16th May 1946.
Tiberias is already in sight when the two tired pilgrims are proceeding in the darkening twilight.
« It will soon be dark... And we are still in the middle of the country... Two women alone... And near a large town full of... Ugh! what people! Beelzebub! Beelzebub mostly... » says Mary of Alphaeus looking around frightened.
« Be not afraid, Mary. Beelzebub will do us no harm. He harms only those who receive him in their hearts... »
« These pagans have him!... »
« Not only pagans are in Tiberias. And also among the heathens there are just people. »
« What? They have not our God!... »
Mary does not reply because She understands that it would be useless. Her good sister-in-law is but one of the many Israelites who believe that they are the only depositaries of virtue... simply because they are Israelites.
They are silent: only the shuffling of the sandals on their tired dusty feet can be heard.
« It was better to take the usual road... We knew that one... it is more beaten by people... This one... among vegetable gardens, solitary... unknown... I am afraid, that's all! »
« No, Mary. Look. The town is over there, a few steps from here. And here are peaceful kitchen gardens of the cultivators of Tiberias, and over there is the shore, only a few steps from here. Do you want to go to the shore? We will find fishermen there... We have only to go across these vegetable gardens. »
« No! We would be going away from town again! And then... The boatmen are almost all Greeks, Cretans, Egyptians, Romans... » and it seems as if she were mentioning infernal classes. The Blessed Virgin cannot help smiling in the shadow of Her veil.
They go on. The road becomes an avenue, and thus darker... and Mary of Alphaeus is more frightened than ever and she invokes Jehovah at every step, while they proceed slower and slower.
« Come on, take heart! Make haste, if you are afraid! » says Mary urging her after replying: « Maran Atha! » at each invocation.
But Mary of Alphaeus stops and asks: « But why did You want to come here? To speak perhaps to the Iscariot? »
« No, Mary. Or at least that is not exactly the reason. I have come to speak to Valeria, the Roman lady... »
« Goodness gracious! Are we going to her house? Ah! no! Mary! Don't do that! I... I am not coming with You! But why are You going there? To those... those... anathemas!... »
The kind smile of the Blessed Virgin becomes a severe expression while She asks: « And do you not remember that Aurea is to be saved? My Son began her liberation. I will complete it. Is that how you practise love for souls? »
« But she is not from Israel... »
« Truly, you have not understood one word of the Gospel! You are a very imperfect disciple... You do not work for your Master and you grieve Me so deeply. »
Mary of Alphaeus lowers her head... But her heart, full of the prejudices of Israel but congenitally kind, gets the upper hand and bursting into tears she embraces Mary and says: « Forgive me! Don't say that I grieve You and I do not serve my Jesus! Yes! I am very imperfect and I deserve to be reproached... But I will not do it again... I will come! Even to Hell if You should go there to save a soul and give it to Jesus... Give me a kiss, Mary, to tell me that You forgive me... »
Mary kisses her and they resume their journey, walking fast, cheered up by love...
They are now in Tiberias, near the little harbour of the fishermen. They look for the little house of Joseph, the fisherman disciple... They find it and knock at the door...
« The Mother of my Master! Come in, o Donna! And may God be with You and with me, who am giving You hospitality. And you, come in, too, and peace be with you, the mother of apostles. »
They go in while the wife and young daughter come to greet them followed by a little group of younger children...
The frugal meal is soon over and Mary of Clopas, being tired, withdraws with the children. On the high terrace, from which the lake can be seen - it can be heard lapping the bank, rather than be seen, because there is no moonlight as yet - are the Blessed Virgin, the boatman and his wife, who endeavours to be good company, but in actual fact is nodding...
« She is tired!... » says Joseph excusing her.
« Poor woman! Housewives are always tired in the evening. »
« Yes, they do work. They are not like those there, who lead a gay life! » says the boatman disdainfully, pointing at some illuminated boats departing from the shore among songs and music. « They are going out now! They begin to work at this time, when honest people go to sleep! And they do harm to workers, because they go to the best spots, pretending that they are fishing, and they drive away us, who earn our living on the lake... »
« Who are they? »
« Roman women and the like. And among the latter you can count Herodias and her lustful daughter and some Jewesses as well... Because we have many Maries of Magdala... I mean Maries before repentance... »
« They are poor wretches... »
« Poor wretches? We are poor wretches because we do not stone them to rid Israel of those who have become corrupted and bring down on us the curses of God. »
In the meantime other boats have left and the lake reddens with the lights of the revellers' boats.
