3rd July 1945.
Dawn has just begun to smile when Jesus leaves Bethany and turns His steps towards Bethlehem with His Mother, Mary of Alphaeus, Mary Salome, followed by the apostles and preceded by the boy, who finds reason to rejoice in everything he sees: the butterflies which awake, little birds that sing or peck on the path, flowers sparkling with dewy diamonds, a flock that comes into sight and in which there are many little bleating lambs. After crossing the torrent, which foams merrily amongst stones, south of Bethany, the group turns towards Bethlehem, along a road running between two ranges of hills, completely covered with green olive-trees and vineyards, and a few small fields in which the golden corn in almost ready for reaping. The valley is cool and the road quite comfortable.
Simon of Jonah comes forward, he reaches Jesus' group and asks: « Is this the road to Bethlehem? John says that the last time You took another road. »
« That is true » replies Jesus. « But that was because we were coming from Jerusalem. This one is shorter. At Rachel's sepulchre, which the women wish to see, we will part, as you decided some time ago. We will meet later at Bethzur, where My Mother wishes to stop. »
« Yes, we said so... But it would be so lovely if we were all there... particularly Your Mother... because, after all, She is the Queen of Bethlehem and of the Grotto, and She knows everything so well... If we heard the story from Her... it would be quite different, that's what I mean... »
Jesus smiles looking at Simon, who has kindly expressed his desire.
« Which grotto, father? » asks Marjiam.
« The Grotto where Jesus was born. »
« Oh! Lovely! I will come, too!... »
« It would be lovely indeed! » say Mary of Alphaeus and Salome.
« It would be beautiful!... It would mean going back to the time... when the world did not know You, that is true, but did not hate You yet... It would mean finding once again the love of simple people who could but love and believe, with humility and faith... And I would be able to lay aside this burden of bitterness which has been lying heavily on My heart since I learned that You are so hated, and I would lay it in Your manger... The kindness of Your eyes, of Your breath, of Your childish smile must still be there... and they would caress My heart... It is so grieved!... » Mary is speaking slowly, in a low voice expressing desire and sadness.
« Then, we shall go there, Mother. You will lead us. You are the Teacher today and I am the Little Boy Who is learning. »
« Oh! Son! No! You are always the Master... »
« No, Mother. Simon of Jonah is quite right. In the land of Bethlehem You are the Queen. It is Your first castle. Mary, of the house of David, lead this little group to Your abode. »
The Iscariot is on the point of speaking, but he remains silent. Jesus, Who has noticed and understands, says: « If anyone does not wish to come, because he is tired or for any other reason, he is free to proceed to Bethzur. » But no one replies.
They proceed westwards, along the cool valley. The road then bends lightly to the north along a protruding hill and they thus reach the road which takes from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, near a cube-shaped building surmounted with a small dome, which is Rachel's tomb. They all go near it and pray reverently.
« Joseph and I stopped here... Everything is exactly the same as then. Only the season is different. It was a cold day in the month of Chislev. It had rained and the roads were muddy, then an ice-cold wind began to blow and perhaps during the night there was a frost. The roads had hardened, but furrowed by cart-wheels and crowded with people, they were like a sea crowded with boats and My little donkey had difficulty in proceeding... »
« And did You not, Mother? »
« Oh! I had You!... » and She looks at Him with a tender blissful face. She then resumes speaking: « It was getting dark and Joseph was very worried... a biting cold wind was blowing stronger and stronger... People were rushing towards Bethlehem, pushing one another and many took to abusing My little donkey because it was going so slowly in an effort to find suitable places for its hooves... It seemed to be aware that You were there... and that You were sleeping for the last time in the cradle of My bosom. It was cold... But I was warm. I could feel You coming... Coming? You could say: “Mother, I had been there nine months.” Yes. But now it was as if You were coming from Heaven. Heaven was bending down over Me and I could see its brightness... I could see God inflamed with joy for Your oncoming birth and those flames pierced Me, burned Me, abstracted Me from everything... Cold... wind... crowds... it was all... nothing! I saw God... Now and again, with an effort, I would succeed in bringing My spirit back to the earth and I would smile at Joseph, who was afraid I might be cold and tired, and he led the little donkey lest it should stumble and he enveloped Me in a blanket lest I should get cold... But nothing could have happened to Me. I felt no jolts. I seemed to be moving along a starry path, among snow-white clouds, supported by angels... And I smiled... First at You... I looked at You, through the barrier of the flesh, while You were sleeping, with Your little fists closed, in Your cradle of living roses, My lily-bud... Then I smiled at My spouse, who was so distressed, to encourage him... And then at the people who were not aware that they were already breathing the air of the Saviour...
