20th May 1945. Pentecost.
Mary is working quietly at a piece of cloth. It is evening, all the doors are closed, a three flame lamp lights up the little room in Nazareth, particularly the table at which the Virgin is sat. The cloth, perhaps a bed sheet, hangs from the chest and from Her knees on to the floor, so that Mary, Who is wearing a dark blue dress, seems to emerge from a pile of snow. She is alone. She is sowing fast, Her head bent on Her work, and the light of the lamp causes the top part of Her hair to shine with pale gold tints. The rest of Her face is in half-light.
There is dead silence in the tidy room. No noise can be heard either from the road, deserted at night, or from the kitchen garden. The heavy door of the room where Mary works, where She takes Her meals and receives Her friends, and which opens on to the kitchen garden, is closed, so that not even the noise of the fountain water running into the basin can be heard. It is really the stillness of the night. I wonder what Mary is thinking of while Her hands are working swiftly...
There is a light tapping at the main door. Mary looks up and listens... The tapping has been so light that Mary must be thinking that it was caused by some night animal or by the wind and She bends Her head once again to Her work. But the knocking is repeated and more loudly. Mary stands up and goes to the door. Before opening She asks: « Who is knocking? »
A thin voice replies: « A woman. In the name of Jesus, have mercy on me. »
Mary opens the door at once holding the lamp up to see the pilgrim. She sees a heap of clothes, through which no one appears. A poor heap of clothes, stooping very low and saying: « Hail! My Lady! » and then once again: « In the name of Jesus, have mercy on me. »
« Come in and tell Me what you want. I do not know you. »
« Nobody and many know me. Vice knows me. And Holiness knows me. But now I need Piety to open Her arms to me. And You are Piety...» and she weeps.
« Come in, then... And tell me... You have said enough to make Me understand that you are unhappy... But I do not yet know who you are. Your name, sister... »
« Oh! no! Not sister! I cannot be Your sister... You are the Mother of Good... I... I am Evil... » and she cries louder and louder under her mantle, which covers her completely.
Mary lays the lamp on a chair; she takes the hand of the unknown woman kneeling on the threshold and compels her to stand up.
Mary does not know her... but I do. She is the Veiled woman of the Clear Water.
She stands up, dejected, trembling, shaken by her sobs, and is still reluctant to go in. She says: « I am a heathen, my Lady. I am filth, for you Jews, even if I were holy. I am twice filth because I am a prostitute. »
« If you come to Me, if you look for My Son through Me, you can only be a repentant heart. This house welcomes those whose name is Sorrow » and She leads her in, closing the door, lays the lamp on the table, and asks her to sit down and says: « Speak. »
But the Veiled woman does not want to sit down; still stooping, she continues to weep. Mary is in front of her, kind and queenly. She waits, praying, for her to calm down. Her whole attitude tells me that She is praying, although nothing about Her takes the form of prayer: neither Her hands which are holding all the time the little hand of the Veiled woman, nor Her lips which are closed.
At last her weeping calms down. The Veiled woman dries her face with her veil and then says: « And yet I have not come from so far as to be unknown. It is the hour of my redemption and I must reveal myself... to show with how many wounds my heart is covered. And You are a mother... and His Mother... You will, therefore, have mercy on me. »
« Yes, My daughter. »
« Oh! yes! Call me daughter! I had a mother and I left her... I was later told that she died of a broken heart I had a father... he cursed me and he says to those in town: “I no longer have a daughter” » (she resumes crying more bitterly. Mary turns pale with anguish, but lays Her hand on her head to comfort her). The Veiled woman goes on: « No one will call me daughter any more!... Yes, caress me thus, as my mother used to do when I was pure and good... Let me kiss Your hand and wipe my tears with it. My tears alone will not cleanse me. How much have I wept when I realised! – Also before I used to weep, because it is horrible to be nothing but flesh, abused and insulted by man. But they were the tears of an ill-treated animal that hates and rebels against him who tortures and fouls it more and more... because I changed master, but I did not change bestiality... I have been weeping for eight months... because I have understood... I understood my misery and my depravity, I am covered and saturated with it and I feel disgusted... But my tears, although more and more conscious, do not yet cleanse me. They mix with my depravity and do not wash it away. Oh! Mother! Wipe my tears and I shall be so cleansed as to be able to go near my Saviour! »
« Yes, My daughter, yes, I will. Sit down. Here, near Me. And speak calmly. Leave your burden here, on My knees of a Mother » and Mary sits down.
