24th October 1945.
It is a wet winter morning. Jesus is already up and is busy in His workshop. He is making small items. But in a corner there is a new loom, not a very big one, but well-shaped and polished.
Mary comes in with a cup of steaming hot milk. « Drink this, Jesus. You have been up so long. And it is damp and cold...»
« Yes, but at least I have been able to finish everything... The eight feast days had paralysed My work...» Jesus has sat down on the carpenter's bench, a little sideways, and drinks the milk while Mary looks at the loom and rubs Her hand on it caressingly.
« Are You blessing it, Mother?» asks Jesus smiling.
« No, I am caressing it because You made it. You blessed it by making it. It was a good idea to make it. It will be very useful to Syntyche. She is a very skillful weaver. It will help her to approach women and girls. What else have You made, I see thin shavings, of olive, I think, near the lathe?»
« I have made useful things for John. See? A stylus case and a writing board. And these desks in which he can keep his rolls. I could not have made all these things if Simon of Jonah had not thought of getting a cart. But now we can load these as well... and also through these little things they will feel that I love them...»
« You suffer in sending them away, do You not?»
« I do... For Myself and for them... I have waited up to the present moment to tell them and it is strange that Simon has not yet arrived with Porphirea I must tell them now... I have had this pain in My heart all these days and even the light of the many lamps looked sad to Me... A suffering which I must now communicate to others... Ah! Mother, I would have liked to have kept all to Myself»
« My good Son!» Mary caresses His hand to comfort Him. There is silence... Then Jesus resumes speaking: « Is John up?»
« Yes. I heard him cough. He is perhaps in the kitchen taking his milk. Poor John!...» tears stream down Mary's cheeks.
Jesus stands up: « I am going... I must go and tell him. It will be easier with Syntyche... But with him... Mother, go to Marjiam, wake him up and pray while I speak to that man... I feel as if I had to rummage in his bowels. I may kill or paralyse his spiritual vitality... How painful, Father!... I am going...» and He is really depressed when He goes out.
He walks the few steps which separate Him from John's room, which is the same one where Jonah died, that is, Joseph's room. He meets Syntyche, who is coming in with a faggot from the stone oven and who greets Him, completely unaware of the situation. Although engrossed in thought He replies to the Greek woman's salutation and stops to look at a bed of lilies which are beginning to show a tiny tuft of leaves. But I am not sure that He really sees them... He then makes up His mind. He turns round and knocks at John's door, who opens and whose face brightens on seeing Jesus coming to him.
« May I come in for a moment?» asks Jesus.
« Oh! Master! Of course! I was writing what You said last night on prudence and obedience. I think You had better have a look at it, because I do not think that I remember everything on prudence.»
Jesus has entered the little room, which has already been tidied up and in which they have put a small table for the convenience of the old master. Jesus bends over the parchments and reads. « Very well. You have repeated it very well.»
« Here, see. I thought this sentence was not quite correct. You always say that it is not necessary to be solicitous about tomorrow and one's body. Now I thought that it was wrong to say that prudence, also with regard to things concerning tomorrow, is a virtue. An error of mine, of course.»
« No. You are not wrong. That is exactly what I said. The exaggerated and fearful anxiety of a selfish person is different from the prudent care of a just person. It is sinful to be avaricious for the future, which, perhaps, we shall never see. But it is not sinful to be thrifty to secure a piece of bread, also for one's relatives, when there is a shortage. The selfish care of one's body in sinful, when a person demands that all those around him should worry about him, and avoids all work or sacrifice lest his body should suffer, but it is not sinful to preserve it from wasteful diseases, the result of imprudent behaviour, which diseases are a burden for relatives and a loss of profitable work for ourselves. Life is given by God. It is a gift of His. Consequently we must make a holy use of it, without being imprudent or selfish. See? At times prudence suggests actions, which foolish people may consider cowardly or inconstant, whereas they are the result of holy prudence in the light of new events, which have occurred. For instance: if I sent you now right in the middle of people who might do you harm... for instance your wife's relatives or the watchmen of the mines where you worked, would I do a good or a bad thing?»
« I... I would not like pass judgement on You. But I would say that it would be better to send me elsewhere, where there is no danger of my little virtue being put to too hard a test.»