« Can you smell resin burning? First they become intoxicated with smoke, and they do the rest in the course of banquets. They are quite capable of going to the hot springs on the other side... In those Thermal baths... Infernal things take place! They will come back at daybreak, at dawn, perhaps later... drunk, lying one on top of the other, men and women, just like sacks, and their slaves will carry them home, to sleep it off... All the beautiful boats are going out this evening! Look! Look!... But I am more angry with the Jews who mix with them. With regard to them... we know! Shameless animals. But we!... Donna, do You know that Judas, the apostle is here? »
« I know. »
« He is not setting a good example, You know? »
« Why? Does he go with those people?... »
« No... but... with bad companions... and a woman... I have not seen him... None of us has seen him in such company. But some Pharisees have sneered at us saying: “Your apostle has changed master. Now he has a woman and he is in the good company of publicans.” »
« Do not judge, Joseph, what you have only heard people say. You know that the Pharisees do not love you and they do not even praise the Master. »
« That is true... But the rumour is spreading... and is harmful... »
« As it rose, so it will fall. Do not sin against your brother. Where does he live? Do you know? »
« Yes, with a friend, I think. One who has a warehouse of wines and spices. The third warehouse on the eastern side of the market, after the fountain... »
« Are all the Roman women alike? »
« Oh! more or less!... They do wrong, even if they do not let people see it. »
« Which are the ones that do not let people see? »
« The ones who came to Lazarus' at Passover. They are more retired... I mean... they do not always go to banquets. But they go so often that people can say that they are impure. »
« Are you saying so because you are sure, or is it your Jewish prejudice that makes you say so? Think it over carefully... »
« Well... really... I don't know... I have not seen them any more in the boats of the filthy ones... But they go out on the lake at night. »
« You go out, too. »
« Certainly If I want to go out fishing! »
« It is very warm! Only out on the lake is there relief at, night. You said so yourself while we were having supper. »
« That is true. »
« So, why not consider that they go on the lake for that? »
The man is silent... He then says: « It is late. The stars say that it is the second watch. I am withdrawing, Donna. Are You not coming? »
« No. I will stay here and pray. I will go out early. Do not be surprised if you do not see Me at dawn. »
« You are free to do as You like. Anne! Come on! Let us go to bed! » and he shakes his wife who is fast asleep. They go away.
Mary remains alone... She kneels down and prays... but She never loses sight of the boats sailing on the lake, the boats of rich people, all bright with lights, with flowers, singing and smell of incense... Many sail eastwards, they become very small in the distance, their singing is no longer heard. A splendent solitary boat remains out on the lake in a sheet of water upon which the Moon, setting in front of Tiberias, is shining brightly. It sails slowly up and down... Mary watches it until She sees it steer towards the shore.
Mary then stands up saying: « Lord, help Me! Let it be... » She then goes downstairs nimbly, She enters a room the door of which is half open... In the moonlight it is possible to see a little bed. Mary bends over it and calls: « Mary! Wake up! Let us go! »
Mary of Alphaeus wakes up and, overwhelmed with sleep, rubbing her eyes she asks: « Is it already time to go? Is it already daylight? » She is so sleepy that she does not realise that it is not the light of dawn but moonlight the feeble phosphorescence which enters through the open door. She becomes aware of it when she is outside, on the small piece of cultivated ground in front of the boatman's house.
« But it's night-time! » she exclaims.
« Yes. But we will finish sooner and we will get out of this town sooner... at least I hope so. Come! This way, along the shore. Quick! Before the boat sets ashore... »
« The boat? Which boat? » asks Mary. But she runs after the Virgin, Who is walking very fast on the deserted shore, towards the little pier, where the boat is heading.
They arrive panting a few moments before it... Mary is watching carefully. She exclaims: « Praised be the Lord! It is they! Follow Me now... because we must go where they go... I do not know where they live... »
« But Mary... for pity's sake!... They will think that we are prostitutes!... »
The Most Pure Mother shakes Her head and whispers: « The important thing is not to be one. Come! » and She draws her into the shadow of a house.
The boat lands and while it is manoeuvring, a litter, which was waiting nearby, is brought forward towards it. Two women get on it, while two remain outside and walk beside it, when it leaves carried by four Numidians walking in step and wearing very short sleeveless tunics, which hardly cover their trunks...
