3rd July 1946.
Night is falling bringing cool breezes which refresh after so much heat, and also twilight which is a relief after so much bright sunshine.
Jesus takes leave of the people of Hippo as He is quite firm in His decision not to delay departure, in order to be at Capernaum for the Sabbath. The people depart from Him reluctantly and a few obstinate persons follow Him even out of town.
Among them is the woman from Aphek, the widow who in the village on the lake begged the Lord to choose her as guardian for little Alphaeus, who is not wanted by his mother. She has joined the group of the women disciples, as if she were one of them, and she has now become so familiar with them, that they regard her as one of the family. She is now with Salome, to whom she is speaking animatedly in a low voice.
Mary is farther back with Her sister-in-law, and they adapt their steps to the pace of the little boy who is walking hand in hand between them and enjoys himself jumping over every stone in the road, which, being paved with regular slabs, was certainly built by the Romans. And at each jump he laughs and says: « See how clever I am? Look, look again! ». It is a game which I think all children in the world have played when they are held by the hand by people who they perceive are fond of them. And the two holy women who are leading him by the hand show great interest in his game and praise him for being so clever in jumping. The poor little fellow has flourished in a few days of peaceful loving life, his eyes are cheerful like those of happy children and his silvery laughter makes him more beautiful and above all more puerile, without the expression of a sad little man, as he had looked the evening he left Capernaum.
Mary of Alphaeus, considering the situation, when she hears some words of Sarah, the widow, says to her sister-in-law: « That would be ideal! If I were Jesus, I would give her the boy. »
« He has a mother, Mary... »
« Mother? Don't call her that! A she-wolf is more motherly than that wretch. »
« That is true. But even if she does not feel any obligation towards her son, she always has a claim on him. »
« H'm! To make him suffer! Look how much he has improved! »
« I know. But... Jesus has no right to take children away from mothers, not even to give them to those who would love them. »
« Neither are men entitled to... Better not say more. I know what... »
« Oh! I understand You... You mean: neither are men entitled to take Your Son away from You, and yet they will do so... But by doing so - a cruel action from a human point of view - they will bring about infinite good. In this case, instead, I do not know whether it would do that woman any good... »
« But it would do the child much good. But why... did He tell us that dreadful thing? I have had no peace since I heard of it... »
« And did you not know even previously that the Redeemer was to suffer and die? »
« Of course I did! But I did not know that it was Jesus. I have been very fond of Him, You know? I loved Him more than my own sons. So handsome, so kind... Oh! I envied You Him, my dear Mary, when He was a boy, and always later... always... Even a puff of air worried me, lest it should harm Him and... I cannot believe that He will be tortured... » Mary of Clopas weeps under her veil.
And Mary, the Mother, comforts her. « Mary, My dear, do not look at the matter from a human point of view. Think of its fruits... You can imagine how I see daylight fading away every evening... When it dies out I say: one day less to have Jesus... Oh! Mary! For one thing above all I thank the Most High: for granting Me to achieve perfect love, as perfect as a creature can possess it, because such love allows Me to cure and fortify My heart saying: “His sorrow and Mine are useful to My brothers, therefore blessed be Sorrow.” If I did not love My neighbour thus... I could not endure the thought that they will put Jesus to death... »
« So, what love is Yours? What love must a mother have to say such words? In... in order not to run away with her son, to defend him and say to her neighbours: “My first neighbour is my son and I love him above all things.”? »
« He Who is to be loved above everything is God. »
« And He is God. »
« He does the Will of the Father and I do it with Him. What love is Mine? What love is required to be able to say those words? The love of fusion with God, complete union, total surrender, to be lost in Him, to be nothing but a part of Him, as your hand is part of you and does what your head commands. That is My love and such is the love which one must have to do always the Will of God willingly. »
« But You are You. You are the Blessed One among all creatures. You were certainly such even before You had Jesus, because God chose You to have Him, and it is easy for You... »
« No, Mary. I am the Woman and the Mother like every woman and mother. The gift of God does not suppress the creature. She is as human as any other creature, even if the gift gives her a very strong spirituality. You know, by now, that I had to accept the gift, of My own free will, and with all the consequences which it involved. Because each divine gift is a great beatitude, but also a great obligation. And God does not force any man to accept His gifts, but He asks man and if the latter replies: “No” to the spiritual voice speaking to him, God does not force him. Every soul is interrogated by God at least once in its lifetime whether... »
« Oh! I have not been! He never asked me anything! » exclaims Mary of Alphaeus confidently.