« There you are! You would judge wisely and prudently. That is why I would never send you to Bithynia or Mysia, where you have already been. Neither would I send you to Cintium, although you have a spiritual desire to go there. Your spirit might be overwhelmed by much human harshness and might fall back. Prudence therefore teaches Me not to send you where you would be valueless, whereas I could send you elsewhere with a good profit for Me, for the souls of your neighbours and your own. Is that not right?»
As John is completely unaware of what his destiny has in store for him, he does not catch Jesus' allusions to the possibility of a mission outside Palestine. Jesus scans his face and sees that he is calm, completely happy to listen to Him, and quick in replying: « Of course, Master, I would be more useful elsewhere. When some days ago I said: “I would like to go among the Gentiles to set a good example where I set a bad one”, I reproached myself saying: “Among the Gentiles, yes, because you are not biased as the Israelites. But not at Cintium, nor on the desolate mountains, where I lived as a convict and like a wolf in the lead mines and in the quarries of precious marbles. Not even for the sake of a perfect sacrifice could you go there. Your heart would be upset by recollections of cruelty, and if they recognised you, even if they did not act cruelly against you, they would say: 'Be quiet, murderer. We cannot listen to you' so it would be quite useless to go there.” That is what I said to myself. And I was right.»
« You can therefore see that you possess prudence. I possess it, too. That is why I took you away from the hard work of apostolate, as is practised by the others, and I brought you here, to rest and be in peace.»
« Oh! yes! How peaceful it is! If I lived here for a hundred years, I would still be the same. It is a supernatural peace. And if I went away, I would take it with me. I will take it also to the next life... Recollections may still stir my heart and offences may make me suffer, because I am a man. But I will never be able to hate again, because hatred has been sterilised here for good, as far as its most remote ramifications. And I no longer have an aversion to women, whom I considered the filthiest and meanest animals on the earth. Your Mother is out of question. I venerated Her from the first moment I saw Her because I felt that She was different from all women. She is the perfume of woman, but the perfume of holy woman. Who does not love the scent of the purest flowers? But also the other women, the good women disciples, loving and patient under their sorrowful burdens, like Mary Clopas and Eliza; generous like Mary of Magdala, so complete in her change of life; kind and pure like Martha and Johanna; dignified, intelligent, thoughtful and upright, like Syntyche, have reconciled me with women. Syntyche, I admit it, is the one I like best. Affinity of mind and of circumstances make her dear to me: she was a slave, I a convict, and that allows me to be on familiar terms with her, which the difference with the others forbids. She is peace and tranquillity to me. I could not tell You exactly what she means to me and what I consider her. As I am old compared to her, I see her as a daughter, the wise and studious daughter I would have liked to have... But I, a sick man whom she cures with so much love, a sad and solitary man who has grieved for and regretted his mother throughout his life, and has sought a mother in every woman, without ever finding one, I now see my dream becoming true in her and I feel the dew of motherly love descend upon my tired head and upon my soul while I am going towards my death... You can see that, as I perceive in Syntyche the soul of a daughter and of a mother, I see in her the perfection of womanhood and for her sake I forgive all the evil I received from women. If, what is an impossible case, that wretch of my wife, whom I killed, should rise from the dead, I feel that I would forgive her because I have now understood the soul of woman, prone to love, generous in giving herself... both in good and in evil.»
« I am glad that you have found all that in Syntyche. She will be a good companion to you for the rest of your days and you will do much good together. Because I will associate you...»
Jesus scans John once again. But there is no sign of roused attention in the disciple, although he is not a superficial person. Which divine mercy conceals his sentence until the crucial moment? I do not know. I know that John smiles saying: « We shall endeavour to serve You to the best of our ability.»
« Yes. And I am sure that you will do so, without discussing the work or the place, which I will allot to you, even if it should not be what you wish...»
John has a first inkling of what awaits him. His countenance and colour change. He becomes grave and pale and his only eye stares attentively and inquisitively at the face of Jesus, Who continues: « Do you remember, John, when I said to you, to dispel your doubts about God's forgiveness: “To let you understand Mercy I will employ you in special merciful deeds and I will apply to you the parables of mercy”?»