Mary follows it, notwithstanding that Mary of Alphaeus protests in a low voice: « Two women alone!... Behind those men! They are half-naked... Oh!... »
After a few metres the litter stops. A woman gets off while the leader knocks at a portal.
« Goodbye, Lydia! »
« Goodbye, Valeria! A caress to Faustina from me. Tomorrow evening we will read again in peace, while the others revel... »
The portal is opened and Valeria, with her slave or freedwoman, is about to go in.
Mary goes forward and says: « Domina! A word! »
Valeria looks at the two women enveloped in very plain Jewish mantles lowered over their faces, and thinks that they are beggars.
She orders: « Barbara, give them offerings! »
« No, domina. I am not asking for money. I am the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth and this is a relative of Mine. I have come in His Name to ask a favour of you. »
« Domina! Your Son is perhaps... persecuted »
« Not more than usually. But He would like »
« Come in, Domina. It does not become You to remain here in the street like a beggar. »
« No. A few words will suffice if you can listen to me in secret... »
« Go away, all of you! » Valeria orders her slave or freedwoman, whatever she may be, and the doorkeepers. « We are alone. What does the Master want? I did not come because I did not want to harm Him in His town. He did not come in order not to harm me, perhaps, with my husband? »
« No. I advised Him not to come. My Son is hated, domina. »
« I know. »
« And He finds comfort only in His mission. »
« I know. »
« He does not seek honours, or armies; He does not aspire to kingdoms or riches. But He asserts His rights on souls. »
« I know. »
« Domina... He should hand that girl back to you... But do not be offended if I tell you, she could not perfect her soul for Jesus here. You are better than the others... But around you... there is too much filth of the world. »
« That is true. So? »
« You are a mother... My Son has the feelings of a father for every soul. Would you allow your daughter to be brought up among people who can ruin her?... »
« No. I understand... Well... Say these words to Your Son: “In memory of Faustina, saved in her body, Valeria gives You Aurea that You may save her soul.” It is true! We are too corrupt... to assure a saint... Domina, pray for me! » and she withdraws quickly, before Mary can thank her. She withdraws, I would say, weeping...
Mary of Alphaeus is dumbfounded.
« Let us go, Mary... We will leave during the night and tomorrow evening we will be in Nazareth »
« Let us go... She gave her up as if she were a thing... »
« She is a thing to them. To us she is a soul. Come. Look... It is already dawning over there. One can say that there is no nighttime in this month... »
They go along a road which is no longer semi-dark and which opens in front of them, instead of taking the shore. It is a road behind a row of modest houses... When they are half way along it, Judas springs out from a corner, manifestly drunk. A Judas returning from who knows what party, with dishevelled hair, crumpled clothes, his face beaten.
« Judas! You? In this state? »
Judas does not have time to feign that he does not know Her and he cannot run away... Surprise clears his thoughts and keeps him fixed where he is, immobile.
Mary approaches him, overcoming the repulsion which the sight of the apostle stirs in Her, and She says to him: « Judas, wretched son, what are you doing? Are you not thinking of God? Of your soul? Of your mother? What are you doing, Judas? Why do you want to be a sinner? Look at Me, Judas! You have no right to kill your soul... » and She touches him trying to take his hand.
« Leave me alone. I am a man after all. And... I am free to do what everybody does. Tell Him, Who has sent You to spy on me, that I am not yet all spirit, and I am young! »
« You are not free to ruin yourself, Judas! Have pity on yourself... If you behave like that you will never be a happy spirit... Judas... He did not send Me to spy on you. He prays for you. Only that, and I pray with Him. In the name of your mother... »
« Leave me alone » says Judas rudely. Then realising that he has been rude, he rectifies himself: « I do not deserve Your pity... Goodbye... » and he runs away...
« What a demon!... I will tell Jesus » exclaims Mary of Alphaeus. « My Judas is right! »
« You will not say anything to anybody. You will pray for him. Yes... »
« Are You weeping? Weeping for him? Oh!... »
« I am weeping... I was happy having saved Aurea... I am now weeping because Judas is a sinner. But to Jesus, Who is distressed, we will take only the good news. And we will snatch the sinner from Satan by penance and prayers... As if he were our son, Mary! As if he were our son!... You are a mother, too, and you know... For that unhappy mother, for this soul of a sinner, for our Jesus... »
« Yes, I will pray... But I do not think that he deserves it... »
« Mary, do not say that!... »
« I will not say it... But it is so. Are we not going to Johanna's? »
« No. We will come back soon, with Jesus... »