We stopped near Rachel's tomb to let the donkey rest for a moment and to eat a little bread and some olives, the provisions of poor people. But I was not hungry. I could not be hungry... I was nourished with My joy... We took to the road again... Come. I will show you where we met the shepherd... Do not worry, I cannot go wrong. I am living that hour again and I can find every place because I see everything through a bright angelical light. Perhaps the angelical group is here once again, invisible to our bodies, but visible to our souls with its brightness, and everything is revealed and clear. They cannot be mistaken, and they are leading Me... for My joy and yours. Here: Elias came from that field into this one with his sheep, and Joseph asked him for some milk for Me. And we stopped over there, in that field, while he was drawing the warm nourishing milk and giving some advice to Joseph.
Come, come... Here is the path of the last little valley before Bethlehem. We took it because the main road was a confusion of people and horses, close to the town... There is Bethlehem! Oh! Dear land of My fathers, you gave Me the first kiss of My Son! You opened your-door, as good and fragrant as the bread of which you bear the name (1), to give the True Bread to the world dying of starvation! Like a mother, in whom there is still Rachel's maternal love, you embraced Me, o holy land of David's Bethlehem, first temple of the Saviour, of the morning Star born of Jacob to show Mankind the route to Heaven! Look how beautiful she is now in springtime! But she was beautiful also then, although fields and vineyards were bare! A thin veil of frost was sparkling on the bare branches, which looked as if they were covered with diamond dust, enveloped in a heavenly impalpable veil. The chimney of every house was smoking while supper was being prepared and the smoke, rising from terrace to terrace up to this brow, made the town look veiled as well... Everything was chaste, intimate, waiting... For You, Son! The earth perceived Your coming... And also the people of Bethlehem would have perceived You, because they are not bad, even if you do not believe so. They could not give us hospitality... The good honest homes in Bethlehem were crowded with insensitive proud people, who are always arrogant, and are so also nowadays, and they could not perceive You... How many Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, scribes, Essenes there were! Oh! Their being dull at present is a consequence of their being hardhearted then. They closed their hearts to love for their poor sister that night... and they remained and still are in darkness. They rejected God then, by rejecting love for their neighbour.
(1) Bethlehem according to common interpretation means: « house of bread ».
Come. Let us go to the Grotto. It is useless to enter the town. The best friends of My Child are no longer there. Friendly Nature is quite sufficient to make a fire, with its stones, its stream, its wood. Nature perceived the coming of its Lord... There... come without hesitating... We go round here... There, over there are the ruins of David's Tower. Oh! it is dearer to Me than a royal palace! Blessed ruins! Blessed stream! Blessed tree because, as if by miracle, you allowed the wind to pull down so many of your branches so that we might find firewood and light a fire! »
Mary descends quickly towards the Grotto, She crosses the little stream on a board acting as a bridge, She runs in the open space before the ruins and falls on Her knees at the entrance of the Grotto, She bends and kisses the ground. All the others follow Her. They are touched... The boy, who has not left Her one moment, seems to be listening to a wonderful story and his little dark eyes drink in Mary's words and gestures without missing a single one.
Mary stands up and goes in saying: « Everything is exactly as then!... But then it was night... Joseph lit a lamp when I entered. Only then, dismounting from the little donkey I became aware of how tired and cold I was... An ox greeted us, I went near it, to feel its warmth and lean against the hay... Joseph laid the hay out here, where I am, to make a bed for Me, and he dried the hay for Me and for You, Son, at the fire he had lit in that comer... because he was as good as a father in his love of an angelical spouse... And holding each other's hand, like brother and sister lost in the darkness of night, we ate our bread and cheese, then he went over there to kindle the fire and he took off his mantle to close the entrance... In actual fact he put a veil before the glory of God descending from Heaven. You, My Jesus... and I lay on the hay, in the warmth of the two animals, enveloped in My mantle and covered with a woollen blanket... My dear spouse!... In that hour of anxiety when I was all alone before the mystery of My first maternity, an hour full of uncertainty for every woman, and in My case, in My only maternity, it was also full of the mystery of what it would be to see the Son of God emerge from mortal flesh, he, Joseph, was like a mother, an angel to Me... he was My comfort then and always afterwards... Then silence and sleep enveloped the Just man... so that he might not see what for Me was God's daily kiss...
