2nd August 1945.
The boat is sailing along the coast from Capernaum to Magdala.
Mary of Magdala is for the first time in her wonted posture of a convert: she is sat on the bottom boards at the feet of Jesus, Who, instead, is sitting sternly on a little bench. The Magdalene's face is today quite different from what it looked like yesterday; it is not yet the radiant countenance of the Magdalene running to meet her Jesus every time He goes to Bethany, but it is already free from fear and terror and her eyes, which were as downcast as they had previously been impudent, are now serious but confident, and in her dignified gravity there is now and again a sparkle of delight when she listens to Jesus speaking to the apostles or to His Mother and Martha.
They are talking of the kindness of Porphirea, who is so simple and loving, of the hearty reception of Salome and of Bartholomew's and Philip's women. Philip says: « If my daughters were not still so young, and their mother were not so adverse to letting them wander about, they would follow You, too, Master. »
« Let their souls follow Me. That is also holy love. Philip, listen. Your elder daughter is about to be betrothed, is she not? »
« Yes, Master. A worthy wedding and a very good groom. Is that right, Bartholomew? »
« Yes, that is true. I can guarantee that because I know the family. I could not accept to be the man proposing the deal, but I would have done it willingly, knowing for certain that a holy family was being formed, had I not been obliged to be near the Master. »
« But the girl asked Me to tell you to forget about it. »
« Does she not like the groom? She is wrong. Young people are mad. I hope she will change her mind. There is no reason to refuse a very good match. Unless... No, it's not possible! » says Philip.
« Unless what? Go on, Philip » urges Jesus.
« Unless she loves another man. But it is not possible! She is never out of the house and at home she leads a sequestered way of life. It is not possible! »
« Philip, there are lovers who enter also the most private of houses; who know how to speak to those they love notwithstanding all the barriers and close watching; those who overcome every objection of widowhood, or youth, although well protected, or... other kinds of obstacles, and take the girls or women they want. And there are also lovers who cannot be refused. Because they are overbearing in their desire, and alluring in overcoming every resistance, even the demon's. Your daughter loves one of those. And the most powerful one. »
« But who? One of Herod's court? »
« That is not powerful! »
« One... one of the Proconsul's household, a Roman patrician? I will never allow that. The pure blood of Israel will have no contact with impure blood. Even if I should kill my daughter. Don't smile, Master. I am in agony! »
« Because you are like a restive horse. You see shadows where there is nothing but light. Do not be upset. Also the Proconsul is but a servant and his patrician friends are servants and Caesar is a servant. »
« You must be joking, Master! You wanted to frighten me. There is no one greater than Caesar and there is no greater master than he is. »
« I am, Philip. »
« You? You want to marry my daughter?! »
« No. Her soul. I am the lover who enters the most secluded houses and hearts locked with seven keys. It is I Who know how to speak notwithstanding barriers and close watching. It is I Who demolish obstacles and take what I want to take: pure people and sinners, virgins and widowers, people free from vices and slaves of vices. And I give everyone a new, unique, regenerated, beatified, eternally young soul. My wedding. And no one can refuse to give Me My kind preys: no father, no mother, no children, not even Satan. Whether I speak to the soul of a young girl, like your daughter, or to the soul of a sinner immersed in sin and held by Satan with seven chains, that soul will come to Me. And no one or nothing can snatch it from Me. No wealth, power or joy of the world can give the perfect delight that those enjoy who get married to My Poverty, to My Mortification. They are bare of all poor wealth, and clad with all celestial Good. They are cheerful with the serenity of belonging to God, to God alone... They are the masters of the earth and of Heaven. They dominate the former and conquer the latter.
« But that never happened in our Law! » exclaims Bartholomew.
« Divest yourself of the old man, Nathanael. When I saw you for the first time I greeted you saying that you were a perfect Israelite without guile. But be now of Christ, not of Israel. And be so without deception and without ties. Clothe yourself with this new mentality. Otherwise you will not be able to understand the many beautiful aspects of the redemption that I came to bring to all mankind. »
Philip intervenes saying: « And You say that my daughter has been called by You. And what will she do now? I will certainly not oppose her. But I wish to know, also to help her, in what her call consists...»
