30th September 1945.
The merchant was right. October could not have granted the pilgrims a lovelier day. After the sun had dispelled the haze which veiled the country, as if nature had laid a veil over the sleeping plants at night, the country appears in its solemn stretch of cultivated fields warmed by the sun. The fog seems to have gathered together on remote mountain tops decorating them with a transparent foam, thus softening them even more against the serene sky.
« What are those? Mountains we have to climb?» asks Peter anxiously.
« No. They are the Hauran mountains. We shall be on the plain, on this side of the mountains. Before evening we shall be at Bozrah in Hauran. A beautiful good town. Much trade» says the merchant encouraging Peter and praising the town, considering, as usual, commercial prosperity as the basis of the beauty of a place.
Jesus is all alone, in the rear, as He is wont to do at times when He so wishes.
Marjiam turns round several times looking at Him. When he can resist no longer, he leaves Peter and James of Zebedee, he sits on the edge of the road, on a stone which must be a Roman military landmark, and waits. When Jesus is at his level, the boy stands up and without speaking he goes beside Jesus, remaining a little behind Him so as not to annoy Him, and, he watches Him...
And he continues watching until Jesus comes out of His meditation and turns round on hearing the light footstep behind Him and He smiles stretching His hand out to the boy and saying: « Oh! Marjiam! What are you doing here all alone?»
« I was looking at You. I have been looking at You for days. Everybody has eyes but not everybody sees the same things. I have noticed that now and again You want to remain all alone... On the first days I thought You were hurt by something. Then I noticed that You do it always at the same time and that Mother, Who always comforts You when You are sad, does not say anything to You when Your countenance is like that. On the contrary, if She happens to be speaking, She becomes quiet and concentrates on meditation. I notice things, You know? Because I always look at You and Her, in order to do what You do. I asked the apostles what You do, because You certainly do something. They said to me: “He prays.” And I asked them: “What does He say?.” No one replied, because they do not know. They have been with You for years, and they do not know. Today I followed You every time I noticed that countenance and I watched You while You were praying. But Your countenance is not always the same. This morning, at dawn, You looked like a bright angel. You looked at things with such bright eyes that I think they dispelled darkness more than the sun did. And You looked at things and people like that. And then You looked at the sky and Your face was the same as when You offer the bread at table. Later, when we were crossing that little village, You remained alone, in the rear, and You seemed to me a father, as You were so anxious to say kind words to the poor people of the village, while passing by. You said to one: “Endure your suffering with patience, because I will soon relieve you and others like you.” He was the slave of that bad man who set his dogs on us. Then, while the food was being prepared, You looked at us with eyes full of kind love. You looked like a mother... But Your countenance was now sorrowful... What do You think, Jesus, when You are always like that?... But also in the evening, at times, if I am not asleep, I see that You are very serious. Will You tell me how You pray, why You pray?»
« Of course, I will tell you. So that you can pray with Me. The day is given to us by God. The whole day: the bright one and the dark one: day and night. It is a gift to live and have light. Our way of living is a means of sanctification. Is that right? So we must sanctify the moments of the whole day, to persevere in holiness and have the Most High and His bounty present in our hearts, and at the same time, keep the Demon away. Watch the little birds. They sing at sunrise. They bless the light. We must bless the light as well, because it is a gift of God, and we must bless God Who grants it to us and Who is the Light. We must crave for God as from daybreak to put a seal, a note of light on the whole oncoming day, that it may be entirely bright and holy. And we must join the whole creation in praising the Creator. Then, as the hours go by, and going by they make us aware of how much sorrow and ignorance there is in the world, we must pray again that sorrow may be relieved and ignorance may vanish and God may be known, loved and prayed to by all men, who, if they knew God, would be comforted in their sufferings. And at the sixth hour we must pray out of love for our family, to enjoy the gift of being united to those who love us. That is also a gift of God. And we must pray that our eating, instead of being useful, may not become an occasion of sin. And at sunset we pray remembering that death is the inevitable end waiting for all of us. And we must pray that our end, be it today or later, may take place with our souls in grace. And when the lights are lit, we must pray to thank for the day which is over and to ask for protection and forgiveness, so that we may go to sleep without any fear of a sudden judgement or assaults of the demon. And, finally, we must pray at night - but this applies only to adults - to make amends for the sins of the night, to keep Satan away from weak people, and that culprits may ponder, repent and make good resolutions which will become facts at sunrise. That is how and why a just person prays during the whole day.»