And with regard to Me, after the interval of human necessities, there came immeasurable waves of ecstasy from a heavenly sea and they raised Me higher and higher on their bright crests carrying Me up with them into an ocean of light, of joy, of peace, of love, until I was lost in the sea of God, of God's bosom... A voice from the earth whispered: “Are You sleeping, Mary?.” Oh! it was so far away!... An echo, a remembrance of the earth!... And so faint it was that My soul did not stir, and I do not know how I replied, while I rose, I rose even higher into the depth of fire, of infinite beatitude, of foreknowledge of God... up to Him... Oh! were You born of Me that night, or was I born of the Trine brightness? Did I give You or did You absorb Me to generate Me? I do not know... And then the descent, from choir to choir, from star to star, from cloud to cloud, a sweet, slow, blissful, placid descent, like a flower carried high in the sky by an eagle and then dropped, descending slowly, on the wings of the air, made more beautiful by a drop of rain, by a tiny piece of rainbow stolen in the sky... alights on its native soil... My diadem: You! You on My heart...
Sitting here, after adoring You on My knees, I loved You. At last I could love You without the barrier of the flesh, and I moved from here to take You to the love of him, who, like Me, was worthy of being one of the first to love You. And here, between these two rustic columns, I offered You to the Father. And here You rested for the first time on Joseph's heart... Then I swaddled You and together we laid You here... And I lulled You while Joseph was drying hay at the fire and when it was warm he placed it on Your chest and then we both adored You, bending over You, as I am doing now, to inhale Your breath, contemplating the humiliation to which love can lead and shedding tears which are certainly shed also in Heaven for the unexhausted joy of seeing God. »
Mary, Who has been pacing to and fro while recalling the past, pointing out the places, panting with love, with bright tears shining in Her blue eyes and a smile of joy on Her lips, bends over Her Jesus, Who has sat on a huge stone listening to Her recollection, and kisses His head, weeping, adoring as She did then...
« And then the shepherds... they were in here, adoring with their good souls and with the deep sigh of the earth which entered with them, with their scent of humanity, of herds and hay; and outside there were the angels, everywhere, who adored with their love, with their songs which no human creature can repeat, and with the love of Heaven, with the air of Heaven which came in with them, which they brought in, in all their brightness... Your birth, Blessed Son!... »
Mary has knelt down beside Her Son and weeps emotionally with Her head resting on His knees. No one dare speak for some time. More or less moved they all look around as if they expected to see the scene painted among the cobwebs and rough stones...
Mary collects Herself and says: « Now, I told you of the infinitely simple and infinitely great birth of My Son. With My woman's heart, not with the wisdom of a master. There is nothing else, because it was the greatest thing on the earth, concealed under very ordinary appearances. »
« But the day after? And then later? » many ask, amongst them the two Maries.
« The following day? Oh! very simple! I was the mother who nurses her baby, washes him and swaddles him, as every mother does. I used to warm the water of the stream on a fire lit out there, so that the smoke would not hurt His little blue eyes, and then in the most sheltered corner in an old tub I washed My Child and put fresh swaddling clothes on Him. I washed His napkins in the stream and hung them out in the sun... and then – and it was My greatest joy – I suckled Him and He sucked and became rosier and happier... On the first day, at the warmest hour of the day, I sat out there to see Him properly. The light glimmers in here, it does not come in direct and the lamp and the flame of the fire made things look strange. I went out there, in the sun... and I looked at the Incarnate Word. The Mother then became acquainted with Her Son and the handmaid of God with Her Lord. And I was a woman and a worshipper... Then Anna's house... the days near Your cradle, Your first steps, Your first word... But that happened later, in due course... And nothing, nothing was equal to the hour of Your birth... Only when I return to God I will find that fullness once again... »
« But... why set out at the last moment! How unwary of You! Why not wait? The decree provided for an extension for special cases such as birth or disease. Alphaeus said so... » says Mary of Alphaeus.