But the Veiled woman sinks to the ground at Her feet, as she wishes to speak to Her thus. She begins slowly: « I come from Syracuse... I am twenty-six years old... I was the daughter of a steward, as you would call him, we say a procurator, of a wealthy Roman gentleman. I was an only daughter. My life was a happy one. We lived near the seaside, in a beautiful villa, where my father was the steward. Now and again the owner of the villa, or his wife or children would come. They treated us very well and were very good to me. The girls used to play with me... My mother was happy and... proud of me. I was beautiful... intelligent and I succeeded in everything... But I loved frivolous things more than good things. There is a great theatre at Syracuse. A great theatre... Beautiful... huge... It is used for games and plays... Mimers are widely employed in the comedies and tragedies which are performed there. They emphasize the meaning of the chorus by their silent dances. You do not know... but also by means of our hands or through the movements of our bodies we can express the feelings of a man agitated by a passion. Young boys and girls are trained as mimers in a special school. They must be as beautiful as gods and as agile as butterflies... I loved to go to a kind of high spot overlooking that place and see the mimers dance. I then imitated them on the flowery meadows, on the golden sands of my land, in the garden of the villa. I seemed an artistic statue, or a light blowing breeze, so clever I was in assuming statuesque postures or flying about almost without touching the ground. My wealthy friends admired me... my mother was proud of me... »
The Veiled woman speaks, remembers, sees and dreams of her past and weeps. Her sobs are like commas in her speech.
« One day... it was May... The whole of Syracuse was blooming with flowers. The celebrations were just over and I had gone into raptures over a dance performed in the theatre... The owners had taken me there with their daughters. I was fourteen years old... In that dance the mimers, who were to represent the springtime nymphs running to worship Ceres, danced crowned with roses and clad with roses... Only with roses because their dresses were very light veils, a cobweb spread with roses... While dancing they looked like winged Hebes, so light they glided about, while their magnificent bodies appeared through the ruffled strips of their flowery veils, flowing like wings behind them. I studied the dance... and one day... one day »...
The Veiled woman cries louder... She then composes herself.
« I was beautiful. I still am. Look. » She stands up throwing her veil behind her and letting her large mantle drop. And I am dumbfounded, because I see Aglae emerge from the discarded clothes. She is beautiful, also in her modest dress, in her simple plaited hair-style, without any jewels, without pompous garments. Her body is like a real flower, slender and perfect, with a beautiful light brown face and velvet eyes full of ardour.
She kneels down again in front of Mary. « I was beautiful, unfortunately. And I was crazy. On that day I put on veils, the daughters of our landlord helped me as they loved to see me dance... I got dressed on a strip of the golden beach, facing the blue sea. On the deserted beach there were white and yellow wild flowers, with the sharp scent of almonds, of vanilla, of clean human bodies. Waves of strong perfumes came also from the citrus gardens and the rose gardens in Syracuse gave off a scent, as well as the sea and the sand on the beach; the sun drew a smell from all things... something panicky that went to my head. I felt as if I were a nymph, too, and I was worshipping... whom? The fertile Earth? The fecundating Sun? I do not know. A heathen amongst heathens, I think I was worshipping Sense, my despotic king, whom I did not know I had, but who was more powerful than a god... I put on a wreath of roses picked in the garden... and I danced. I was enraptured by the light, the scents, by the pleasure of being young, agile and beautiful. I danced... and I was noticed. I saw I was being looked at. But I was not ashamed of appearing nude in the presence of two greedy eyes of a man. On the contrary, I took pleasure in dancing more lively. The satisfaction of being admired lent wings to my feet. And it was my ruin. Three days later I was left all by myself because the landlords left to go back to their patrician dwelling in Rome. But I did not stay at home... The two admiring eyes had revealed something else to me, beyond dancing... They had revealed sensuality and sex. »
Mary makes an involuntary gesture of disgust, which is noted by Aglae. « Oh! but You are pure! Perhaps I disgust You... »
« Speak, My daughter. It is better if you speak to Mary than to Him. Mary is a sea that washes... »
« Yes, it is better if I tell You. I thought that myself when I heard that He had a mother... Because before, seeing Him so different from every other man, the only thoroughly spiritual man – now I know there is the spirit and what it is – before I could not have said of what Your Son was made, as He was without sensuality although a man, and within myself I thought He had no mother, but He had descended upon the earth to save the horrible wretches of whom I am the worst.