The Blessed Virgin smiles kindly and replies: « You did not notice it and your soul replied without you being aware of it; and the reason for that is that you already love the Lord very much. »
« I am telling You that He has never spoken to me!... »
« Why, then, are you here, a disciple following Jesus? And why are you so anxious that your sons, all of them, should be followers of Jesus? You know what it implies to follow Him, and yet you want your sons to follow Him. »
« Certainly! I would like to give them all to Him. I could then truly say that I bore my children to the Light. And I pray that I may give them to It, to Jesus, with true, eternal maternity. »
« You see! And why that? Because God interrogated you one day and He said: “Mary, would you give Me your sons to be My ministers in the new Jerusalem?” And you replied: “Yes, Lord.” And even now that you are aware that a disciple is not superior to the Master, you reply to God, Who questions you again to test your love: “Yes, my Lord. I now want them to be Yours!” Is it not so? »
« Yes, Mary, it is. That's true. I am so ignorant that I cannot understand what happens in a soul. But when Jesus or You make me ponder, I say that it is true. It is really true. I say that... I would rather see them killed by men than be hostile to God... Certainly... if I saw them die... if... oh! But the Lord... Eh! Would the Lord help me in that hour... or will He help You alone? »
« He will help all His faithful daughters, who are martyrs in the spirit, or in the spirit and in the flesh for His glory. »
« But who is to be killed? » asks the little boy, who has stopped jumping upon hearing their conversation, and has been all ears. And he asks again, partly out of curiosity, partly out of fear, looking about the lonely country which is growing dark: « Are there highwaymen about? Where are they? »
« There are no highwaymen, My child. And no one, for the time being, is to be killed. Jump, go on jumping... » replies the Most Holy Virgin.
Jesus, Who was far ahead, has stopped waiting for the women. Of the people who followed Him from Hippo, three men and the widow are still present. The others made up their minds, one after the other, to leave Him and go back to their town. The two groups come together again. Jesus says: « Let us wait here until the moon rises. We will then set out in order to arrive at the town of Gamala at dawn. »
« But Lord! Do You not remember how they drove You out of it? They begged You to go away... »
« So? I went away, now I am going back. God is patient and prudent. Then, in their excitement, they were not in a state to receive the Word, which, in order to be fruitful, is to be received with a peaceful spirit. Remember Elijah and his meeting with the Lord on the Horeb and take into account that Elijah was a spirit beloved by the Lord and accustomed to hearing Him. Only in the peace of a gentle breeze, when, after being dismayed, his spirit was resting in the peace of creation and of his honest ego, only then the Lord spoke. And the Lord has waited for the fright, left by the legion of demons in remembrance of their passage through that region - because if the passing of God is peace, the passing of Satan is perturbation - and the Lord has waited for such fright to come to an end and for their hearts and minds to become crystal clear, before going back to the people of Gamala, as they are still His sons. Be not afraid! They will do us no harm! »
The widow from Aphek comes forward and prostrates herself: « And are You not coming to my house, Lord? Aphek also is full of sons of God... »
« The road is a difficult one and our time is short. We have the women with us and we must go back to Capernaum for the Sabbath. Do not insist, woman » says the Iscariot resolutely, almost rejecting her.
« The fact is... I wanted Him to be convinced that I can keep the boy properly. »
« But do you not understand that he has his mother? » says the Iscariot once again, and he says so rudely.
