these visions… these heaven-sent intimate details were recorded by a German named Clemens Brentano. In a sense, he became the secretary of Sr. Emmerich. There are a number of books which document these visions and images of the lives of Jesus and Mary.
Mel Gibson has said that he based much of his 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ,” on the visions of Sister Emmerich as reported in a book called “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to the Meditations of Anne Catherine Emmerich.”
This book, while faithful to passion narratives of Scripture has details that none of the Gospels were able to share.
The German secretary Brentano recorded details from Sister Ann such as these: Mary lived her last 9 years in Ephesus. Sr. Ann gave directions on how to get to the Blessed Virgin’s house: going from the seaport, progressing up to the ruins of Ephesus, then up on top of a certain mountain at a certain height above sea level, the house (or its ruins) would be found there.
As you might guess, there was mixed reaction, but for a while no one did anything to follow up on this vision. Some years later, two skeptical priests decided to look at and attempt to debunk this nun’s vision. There is an excited story of how the priests came to find the ruins of a house on a very hot day in July of 1891. And a well with water still supporting life there.
Much later archeological work dated the foundation to the 1st century. In recent and near-recent times, many popes and Church officials have responded to the acceptance of this being the likely place where Mary lived until she died.
There is a peace in Ephesus. A beauty and a peace going beyond birds singing in the trees and an excited imagination. Ephesus and Mary’s house had a holy and faith-lifting effect on me. As stated at the beginning, I was able to be a deacon at a Mass which one of the priests said for us at Mary’s house in Ephesus…
Our history is tangible and important to bolstering faith. St. Paul and St. John brought Christianity to Ephesus. Two basilicas were built there. It is believed that St. John had a stone house built for the Blessed Virgin there. And we know of evidence that the early Church honored that area as having to do with the Blessed Virgin. One example was the 431 AD Council of Ephesus which met there in a Basilica. They concluded with a definitive statement that Mary was recognized as Theotokos – the Mother of God. The God bearer.
I couldn’t help imagining Blessed Mother Mary greeting her neighbors who lived in the scattered village of Ephesus. Imagine that many came to ask Mary about Her Son and what it was like when He was alive in the flesh. Imagine Masses at a Basilica in that 1st century timeframe. Imagine Mary receiving the Body and Blood of her Son just as I did at her house in Ephesus. Once again, I think of the song with the title, “I Can Only Imagine.”
Blessed Mother Mary: thank you for inviting me to your home. Help us to learn more about our faith and its history. We love you. We love your Son. Amen.
Copyright 2014 Deacon Tom Fox