Every day I went back to that place hoping to see the young handsome swarthy man... And after some time I saw him again...
He spoke to me. He said to me: “Come to Rome with me. I will take you to the imperial court, you will be the pearl of Rome.” I replied: “Yes. I will be your faithful wife. Come and see my father.” He laughed mockingly and kissed me. He said: “Not my wife. But you shall be the goddess and I your priest and I will reveal the secrets of life and pleasure to you.” I was thoroughly infatuated, I was a young girl. But although a young girl, I knew what life is... I was shrewd, I was infatuated, but not yet depraved... and I was disgusted by his proposal. I tore myself away from his embrace and I ran home... But I did not speak to my mother about it... and I did not resist the desire to see him again... His kisses had made me more enthralled than ever... And I went back... I had hardly reached the deserted beach when he embraced me kissing me frenziedly, with a storm of kisses, with loving words, with questions: “Is there not everything in this love? Is this not sweeter than a bond? What else do you want? Can you live without this?”
Oh! Mother... I eloped the same evening with the filthy patrician... and I became a rag trampled on by his beastliness... I was not a goddess: but mud. Not a pearl: but trash. Life was not revealed to me, but the filth of life, the infamy, the disgust, the pain, the shame, the infinite misery of not even belonging to myself... And then... utter ruin. After six months of orgies, he became tired of me and passed on to fresh love affairs and I lived on the streets. I made the most of my dancing talent... I already knew that my mother had died of a broken heart and that I no longer had a home or a father... A dancing master accepted me in his academy. He perfected me... he enjoyed me... and he launched me into the corrupt Roman patriciate as a flower fully skilled in every sensual art. The already dirty flower fell into a cloaca. For ten years I fell lower and lower into the abyss. I was then brought here to delight Herod's leisure time and I was engaged here by a new master. Oh! No chained dog is more chained than one of us! And there is no dog trainer more brutal than the man who possesses a woman! Mother... You are trembling! I am filling You with horror! »
Mary has taken Her hand to Her heart, as if it had been wounded. But She replies: « No, not you. The Evil, which is such a powerful master on the earth, is horrifying Me. Go on, My poor creature. »
« He took me to Hebron... Was I free? Was I rich? Yes, I was, because I was not in jail and I was covered with jewels. No, I was not, because I could see only those whom he wanted and I had no right to myself.
One day a man, the “Man”, Your Son, came to Hebron. The house was dear to Him. I realised it and I invited Him to enter. Shammai was not there... and from the window I had already heard words and seen a sight which had upset my heart. But I swear to You, Mother, that it was not the flesh that drove me towards Your Jesus. It was something that He revealed to me that drove me to the door, defying the quips of the populace, to say to Him: “Come in.” It was the soul that I then learned I had. He said to me: “My Name means: Saviour. I save those who are anxious to be saved. I save by teaching to be pure, to desire and accept sorrows with honour, to desire Good at all costs. I am the One Who seeks those who are lost and gives Life. I am Purity and Truth!” He told me that I also had a soul and that I had killed it by my way of living. But He did not curse me, neither did He mock me. And He never looked at me! The first man who did not strip me with his greedy eyes, because I lie under the terrible curse of attracting men... He told me that who looks for Him will find Him because He is where a doctor and a medicine are needed. And He went away. But His words were in here. And they have never come out. I used to say to myself: “His Name means Saviour”, as if I were beginning to wish to be cured. I was left with His words and with His friends, the shepherds. And I took the first step by giving them alms and asking for their prayers... And then... I ran away...
Oh! It was a holy flight! I ran away from sin seeking the Saviour. I went about looking for Him. I was sure I would find Him because He had promised me. They sent me to a man whose name is John, thinking it was He. But it was not. A Jew sent me to the Clear Water. I lived selling the large quantity of gold I had. During the months when I wandered about I had to keep my face covered to avoid being captured and also because, really, Aglae was buried under that veil. The old Aglae was dead. Under the veil there was her wounded bloodless soul seeking its doctor. Many a time I was compelled to flee the sensuality of men who persecuted me, although I was so disguised in my attire. Also one of the friends of Your Son...