« In bringing the lilies of a virginal love into the garden of Christ. There will be so many such virgins in future centuries!... So many!... Scented flowerbeds to counterbalance the sinks of vice. Praying souls counterbalancing blasphemers and atheists. They assist mankind in all its misfortunes and are the joy of God. »
Mary of Magdala moves her lips to ask a question, and in doing so she still blushes, but she looks freer and easier than in past days: « And we... the ruins that You are building up, what shall we become? »
« What your virgin sisters are...»
« Oh! It cannot be! We have trampled on too much mud and... and... it is not possible. »
« Mary, Mary! Jesus never forgives by halves. He told you that He had forgiven you. And so it is. You, and all those who sinned like you and whom My love forgives and weds, will smell sweet, will pray, love, and comfort. As you are aware of evil and capable of curing it wherever it is, your souls are martyrs in the eyes of God. You are therefore as dear as virgins. »
« Martyrs? In what, Master? »
« Against yourselves and recollections of your past and through thirst for love and expiation. »
« Must I believe that?...» The Magdalene looks at everybody in the boat, asking them to confirm her rising hope.
« Ask Simon. I spoke of you and of sinners in general, in a starry night, in your garden. And all your brothers can tell you whether My voice has sung the wonders of Mercy and of conversion for all those who have been redeemed. »
« Also the boy has spoken to me about it, in his angelical voice. I came back from his lesson with a refreshed soul. He made me understand You better than my sister did, so much so that I felt more confident in having to face Magdala. Now, after what You told me, I feel my strength growing. I scandalised the world. But I swear to You, my Lord, that the world looking at me now will understand what Your power is like. »
Jesus lays His hand on her head for a moment, while the Most Holy Virgin smiles at her as only She can smile: heavenly.
There is Magdala, lying on the coast of the lake, with the rising sun in front of it, and mount Arbela behind it, protecting it from winds, and the narrow wild steep rocky valley through which a little torrent flows into the lake. The steep coast extends westwards: a beautiful charming austere sight.
« Master » shouts John from the other boat, « there is the valley of our retreat...» and his face shines as if the sun were burning within him.
« Yes, our valley. You have recognised it. »
« It is impossible to forget the places where we became acquainted with God » replies John.
« In that case I will always remember this lake. Because it was here that I met You. Do you know, Martha, that one morning I saw the Master here?...»
« Yes, and we nearly all went to the bottom, both you and we. Woman, I can assure you that your oarsmen were not worth a farthing » says Peter, who is manoeuvring to get ashore.
« Neither the oarsmen nor those with them were worth anything... But it was the first time we met, and that is of great worth. Then I saw You upon the mountain, then at Magdala and later at Capernaum... And every time we met, so many chains were broken... But Capernaum was the best place. You freed me there...»
They land where the others have already come off the other boat. They enter the town.
The simple or... malicious curiosity of the Magdala people must be a torture for the Magdalene. But she bears it heroically following the Master Who is walking ahead, among His disciples, while the women are behind them. There is much whispering and irony. All those who formerly feigned to respect Mary, for fear of reprisals, while she was the overbearing mistress of Magdala, now that they see her humble and chaste and realise she has parted for good from her powerful friends, they take the liberty of insulting and reviling her.
Martha, who is suffering as much as she is, asks her: « Do you wish to go home? »
« No, I am not leaving the Master. And I am not inviting Him to my house, until it is purified and every trace of the past has been removed. »
« But you are suffering, sister! »
« I deserved it. » And she must be really suffering. Her flushed face is beaded with sweat not due to the warm weather.