« Do you know any short cuts between Gamala and Aphek? » Jesus asks the mortified woman.
« Oh! yes! There is a road across the mountains, but it is good and cool, because it runs through woods. And it is possible to hire some donkeys for the women, and I will pay for them... »
« I will come to your house to console you, even if I cannot give you the child, because he has a mother. But I promise you that in the event that God should judge that the innocent with no love should find love again, I will think of you. »
« Thank you, Master. You are good » says the widow, and she looks at Judas in a way that means: « And you are bad. »
The little boy, who has listened and understood, at least in part, and has grown fond of the widow, who has conquered him with caresses and dainties, both by natural instinct of reflection and by the spirit of imitation typical of children, repeats exactly what the widow has done, the only difference being that he does not prostrate himself at Jesus' feet, but he clings to His knees, raising his little face which looks bright in the moonlight, and he says: « Thank You, Master. You are good. » And he does not stop at that; he wants to make his mind quite clear and he concludes: « and you are bad » and to ensure that there is no error of person, he lightly kicks the Iscariot's foot.
Thomas bursts out laughing, which makes the others laugh as well, while he says: « Poor Judas! It is really a fact that children do not like you! Now and again one of them judges you, and they always say that you are bad!... »
Judas has so little sense of humor that he shows his anger, an unfair anger, out of proportion to the cause and object giving rise to it and to which he gives vent by tearing the child away from Jesus' knees very coarsely and throwing him backwards, shouting: « This is what happens when in serious matters we have pantomimes. It is neither decent nor useful to take with us a train of women and parentless children... »
« No, you can't say that. You met his father, too. He was the legitimate husband, and a just man » remarks Bartholomew severely.
« So? Is he not a tramp and a future thief? Is he not the cause of unpleasant remarks uttered behind our backs? Some people thought he was Your Mother's son... And where is Your Mother's husband to justify a son of his age? Or they suppose that he is the son of one of us, and... »
« Enough of that. You are speaking the language of the world. But the world speaks a filthy language to frogs, to water snakes, to lizards, to all unclean animals... Come, Alphaeus. Do not weep. Come to Me. I will carry you in My arms. »
The little boy is deeply grieved. All his sorrow of an orphan rejected by his mother and which had calmed down during the previous peaceful days, comes to light again, boils over and overflows. He is weeping not so much because of the bruises on his forehead and hands, which were injured when he fell on stoney ground, bruises which the women are cleaning and kissing to comfort him, as because of his grief of a son who is not loved. A long heart-rending weeping, during which he cries for his dead father, his mother... Oh! poor child!
And I weep with him, as men never care for me, and with him I take shelter in the arms of God, today, the anniversary of my father's funeral; today when an unfair decision deprives me of receiving Holy Communion frequently...
Jesus takes him, kisses him, lulls and comforts him, walking ahead of everybody, with the innocent child in His arms, in the moonlight... And as his weeping slowly abates and his sobbing becomes less frequent, in the silence of the night Jesus' voice can be heard saying: « I am here, Alphaeus. I am here for everybody. I will be father and mother to you. Do not weep. Your father is near Me and he kisses you with Me. The angels look after you like mothers. If you are good and innocent, all our love is with you... »
And the hoarse voice of one of the three men who came from Hippo is heard saying: « The Master is good and He attracts people. But His disciples are not. I am going away... »
And in a severe voice the Zealot says to the Iscariot: « Do you see what your behaviour does? »
Only the widow from Aphek remains with the women disciples and sighs with them. As the three men from Hippo have gone away, one can hear only the reduced shuffling of feet. The situation remains unchanged until they stop near a large grotto, where shepherds perhaps take shelter, because there is a layer of heather and ferns, which have been recently cut, laid on the ground to dry.
« Let us stop here. Let us assemble this bed of Providence for the women. We can lie down just outside, on the grass » says Jesus. And they do so, while the full moon sails in the vault of heaven.