« Yes. And You did. You have convinced me and You have granted me the possibility to do deeds of mercy, and I would say, the most delicate ones, such as giving alms and teaching a boy, a Philistine and a Greek woman. That made it clear to me that God was aware of my true repentance, and thus He entrusted me with innocent souls or the souls of converts, that I might perfect them.»
Jesus embraces John, and draws him close to His side, as He is wont to do with the other John, and turning pale because of the grief He has to cause, He says: « Also now God is going to entrust a delicate holy task to you. A task of predilection. Only you who are generous, unreserved and unbiased, wise, and above all, have offered yourself to all renunciations and penances to expiate the remaining purgation and debt you still had with God, only you can do it. Anybody else would refuse, and quite rightly, because he would be lacking the necessary requisites. Not one of My apostles possesses what you have, to go and preach the ways of the Lord... Further, your name is John. So you will be a Precursor of My Doctrine... you will prepare the way for your Master... nay, you will act in place of your Master, Who cannot go so far... (John starts and endeavours to free himself from Jesus' arm, in order to look at Him in the face, but he is not successful, because Jesus' hold is kind but authoritative, while His lips give the final blow... )... He cannot go so far... as far as Syria... as far as Antioch...»
« Lord!» shouts John, freeing himself with violence from Jesus' embrace. « Lord! To Antioch? Tell me that I have misunderstood You! Tell me, please!...» He is standing... His whole attitude is a supplication: his only eye, his face which has turned ashen-grey, his trembling lips, his outstretched shaking hands, his lowered head, which seems to be burdened by the news.
But Jesus cannot say: « You have misunderstood.» He opens His arms, standing up to receive the old teacher on His heart, and He opens His lips to confirm: « Yes, to Antioch. To a house of Lazarus'. With Syntyche. You shall leave tomorrow or the day after.»
John's desolation is really heart-rending. He half-frees himself from the embrace, and face to face, with his thin cheeks wet with tears, he cries: « Ah! You do not want me any longer!! In what have I offended You, my Lord?» He gets free of Jesus' grasp and throws himself on the table, in an outburst of heart-rending sobs interrupted by fits of coughing, insensible to Jesus' caresses and he moans: « You are driving me away, You are rejecting me, I will never see You again...»
Jesus is clearly grieved and He prays... He then goes out slowly and sees Mary with Marjiam at the kitchen door. The boy is frightened by John's weeping... A little farther away, there is Syntyche, who is also astonished. « Mother, come here a moment.»
Mary goes at once. She is pale. They go in together. Mary bends over the weeping man as if he were a poor boy, saying: « Good, be good, poor son of Mine! Do not weep like that! You will hurt yourself.»
John raises his convulsed face and shouts: « He is sending me away!... I will die all alone, far away... Oh! He might have waited a few months and let me die here. Why this punishment? In what have I sinned? Have I ever troubled You? Why give me all this peace, and then... and then...» He collapses once again on the table, weeping louder, panting...
Jesus lays a hand on his lean trembling shoulders, saying: « And can you possibly believe that if I could have, I would not have kept you here? Oh! John! There are dreadful necessities on the way of the Lord! And I am the first to suffer thereby, as I have to bear My sorrow and the sorrow of the whole world. Look at Me, John. See whether My face is the face of one who hates you, and is tired of you... Come here, in My arms, and feel how My heart is throbbing with grief. Understand Me, John, do not misunderstand Me. This is the last expiation God imposes on you, to open the gates of Heaven to you. Listen...» and He lifts him up and holds him in His arms. « Listen... Mother, go out for a moment... Listen now, that we are alone. You know who I am. Do you firmly believe that I am the Redeemer?»
« Of course I do. That is why I wanted to stay with You, for good, until death...»
« Death... My death will be a dreadful one!...»
« Mine, I mean. My death...»
« Yours will be placid, comforted by My presence, which will instill the certainty of God's love into you, and consoled by the love of Syntyche, as well as by the joy of having prepared the triumph of the Gospel in Antioch. But Mine! You would see My body reduced to a mass of flesh covered with wounds, covered with spittle, outraged, abandoned to an enraged crowd, put to death hanging from a cross like a criminal... Could you bear all that?»
John, who at each detail of how Jesus will be dealt with during His Passion has groaned: « No, no!», shouts a sharp « no» and adds: « I would begin to hate mankind again... But I will be dead, because You are young and...»
« And I will see but one more Dedication.»