« But You have not told me why You are so absorbed, so grave and imposing at the ninth hour...
« Because... I say: “Through the Sacrifice of this hour, let Your Kingdom come to the world and may all those who believe in Your Word be redeemed.” Say the same yourself...
« What sacrifice is it? You said that incense is offered in the morning and evening, and the victims at the same hour, every day, on the altar of the Temple. And that the victims for vows and expiation are offered at any hour. There is no indication of a special rite for the ninth hour.»
Jesus stops and takes the boy with both hands, and lifts him holding him in front of Himself, and as if He were saying a psalm, with His face raised, He says: « “And between the sixth and ninth hour, He Who has come as Saviour and Redeemer, He of Whom the prophets speak, will consume His Sacrifice after eating the bitter bread of betrayal and after giving the sweet Bread of Life, after crushing Himself like grapes in a vat and quenching with His whole being the thirst of men and plants, and making for Himself a Royal purple with His own blood, and putting on a crown and seizing the sceptre, and taking His throne on the high place, so that Zion and Israel and the world might see it. Lifted up in the purple garment of His numberless wounds, in the dark to give Light, in death to give Life, He will die at the ninth hour and the world will be redeemed.”»
Marjiam is frightened and pale and looks at Him with dismayed eyes and trembling lips on the point of bursting into tears. With faltering voice he says: « But You are the Saviour! So will You be dying at that hour?» Tears begin to stream down his cheeks and his little mouth sips them, while he awaits a denial.
But Jesus says: « I will, My little disciple. For you, too.» And as the child bursts into convulsive sobs, He presses him to His heart and says: « Are you sorry that I die?»
« Oh! My only joy! I do not want that! I... Let me die in Your place...»
« You are to preach Me all over the world. That is settled. But listen. I will die happily because I know that you love Me. Then I will rise from the dead. Do you remember Jonah? He was more handsome when he came out of the belly of the whale well rested and strong. So will I, and I will come to you at once and I will say to you: “Little Marjiam, your tears quenched My thirst. Your love kept Me company in the Sepulchre. I have now come to say to you: 'Be My priest'” and I will kiss you with the scent of Paradise still on Me.»
« But where will I be? Will I not be with Peter or Mother?»
« I will save you from the evil waves of those days. I will save the most weak and innocent ones. Except one... Marjiam, little apostle, will you help me to pray for that hour?»
« Oh! Yes, I will, Lord! And the others?»
« That is a secret between you and Me. A great secret. Because God loves to be revealed to the little ones... Do not weep any more. Smile at the thought that afterwards I will suffer no more and I will only remember all the love of men, and yours first. Come. Look how far the others are. Let us run and join them» and He puts him down and holding him by the hand they start running until they reach the group.
« Master, what have You done?»
« I was explaining the hours of the day to Marjiam.»
« And has the boy wept? He must have been naughty, and You are excusing him out of kindness» says Peter.
« No, Simon. He watched Me praying. You have not done that. He asked Me why. I told him. The boy was moved by My words. Now leave him alone. Go to My Mother, Marjiam. And you all, listen to Me. The lesson will do no harm to you either.»
And Jesus explains once again the usefulness of prayer at the main hours of the day, leaving out the explanation of the ninth hour and concluding: « Union to God is to have Him present every moment to praise and invoke Him. Do so and you will make progress in the life of the spirit.»
Bozrah is now close at hand. Stretched out on the plain it looks a large beautiful town with walls and towers. The evening which is drawing on, tones down the shades of houses and country into a greyish languid lilac, in which all contours become vague, while grunting pigs and bleating sheep in the enclosures outside the walls, break the silence of the country. The silence comes to an end as soon as the caravan goes through the gate entering a labyrinth of narrow streets which disappoint those who from the outside thought the town was beautiful. Voices, smells and... stench stagnate in the twisted lanes and accompany the pilgrims as far as a square, the market square, where the inn is.
They thus arrive at Bozrah.