At the Clear Water I lived like an animal: poor but happy. And the dew and the river did not clean me as much as His words. Oh! Not one was lost! Once He forgave a murderer. I heard... and I was about to say: “Forgive me, too.” Another time He spoke of lost innocence... Oh! How many tears of regret! Another time He cured a leper... and I was about to shout: “Cleanse me too, of my sin... – Another time He cured a madman, a Roman... and I wept... and He got someone to tell me that fatherlands pass away, but Heaven remains. One stormy night He sheltered me in His house... and later He asked the steward to give me hospitality and He told a child to say to me: “Do not weep”... Oh! His kindness! My misery! Both so great that I did not dare to take my misery to His feet... notwithstanding that one of His disciples during the night instructed me in the infinite mercy of Your Son. And then, when those who considered sinful the desire of a soul to be reborn, laid snares for Him, my Saviour went away... and I waited for Him... But He was awaited also by the vengeance of those who are by far less worthy of looking at Him than I am. Because I, as a heathen, sinned against myself, whereas they, who already know God, sin against the Son of God... and they hit me and they have hurt me more with their accusations than with stones and they have wounded my soul more than my body, as they led me to despair.
Oh! What a dreadful struggle against myself! Worn out, bleeding, wounded, feverish, without my Doctor, homeless, without food, I looked behind me and in front of me... My past would say to me: “Come back”, my present said: “Kill yourself”, my future used to say: “Hope.” I did hope... I did not commit suicide. I would, if He rejected me, because I do not want to be what I was!... I dragged myself to a village asking for shelter... But they recognised me.
Like an animal I had to run away, here, there, always chased, always scorned at, always cursed, because I wanted to be honest and because I had disappointed those who, through me, wanted to strike Your Son. Following the river I came up to Galilee and I came here... You were not here... I went to Capernaum. You had just left. But an old man saw me. One of His enemies, who wanted me to bear witness against Your Son, and as I was weeping without reacting, he said to me: “Everything could change in your favour if you would become my lover and my accomplice in accusing the Rabbi of Nazareth. It is enough for you to say in the presence of my friends, that He was your lover...” I ran away like a person who sees a snake creep out of a flowery bush.
I thus understood that I can no longer go to Him... and I came to You. Here I am: tread on me, for I am mud. Here I am: reject me, for I am a sinner. Here I am: call me by my name: prostitute. I will accept anything from You. But, Mother, have mercy on me. Take my poor soiled soul and take it to Him. It is a crime to put my lust into Your hands. But only there it will be protected from the world that wants it and it will become penance. Tell me how I must behave. Tell me what I have to do. Tell me which means I must use to be no longer Aglae. What must I mutilate in myself? What must I tear away from myself that I may no longer be sin, or an allurement, that I may no longer have to be afraid of myself and of men? Shall I put out my eyes? Or burn my lips? Or cut my tongue? My eyes, lips and tongue have served me in evil deeds. I no longer want evil and I am willing to punish myself and them by sacrificing them. Or shall I tear off these greedy loins which have driven me to perverted love? Or these unappeasable viscera which I am afraid may be aroused afresh? Tell me, please tell me how can a woman forget she is a female and how can she make other people forget! »
Mary is upset. She weeps and suffers, but the only sign of Her grief are the tears that fall on the repentant woman.
« I want to die only after I have been forgiven. I want to die remembering nothing but my Saviour. I want to die knowing that His wisdom is friendly to me... and I cannot go near Him because the world looks at Him and at me suspiciously to accuse us... » Aglae cries, prostrate with grief.
Mary stands up whispering: « How difficult it is to be redeemers! » She is almost breathless.
