The old woman sits inside her stone house built on top of a mountain; she is lost in thoughts about the past, and says a prayer not for herself but for those she remembers who are gone but she still loves.
Sometimes it seems her father Joaquin is in the room with her, staring down as he once did at her in their old home in Nazareth. Her mother Anne appears too, not old as she remembers her, but young as when she was a child.
Now she is so far away from there out of necessity, and although she wishes to return she knows that she is too frail for the journey. A knock comes to the door, and she struggles to stand and answer it.
Once she pulls back the door, she is happy to see John, who quickly removes the hood of his robe. “Mother Mary,” he says, “it’s so good to see you.”
Mary takes his hand and he helps her back inside; she drops onto her chair and leans on the table. John puts down his pack and takes the pitcher of water and pours some into a cup. He sits across from her and she sees the sweat on his brow.
“Dear John,” she says softly, “you always come back to me.”
“Yes, Mother, as I always promise each time I leave.”
“Your work is important,” she says. “No one knows that more than I do.”
He grabs her hand and squeezes it gently. “Yes, I know.”
“Do you bring news of home?” she asks hopefully.
John’s expression alerts her to what he will say. “Things are not good now. I was there briefly, but always had to be extremely careful. It is worse than when we left so long ago. The Romans are making life difficult for everyone.”
Mary shivers when she thinks of the Romans and what they did to her son. She recalls kneeling on the dusty rocks on Skull Hill and looking up at Jesus’s broken body on the cross, her heart almost exploding with the pain.
And then she remembers the old man in the temple and looks up at John. “I must tell you a story.”
John sips his water and smiles, “I always love to hear your stories, Mother.”
“Well, this one is about an old man named Simeon. When Joseph and I brought Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem for presentation, this man was there. After the circumcision we heard him shouting, ‘Where is he?’ The old man then came up to us and within seconds he had taken the baby from my arms and held him up high.”
“You did not know this man, Mother?”
“No, John, we had never seen him before, but he was one with the Lord because he said that the baby’s coming had been foretold to him. He said that he could die contented now. Simeon called him ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and glory to your people Israel.’ Many people in the temple, especially the priests, all looked at him as if he was mad, but Joseph and I glanced at one another knowingly.”
“The Lord revealed these things to him and he was happy,” John says.
“Yes, but he knew even more.” Mary puts a hand on her chest. “He gave the baby back to me and stared at me with tears in his eyes. He said, ‘And a sword shall pierce your heart.’ At the time I did not understand, and for all these years I had forgotten, but now I know how much Simeon knew. Oh, how he knew!”
Tears fall down her cheeks and John squeezes her hand. “Oh, Mother, you know the greatest of pain but also the greatest of joys.”
Mary stares at him and sees him looking at her so lovingly, as he has since the day Jesus hung on the cross and declared John to be her son and for her to be his mother. “I still ache, John; I still feel such sadness, and now I remember how it was foretold.”
“I’m sorry for your pain.”
“When he was a little boy, I did everything to care for him, to protect him. If he came back from playing with the other boys with a bump or bruise, or came home with scrapped knees or a splinter, I cried as I cleaned his wounds. I wanted to keep him safe always, never knowing God’s full plan.”
“The Lord knew you were a good mother, and how could he reveal this to you and expect you to go on?”
Mary struggles to stand and breathe as she says, “He asked me to have his child and I faced all the fear I thought I would ever have. If I had known that my child would suffer so, would….”
John stands and embraces her. “Mother, you would not have it any other way.”
Mary looks up at his face and finds strength in his eyes. “Yes, you are right, of course, John.”
He kisses her forehead. “I must go now to meet Paul down in Ephesus, but I will be back to see you tomorrow.”
“Please be careful.”
“I always am, Mother.”
She watches him leave; she has watched them all come and go – her son’s closest friends who now continue to do his work. She knows they’re all in danger, which is why John brought her to this secluded place.
Mary pushes herself to walk outside. Her house is surrounded by sentinels of lush trees, but as she goes to the path a view down the mountain reveals rolling hills, the road to Ephesus, and the bright blue sea in the distance.
She watches John walking briskly down the road that if taken in the other direction leads to Jerusalem – a place to which she can never return. She prays to her son to keep him and the others safe, hoping that no swords will pierce her heart ever again.