John looks at Him, struck with terror...
« I told you secretly to let you know that that is one of the reasons why I am sending you away. But you will not be the only one. I will send away, beforehand, all those whom I do not want to be upset more than their strength can possibly stand. And do you think that is lack of love?...»
« No, my martyr God... But I have to leave You... and I will die far away from You.»
« In the name of the Truth which I am, I promise you that I will be bent over the pillow of your agony.»
« How can that be, if I am so far away and You say that You cannot come so far? You say that to make my departure less sad...»
« Johanna of Chuza, dying at the foot of Lebanon, saw Me although I was far away and she did not yet know Me and from where I was I brought her back to the poor life of this world. Believe Me, on the day of My death she will regret having survived!... But for you, the joy of My heart during this second year of My teaching, I will do more. I will come to take you to peace, and I will entrust to you the mission to say to those who are waiting: “The hour of the Lord has come. As springtime is coming to the earth, so the springtime of Paradise is rising for us.” But that will not be the only time I will come... I will come... you will perceive Me... always... I can and I will do it. You will have the Master within you, as you do not have Me even now. Because Love can be communicated to its beloved ones, and so sensitively as to touch not only their spirits, but also their senses. Are you more tranquil now, John?»
« Yes, my Lord. But how sorrowful!»
« However, you are not rebelling...»
« Rebel? Never! I would lose You completely. I say “my” Our Father: Thy will be done.»
« I knew that you would understand Me...» He kisses John's cheeks, still wet with continuous although calmer tears.
« Will You let me say goodbye to the boy?... That is another grief... I was fond of him...» he weeps bitterly again...
« Yes. I will call him at once... And I will call Syntyche also. She will suffer, too. You must help her, you, a man...»
« Yes, my Lord.»
Jesus goes out while John weeps and kisses and caresses the walls and furnishings of the little hospitable room.
Mary and Marjiam come in together.
« Oh! Mother! Did You hear? Did You know?»
« I knew. And I was sorry... But I also parted with Jesus... And I am His Mother...»
« That is true!... Marjiam, come here. Do you know that I am going away and we shall not see each other again?...» He wants to be brave. But he takes the boy in his arms, he sits on the edge of the bed and weeps on the dark-haired head of Marjiam, who imitates him at once.
Jesus enters with Syntyche, who asks: « Why so much weeping, John?»
« He is sending us away, do you not know? Have you not been told yet? He is sending us to Antioch!»
« Well? Did He not say that where there are two people assembled in His name, He will be among them? Come on, John! So far, perhaps, you have chosen your lot yourself, and thus the imposition of another will, even if a loving one, frightens you. I... I am accustomed to accepting the fate imposed on me by other people. And what a destiny!... So I now willingly submit to this new fate. Why not? I did not rebel against despotic slavery, except when it wanted to rule over my soul. And should I now rebel against this sweet slavery of love, which does not injure but elevates our souls and bestows on us the honour of being His servants? Are you afraid of tomorrow because you are not well? I will work for you. Are you afraid of being left alone? But I will never leave you. Be sure of that. I have no other aim in life but to love God and my neighbour. And you are the neighbour whom God entrusts to me. Consider, therefore, whether you are dear to me!»
« You need not work to live, because you will be in Lazarus” house. But I advise you to make use of teaching as a means of approaching people. You, John, as a teacher, and you, Syntyche, with needlework. It will be useful to your apostolate and will give an aim to your daily life.»
« It will be done, Lord» replies Syntyche resolutely.
John is still holding the boy in his arms and is weeping quietly. Marjiam is caressing him... « Will you remember me?»
« I will, John, always, and I will pray for you... Nay... Wait a moment...» He runs out.
Syntyche asks: « How shall we go to Antioch?»
« By sea. Are you afraid?»
« No, Lord. In any case, You are sending us, and that will protect us.»
« You will go with the two Simons, My brothers, Zebedee's sons, Andrew and Matthew. From here to Ptolemais you will go by cart, in which we shall put the chests and a loom which I made for you, Syntyche, with some articles which will be useful to John...»
« I imagined something when I saw the chests and the garments. And I prepared my soul for the separation. It was too beautiful to live here!...» a stifled sob breaks Syntyche's voice. But she collects herself to support John's courage. She asks in a firm voice: « When are we leaving?»