« Wait? Oh! no! That evening, when Joseph brought the news, You and I, Son, leapt for joy. It was the call... because You were to be born here, and nowhere else, as the Prophets had foretold, and that sudden decree was as if merciful Heaven wanted Joseph to erase even the memory of his suspicion. It was what I was waiting for, for You, for him, for the Judaic world and for the future world, forever and ever. We decided. And we acted accordingly. Wait! Can the bride delay her nuptial dream? Why wait? »
« Well... anything might have happened... » says Mary of Alphaeus once again.
« I was not afraid of anything. I rested in God. »
« But did You know that everything would happen thus? »
« Nobody told Me. And I never thought of it, so much so that to encourage Joseph, I let him and you doubt that there was still time for the birth. But I knew, I really knew that the Light of the World was to be born during the feast of the Dedication. »
« And you, mother, why did you not go with Mary? And why did father not think of it? After all you were both going to come here! Did we not all come? » asks Judas Thaddeus sternly.
« Your father had decided to come after the Dedication and he told his brother. But Joseph would not wait. »
« But at least you... » insists Thaddeus.
« Do not reproach her, Judas. By mutual consent we decided it was just to lay a veil on the mystery of this birth. »
« Did Joseph know that it was to take place with those signs? If You did not know, how could he have known? »
« We knew nothing, except that He was to be born. »
« So? »
« So divine Wisdom guided us, as it was right that it should. Jesus' birth and His presence in the world were to appear devoid of uncommon features, which might rouse Satan... And you are aware that the present bitter hatred of Bethlehem people towards the Messiah is a consequence of Christ's first epiphany. Demoniacal hatred made use of the revelation to cause bloodshed, and thereby intensify hatred. Are you satisfied, Simon of Jonah, who are speechless and almost breathless? »
« Yes, so much... so much that I seem to be out of this world, in a holier place than if I were beyond the Velarium of the Temple... So much... that now that I have seen You in this place and in the light of that night, I am afraid that I did behave with respect towards You, as if You were a great woman, but just a woman. Now... now I will not dare to call You: “Mary”, as I did before. Heretofore You were the Mother of My Master. Now I have seen You on the crests of those heavenly waves, I have seen You as a Queen, and I, a poor wretch, prostrate myself, because I am a slave » and he throws himself on the ground kissing Mary's feet.
Jesus speaks now: « Simon, stand up. Come here, close to Me. » Peter goes to the left hand side of Jesus because Mary in on His right. « What are we now? » asks Jesus.
« We? Well, we are Jesus, Mary and Simon. »
« Very well. But how many are we? »
« Three, Master. »
« So we are a trinity. One day, in Heaven, the Divine Trinity had a thought: “It is now time that the Word should go to the world.” And in a throb of love the Word came upon the earth. He parted therefore from the Father and the Holy Spirit. He came to work on the earth. The Two Who had remained in Heaven contemplated the deeds of the Word, remaining more united than ever to blend Thought and Love to assist the Word working on the earth. The day will come when an order will be issued from Heaven: “It is time for You to come back because everything has been accomplished”, and then the Word will go back to Heaven, thus... (Jesus takes a step backwards leaving Mary and Peter where they were) and from the heights of Heaven He will contemplate the deeds of the two who remained on the earth, who, by holy inspiration, will join together more than ever, to blend power and love to obtain the means of fulfilling the desire of the Word: “The redemption of the world through the perennial teaching of His Church.” And the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit will form a chain with Their beams to tie more and more closely the two left on the earth: My Mother, love; you, power. You will certainly have to treat Mary as a queen, but not as if you were a slave. Do you not think so? »
« I think everything You wish. I am overwhelmed! I... the power? Oh! If I am to be the power I must definitely lean on Her! Oh! Mother of my Lord, never abandon me, never, never... »
« Do not be afraid. I will always hold you by the hand, as I used to do with My Child until He could walk by Himself. »
« And after that? »
« And after I will support you with My prayers. Cheer up, Simon. Never doubt God's power. I did not doubt it, neither did Joseph. You must not doubt it either. God gives us His help hour by hour, if we remain humble and faithful... Come out here, now, near the stream, in the shade of the good tree, which, if it were later in summer, would give you its apples in addition to its shade; come. We shall eat before going... Where, Son?” »
« To Jala. It is near. And tomorrow we shall go to Bethzur. »
They sit in the shade of the apple-tree and Mary leans against its robust trunk.
