There is a stone building called “Mary’s House” near the ancient city of Ephesus (modern-day Turkey) on a hillside named “Nightingale”. The house is simple, built on an ancient foundation first seen in a vision by German mystic, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, and rebuilt by Servant of God Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey (1837-1915), a French Sister of the Daughters of Charity. The interior as it now stands is quite plain. It has the appearance of a simple chapel, unlike the mighty basilicas built in Our Lady’s honor throughout the world. Yet, it is a dwelling befitting the humble, faithful Woman, the first Christian.
Mary’s House is a shrine operated by the Turkish government and is located in a park-like setting. There is a statue of Mary along the paved path, and her life story, translated into many languages, may be seen on placards lined up along the paths around the shrine.
Outside the house there is an area with devotional candles, Turkish-style; that is, long, thin, white tapers that are pushed into soft sand after they are lit. During my visit, I made a small donation and waited a few minutes for room to light and plant four candles for the women in my life.
A font of intercession
There is also a spring of water that flows from under the house. By taking the path past the devotional candles and turning down to the next level, one comes to a stone wall with three inset faucets. There are three words on the wall, one over each faucet: “Faith”, “Hope”, and “Love”. Many people in the group that I was with drank from the water that flowed from Mary’s House. Some took the opportunity to wash summer sweat off their faces as they drank from the cool, sweet, water. I grabbed a discarded water bottle nearby, rinsed it, and filled it from the “Faith” spout. I would use it to anoint others when I returned home.
Near the spring, a large wall extends for a distance of maybe twenty feet or more. It was four or five feet wide and several inches thick with wishes and prayers tacked on to it. People from all over the world visited and wrote their hearts’ desires, seeking the intercession of the one who Bernadette Soubirous called simply, the “lady”, when she spoke to her in the cave of Massabielle, France in 1858. Most of the prayers and wishes were written on pieces of white cloth, perhaps because cloth lasts longer than paper.
Young Muslim men and women were also writing notes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “Mother of God,” as declared by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., a historical event that took place a few short miles away from that very House. The actions of the young Muslims may have been more for pious show than on account of their understanding of the Woman from whom they were seeking assistance.
Mary’s universal intercession
To seek assistance from the Mother of God is to call upon the only person who “most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith” (CCC, 148). In the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, Sacred Scripture states clearly that without faith it is impossible to please God. Verse six continues, “…for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The Catechism tells us that Virgin Mary is our faith’s most perfect embodiment. When she heard the Word of God spoken to her by the Angel Gabriel, she believed, unwaveringly, that what God said was so. “Throughout her life and until her last ordeal when Jesus her son died on the cross, Mary’s faith never wavered. She never ceased to believe in the fulfillment of God’s word. And so the Church venerates in Mary the purest realization of faith” (CCC, 149).
The Virgin Mary, as the embodiment of faith, may thus be called on throughout the ages for aid. She perfectly pleased God, who prepared her beforehand to be the mother of the Incarnate King of kings. What kind of faith, then, did Mary possess so perfectly? Is that same gift available to all who ask?
The Catechism says that faith is “first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says” (CCC, 150).The Virgin Mary fully entrusted herself to God. There was no doubt in her mind when she freely accepted the “how” of the conception of the Christ.
A window into a faith encounter
The Gospel of Luke invites us into the private meeting between the Archangel and the Virgin. To her “how” question, the Archangel replied: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). At that moment, the Virgin Mary’s life was changed for eternity. Her Fiat, her “Yes”, transcends time.
Like Abraham before her, Mary instantly, without reservation, believed the Word of God and received it. I suppose someone may say, “If an Archangel appeared to me and told me what God said, I’d believe it too.” That may be true, but that did not work too well for the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah, with his wife Elizabeth, were both righteous in the eyes of God, “observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). However, when the Archangel Gabriel told Zechariah that his prayer had been heard, that his wife would bear him a son, Zechariah did not believe the message of the angel, which means he did not believe the Word of God. He looked around at the reality of his life situation and considered that he was too old; his wife was also too old, he said. To him, it was impossible to have a child at their advanced ages.
The power of the Word
In contrast, the Virgin Mary believed the word of God immediately, and believing, she received. The Catechism states that the Scriptures are powerful: “And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life” (CCC, 131, emphasis added). The Word of God is strength for faith.
Saint Paul writes in his Second Letter to Timothy that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). As Catholics, we willingly allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Word.
I debated with a formation teacher about the “All Scripture is inspired by God” passage. He was unable to accept that all of it could possibly be inspired. What about the genealogies of Jesus, he asked? The genealogies in Matthew and Luke are distinctly different. I explained that Matthew’s genealogy began with Abraham and followed the line to Joseph, Jesus’ foster-father (Matthew 1:1-17). The Lukan genealogy on the other hand mentions Joseph but traces Jesus’ lineage through the father of Mary (see Luke 3:23). But the two genealogies merge at King David, so that Mary and Joseph were both “of the lineage of David.” In Matthew’s genealogy there are four women mentioned but none in Luke. All four women have a tremendous story to tell of strength, daring, and great courage. They are all ancestors of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven.
All Scripture is inspired by God. The Catechism teaches that it “was by the apostolic Tradition that the Church discerned which writings are to be included in the list of the sacred books” (CCC, 120). It also says that “The Word of God, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, is set forth and displays its power in a most wonderful way in the writings of the New Testament which hand on the ultimate truth of God’s Revelation” (CCC, 124).
The Virgin Mary, our model of faith, believed in, trusted, and acted on the Word given to her. We, too, may enter into a relationship with God by faith, as we believe in, trust, and act on His Word.