Aglae, who hears the whisper and understands Her gesture, moans: « See? You can see that You are disgusted, too. I will now go away. I am done for! »
« No, My daughter. You are not done for. No, you are beginning now. Listen, poor soul. I am not moaning because of you, but because of the cruel world. I will not let you go, but I will pick you up, a poor swallow tossed by the storm against the walls of My house. I will take you to Jesus and He will show you your way to redemption... »
« I no longer hope... The world is right. I cannot be forgiven. »
« You cannot by the world. You can by God. Let me speak to you in the name of the Supreme Love, Who gave Me a Son that I may give Him to the world. He took Me out of the blessed simplicity of my consecrated virginity so that the world might receive Forgiveness. He drew My blood not from My childbirth but from My heart by revealing to Me that My Creature is the Great Victim. Look at Me, daughter. There is a large wound in this heart. It has been groaning for over thirty years and it is becoming deeper and deeper and it consumes Me. Do you know its name? »
« Sorrow. »
« No. Love. It is love that bleeds Me so that My Son may not be the only one to save. It is love that sets Me on fire that I may purify those who dare not go to My Son. It is love that causes Me to weep that I may wash sinners. You wanted My caresses. I am giving you My tears that will already cleanse you and enable you to look at My Lord. Do not weep thus! You are not the only sinner who has come to the Lord and has left redeemed. Other women came, many more will come.
You are not sure that He can forgive you? But can you not see in everything that happened to you the mysterious will of Divine Goodness? Who brought you to Judaea? Who took you to John's house? Who placed you at the window that morning? Who lit a light to illuminate His words for you? Who made you understand that charity, when joined to the prayers of those who have been helped, obtains help from God? Who gave you the strength to run away from Shammai's house and to persevere during the first days until His arrival? Who led you on to His way? Who enabled you to live as a repentant sinner to cleanse your soul more and more? Who gave you a martyr's soul, a believer's soul, a persevering and pure soul?
Do not shake your head. Do you think that only he is pure who has never known sensuality? Do you think that a soul can never again become virgin and beautiful? Oh! My daughter! Between the purity which is entirely a grace of the Lord and your heroic ascent to climb back to the summit of your lost purity, you must believe that yours is the greater. You are building it against sensuality, against need and habit. For Me it is a natural endowment, like breathing. You have to break off your thoughts, your feelings, your flesh, in order not to remember, not to desire, not to yield... I... Oh! Can a little child, a few hours old, have carnal desires? And does he have any merit thereby? The same applies to Me. I do not know what that tragic hunger is that made mankind a victim. I know but the most holy hunger for God. But you did not know it and you learned it by yourself. But you subdued the other hunger, the tragic and horrible one, for the sake of God, your only love at present. Smile, daughter of divine mercy! My Son is working in you what He told you at Hebron. He has already done that. You are already saved, because of your good will to be saved, because you have come to know of purity, of sorrow, of Good. Your soul has revived. Yes, you need His word saying to you in the name of God: “You are forgiven.” I cannot say that. But I give you My kiss as a promise, as a beginning of forgiveness...
O Eternal Spirit, a little of You is always in Your Mary! Allow Her to pour forth Your Sanctifying Spirit on this creature who is weeping and hoping. For the sake of Our Son, o God of Love, save this woman who is expecting salvation from God. May the Grace, with which the Angel said that God has filled Me, may that Grace by a miracle rest upon her and support her until Jesus, the Blessed Saviour, the Supreme Priest, absolves her in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Spirit...
It is late, My daughter. You are tired and worn out. Come, Rest. You will go away tomorrow... I will send you to an honest family, because too many people come here now. And I will give you a dress like Mine and you will look like a Jewess. And as I will see My Son only in Judaea, because Passover is near and at the new moon of April we shall be in Bethany, I will speak to Him of you. Come to the house of Simon the Zealot. You will find Me there and I will take you to Him. »
Aglae is weeping again. But now she is at peace.
She is sitting on the floor. Also Mary has sat down again. And Aglae rests her head on Her knees and kisses Her hand... She then moans: « They will recognise me... »
« Oh! They will not. Do not be afraid. Your dress was too well known. But I will prepare you for your journey towards Forgiveness and you will be like a virgin going to her wedding: you will be different and unknown to the people unaware of the rite. Come. There is a little room near Mine. Saints and pilgrims wishing to go to God have rested in it. It will shelter you, too. »
Aglae is about to pick up her large mantle and her veil.
« Leave them. They are the clothes of poor lost Aglae. But she no longer exists... and not even her dress is to remain. It experienced too much hatred... and hatred hurts as much as sin. »
They go out into the dark kitchen garden and then into Joseph's little room. Mary lights the little lamp on the shelf, caresses the repentant woman once again, closes the door and with her treble light she looks to see where She can take Aglae's torn mantle so that nobody may see it the following day.