Bartholomew watches Her, so young and still heavenly moved by the recollection She made, while She accepts from Her Son the food which He has blessed and She smiles at Him with loving eyes, and he whispers: « “In His shade I am seated and His food is sweet to My taste.” »
Judas Thaddeus replies to him: « It is true. She is sick with love. But we cannot say that She was awakened under an apple-tree. »
« Why not, brother? What do we know about the secrets of the King? » replies James of Alphaeus.
And Jesus smiling says: « The new Eve was conceived of the Thought at the foot of the paradisiacal apple-tree in order to put to flight the serpent and detoxicate the poisoned fruit by means of Her smile and Her tears. She became the tree of the redeeming fruit. Come, friends, and eat of it. Because to be nourished by its sweetness is to be nourished by the honey of God. »
« Master, please satisfy an old desire of mine for some clarification. Does the Song which we are reciting foresee Her? » asks Bartholomew in a low voice while Mary is looking after the boy and speaking to the women.
« The Book speaks of Her from its beginning and future books will speak of Her until the word of man changes into the everlasting hosanna of God's eternal City » and Jesus turns towards the women.
« You can hear that He descends from David! What wisdom, what poetry! » says the Zealot speaking to his companions.
« Listen » joins in the conversation the Iscariot who is still in the mood of the previous day and speaks very little, although he endeavours to emulate the freedom he had before, « listen, I would like to understand why the Incarnation had to take place. Only God can speak in such a way as to defeat Satan. Only God can have the power of redeeming. And I do not doubt it. But I think that the Word might have lowered Himself less than He did by being born like every other man, submitting Himself to the miseries of childhood and so on. Could He not have appeared in human form, already adult, in the appearance of an adult? And if He really wanted a mother, could He not have chosen one, an adoptive one, as He did for a father? I think I asked Him once, but He did not reply at length, or I do not remember. »
« Ask Him! Since we are on the subject... » says Thomas.
« I won't. I upset Him and I feel as if I have not been forgiven yet. Ask Him on my behalf. »
« I beg your pardon! We accept everything without so many clarifications and you expect us to ask questions? It is not fair! » retorts James of Zebedee.
« What is not fair? » asks Jesus.
There is silence, then the Zealot speaks on behalf of everybody repeating Judas Iscariot's questions and the replies of the others.
« I do not bear a grudge. That is the first thing. I make the comments that I must make, I suffer and I forgive. That applies to him who is afraid, which is still the consequence of his perturbation. With regard to My real Incarnation I say: “It is just that it took place.” In future many people will make mistakes concerning My Incarnation, ascribing to Me the erroneous forms that Judas would like Me to have taken. A man seemingly solid in body, but in reality fluent like a lighting effect, so that I would and would not be flesh. And Mary's maternity would and would not be a real maternity. I am really flesh and Mary is really the Mother of the Word Incarnate. If the hour of My birth was but an ecstasy, that is because She is the new Eve without the burden of sin and without the heritage of punishment. But I did not lower Myself by resting in Her. Was the manna enclosed in the Tabernacle perhaps humiliated? No, on the contrary it was honoured by being in that abode. Others will say that I, since I was not real flesh, did not suffer and did not die during My stay on the earth. Of course, since they cannot deny that I was here, they will deny My real Incarnation or My true Divinity. No, I am really One with the Father forever, and I am united to God as Flesh, because as a matter of fact it is possible that Love reached what is unreachable because of His Perfection, by becoming Flesh to save flesh. A reply to all these errors is given by My whole life, which shed blood from birth to death and was submitted to everything that is common to man, except sin. Yes, I was born of Her. For your welfare. You do not know how much Justice has been mitigated since the Woman has become its collaborator. Have I satisfied you, Judas? »
« Yes, Master. »
« Do likewise with Me. »
The Iscariot bends his head, is abashed and perhaps he is really touched by so much kindness.
The rest is protracted in the cool shade of the apple-tree. Some fall asleep, some doze. But Mary gets up and goes back into the Grotto and Jesus follows Her...