« As soon as the apostles come, tomorrow probably.»
« Well, if You do not mind, I will go and pack the garments in the chests... Give me your rolls, John.» I think that Syntyche is anxious to be alone so that she may weep...
John replies: « Take them... but give me that roll tied with a blue ribbon.»
Marjiam comes in with his jar of honey. « Here, John, take it. You will eat it in my place...»
« No, my child! Why?»
« Because Jesus has said that a spoonful of honey offered as a sacrifice can give peace and hope to an afflicted soul. You are afflicted... I am giving you all the honey that you may be completely comforted.»
« But it is too big a sacrifice for you, boy.»
« Oh! no! In Jesus' prayer we say: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” This jar was a temptation to me... and might have been an evil because it might have made me infringe my vow. Now I will not see it any more... and it is easier... and I am sure that God will help you, because of this new sacrifice. But do not weep any more. And you, too, Syntyche...»
In fact the Greek woman is now weeping, noiselessly, while taking John's rolls. And Marjiam caresses them in turn, with a keen desire to weep himself. Syntyche goes out laden with rolls and Mary follows her with the jar of honey.
John is left with Jesus, Who is sat beside him, and with the boy in his arms. He is calm, but depressed.
« Put your last writing in the roll» suggests Jesus. « I think that you want to give it to Marjiam...»
« Yes... I have a copy for myself... Here, boy. These are the words of the Master. The words He spoke when you were not here and others as well... I wanted to continue copying them for you, because you have a whole life in front of you... and goodness knows how much you will evangelize... But I cannot do it any more... Now it is I who will be left without His words...» And he begins to weep bitterly once again.
Marjiam is kind and virile in his new gesture. He throws his arms round John's neck and says: « I will write them for you now and I will send them to you... Is that right, Master? It can be done, can it not?»
« Of course it can. And it will be great charity to do so.»
« I will do it. And when I am not there, Simon Zealot will do it. He loves me and he loves you and he will do it out of charity. So do not weep any more. And I will come to see you... You will certainly not go very far...»
« Oh! how far! Hundreds of miles... And I will die soon.» The boy is disappointed and down-hearted. But he collects himself with the beautiful serenity of a child who thinks everything is easy. « If you can go there, so I can come with my father. And... we will write to each other. When one reads the holy scriptures, it is like being with God, isn't it? So when we read a letter, it is like being with the person we love and who wrote it. Come on, let us go into the next room, come with me...»
« Yes, let us go, John. My brothers will soon be here with the Zealot. I sent for them.»
« Do they know?»
« Not yet. I am waiting to tell them until they are all here...»
« All right, my Lord. Let us go...»
The old man who leaves Joseph's room is really bent with age. And he seems to be saying goodbye to every stem, to every trunk, to the fountain and the grotto, while going towards the workshop where Mary and Syntyche are silently laying things and garments in the chests...
And Simon, Judas and James find them thus... silent and sad. They watch them... but ask no questions and I wonder whether they realise the truth.
« To give the readers a clear indication, I had indicated the place of John's prison expiation, with the name now in use. Someone is objecting to this. So I will now clarify the matter: Bithynia and Mysia, for those who want the ancient names. But this is the Gospel for simple people and little ones, not for doctors, to the majority of whom it is unacceptable and useless. And simple people' and the little ones understand “Anatolia” better than “Bithynia or Mysia”. Is that not right, little John, who are weeping over John of Endor's grief? But there are so many Johns of Endor in the world! They are the forlorn brothers for whom I made you suffer last year. Rest now, little John, as you will never be sent far away from the Master, nay you will be closer and closer to Him.
And the second year of preaching and public life ends thus: the year of Mercy... And I can but repeat the lamentation dictated at the closing of the first year. But it does not implicate My mouthpiece, who continues her work struggling against all kinds of obstacles. It is not really the “great” people but the “little” ones who proceed along the paths of heroism, levelling them through their sacrifices, also for those who are weighed down by too many things. The “little” ones, that is those who are simple, meek, pure in their hearts and intellects: “little children”. And I say to you, o little children, and to you, Romualdo, and to you, Mary, and to all those who are like you: “Come to Me to hear again and always the Word Who speaks to you because He loves you and He speaks to you to bless you. My peace be with you.”»