They cross the whole of Magdala going towards the poor quarters, as far as the house where they stopped the last time. The woman is dumbfounded when looking up from her washboard to see who is greeting her, she finds Jesus facing her along with the well known lady of Magdala, who is no longer pompously dressed and adorned with jewels. On the contrary she is wearing a light linen veil, a periwinkle violet dress, which is high-necked and certainly does not belong to her, because it is too tight and has been adapted for her. She is enveloped in a heavy mantle, which must be a torture in that warm weather.
« Will you allow Me to remain in your house and speak to those who are following Me? » That is, to the whole of Magdala, because the whole population has followed the apostolic group.
« Why ask me, my Lord? My house is Yours. » And she busies herself bringing seats and benches for the women and the apostles. When passing near the Magdalene she bows like a slave.
« Peace to you, sister » replies the Magdalene. And the poor woman is so shocked that she drops the bench she was carrying. But she does not say one word. The scene makes me think that Mary of Magdala probably treated her subjects rather haughtily. The poor woman is utterly astonished when she is asked how the children are, where they are, and whether her husband has had good hauls.
« They are well... They are at school or with my mother. The little one is sleeping in his cradle. My husband has had good catches of fish and will bring you the tithes due to you...»
« That is no longer necessary. Use them for the children. Can I see the baby? »
People have crowded the street.
Jesus begins to speak:
« A woman had ten drachmas in her purse. But she made a movement and the purse fell from her breast; it opened and the coins rolled on the floor. She picked them up with the help of her next door neighbours who were with her, and she counted them. They were only nine. The tenth could not be found. As it was almost evening and it was getting dark, the woman lit a lamp, placed it on the floor and she began to sweep the floor with a broom to see whether it had rolled far from the spot where it had fallen. But the drachma could not be found. Her friends left her, as they were tired searching for it. The woman then shifted a heavy chest, a cabinet, and she removed amphoras and pitchers from a niche in the wall. But the drachma could not be found. She then began to crawl on all fours and searched in the sweepings, piled up against the door, in case the drachma had rolled out of the house and (become mixed with vegetable refuse. And at last she found the drachma, which was soiled and almost buried under the sweepings. The jubilant woman picked it up, washed it and dried it. It was now more beautiful than beforehand. And she showed it to her neighbours whom she called again at the top of her voice, those who had gone away after helping her in the early search, and she said to them: “Here you are! See? You advised me not to bother any more. But I insisted and I found the lost drachma. Rejoice therefore with me because I have not suffered the loss of one of my treasures.”
Also your Master, and His apostles as well, behave like the woman of the parable. He knows that a movement may cause a treasure to fall. Every soul is a treasure and Satan, who hates God, provokes false movements to make poor souls fall. There are some who in falling stop near the purse, that is they do not go too far from the Law of God, Who gathers them and protects them by means of His commandments. Some go farther away, that is, they go farther away from God and His Law. Some, finally, roll as far as the sweepings, dirt and mud. And they would end up by burning in the eternal fire, as rubbish is burnt in suitable places. The Master knows and He looks untiringly for lost coins. He looks for them everywhere, with love. They are His treasures. And He never tires and He loathes nothing. He rummages, searches, shifts, sweeps until He finds what He is looking for. And once He has found it, He washes the recovered souls with His forgiveness and calls all His friends: the whole Paradise and all the good people of the earth and says to them: “Rejoice with Me because I have found what was lost and it is now more beautiful than beforehand because My forgiveness has made it new.”
I solemnly tell you, there is much rejoicing among the angels of God and the good people of the earth over a repentant sinner. And I solemnly tell you that there is nothing more beautiful than tears of repentance. I solemnly tell you that only demons cannot rejoice over such a conversion, which is a triumph of God. And I tell you that the way a man welcomes the conversion of a sinner is the measure of his own goodness and his union with God.
Peace be with you. »
The crowds understand the lesson and look at the Magdalene, who has come to sit on the threshold holding the baby in her arms, perhaps to strike a posture. The crowds disperse slowly and only the landlady is left with her mother who has just arrived with the children. Benjamin is not there, he is still at school.