16th December 1946.
They are already in the land influenced by the proximity of the Dead Sea, far from tracks for caravans and they are going straight north-eastwards. Apart from the ruggedness of the ground, spread with sharp stones, salt crystals, low thorny grass, they proceed quite well and above all peacefully, because there is not a single soul as far as the eye can see, the temperature is mild and the ground dry.
They are chattering to each other. During the previous days they must have met some shepherds and stayed with them, because they are speaking of them. They are also talking of a boy who has been cured. They proceed thus, peacefully, talking pleasantly to each other. Even when they are silent, they speak to each other with their hearts as they look at each other with the kind glances of those who are happy to be with a dear friend. They sit down to rest and take some food, they set off again, always with the peaceful appearance that gives peace to my heart only by seeing them.
« Gilgal is over there » says Jesus, pointing forward, to a group of white houses in the sunshine on a little hill to north-east. « We are now close to the river. »
« Are we going to Gilgal for the night? »
« No, John. I have deliberately avoided all towns, and I am going to avoid this one as well. If we meet a shepherd, we shall stay with him. We shall soon reach the road and if we see caravans that are going to stop for the night, we shall ask them to receive us under their tents. The nomads of the desert are always hospitable. And we are likely to meet them at this time. If no one gives us hospitality, we shall sleep under the open sky, covered with our mantles and the angels will watch over us. »
« Oh! It will always be better than that gloomy night, the last night I had at Bethlehem! »
« But why did you not come to Me at once? »
« Because I felt that I was guilty. And I also said: Jesus is so kind that He will not scold me, on the contrary He will comfort me, as You actually did. So what would have happened to the penance I wanted to do? »
« We would have done it together, John. I was without food and fire as well, in spite of the foodstuffs and wood I found in the morning. »
« Yes, but when one is with You, nothing matters. When I am with You, I do not suffer for anything. I look at You. I listen to You. And I am happy. »
« I know. And I also know that in no one My thought is so deeply impressed as in My John. And I also know that you can understand and be quiet when it is necessary to be quiet. You understand Me, because you love Me. John, listen to Me. Before long... »
« What, Lord? » asks John at once interrupting Him, getting hold of His arm, stopping Him to look at Him in the face, with frightened inquisitive eyes and looking very pale.
« Before long I shall have evangelized for three years. I have told the crowds what they were to be told. By now, whoever wants to love and follow Me has the necessary elements to do so with certainty. The others... Some will be convinced by facts. The majority will turn a deaf ear even to facts. And I still have a few things to say to them. And I will tell them. Because justice also is to be served, not only mercy. So far mercy has been silent many times and has not said anything about many things. But before becoming silent forever the Master will speak also with the severity of a judge. But I do not want to speak to you about that. I want to tell you that before long, after I have told the flock what I had to say to make it Mine, I will very often withdraw collecting My thought in prayer and preparation. And when I do not pray, I will devote Myself to you all. I will do at the end what I did at the beginning. The women disciples will come. My Mother will come. We shall all prepare for Passover. John, as from this moment I ask you to devote yourself very much to the women disciples. And in particular to My Mother... »
« My Lord! But what can I give Your Mother that She does not already possess plentifully, and so plentifully as to have what She can give us all? »
« Your love. Imagine to be a second son for Her. She loves you and you love Her. You have one only love uniting you: your love for Me. I, the Son of Her body and of Her heart, shall always be more and more... absent, engrossed in My... occupations. And She will suffer because She knows... She knows what is about to happen. You must comfort Her also on My behalf, you must become so friendly with Her, that She may be able to weep on your heart and be consoled. You know My Mother. You have lived with Her. But there is a difference between doing so as a disciple who loves his Master's Mother with reverential love, and doing it as a son. I want you to do so as a son, that She may suffer a little less when She no longer has Me. »
« Lord, are You going to die? You are speaking like one who is about to die! You are grieving me... »
« I have told you all several times that I must die. It is just as if I had talked to absent-minded children or to slow-witted people. Yes, I am going to die. I will tell the others as well. But later. I am telling you now. Remember that, John. »
« I strive to remember Your words, always... But this one is so grievous... »
« That you do everything to forget it, is that what you mean? Poor boy! It is not you who forget, it is not you who remember. You with your will. It is your very humanity that cannot remember this thing that is so much greater than its capability of endurance, the thing that is too great, and you do not even know exactly how great it will be and how monstrous, so great that it stuns you like a weight falling on your head from a height. And yet it is so. I shall die soon, and My Mother will be left alone. I shall die with a drop of sweetness in My ocean of sorrow, if I see you as a “son” for My Mother... »
« Oh! My Lord! If I am able... and if it does not happen to me as in Bethlehem. I will do so. I will watch with the heart of a son. What can I give Her to comfort Her if She loses You? What shall I be able to give Her, if I also am like one who has lost everything and has become insane with sorrow? How shall I be able, if I could not keep awake and suffer now, in the present calm, for one night and because of a little hunger? How shall I manage? »
« Do not get excited. You must pray very much during this period. I will keep you a good deal with Me and with My Mother. John, you are our peace. And you will be so even then. Be not afraid, John. Your love will do everything. »
« Oh! Lord! Keep me with You as much as possible. You know that I am not anxious to appear or to work miracles, I want, and I can only love... »
Jesus kisses his forehead again, towards his temple, as He did in the grotto...
They are in sight of the road that runs towards the river. There are some pilgrims who goad their mounts or quicken their paces to be in their resting places before night. But they are all muffled up because, as the sun has set, the air has become very cold and no one notices the two wayfarers who are striding towards the river.
A horseman, at a steady trot, almost at a gallop, overtakes them and stops after a few metres where some little donkeys have obstructed the road near a little bridge across a large stream, that gives itself the airs of a torrent and flows foaming towards the Jordan or the Dead Sea. While awaiting his turn to cross it, the horseman turns round and makes a gesture of surprise. He dismounts and holding the horse by the reins he goes back towards Jesus and John, who have not noticed him.
« Master! How come You are here? And all alone with John? » asks the horseman throwing back the edge of his headgear that he had pulled over his face like a hood, and I would say also as a mask to protect himself from the wind and the dust. The swarthy virile face of Manaen appears.
« Peace to you, Manaen. I am going towards the river to cross it. But I doubt whether I shall be able to do so before night falls. And where were you going? »
« To Machaerus. To the filthy den. Have You some place where to sleep? Come with me. I was hastening towards a hotel on the track of the caravans. Or, if You prefer, I will put up the tent under the trees on the river bank. I have everything on the saddle. »
« I prefer the tent. But you certainly prefer the hotel. »
« I prefer You, my Lord. I consider this meeting You a grace. Let us go. I know the banks of the river like the corridors of my house. At the foot of the Gilgal hill there is a wood sheltered from the winds, rich in grass for the horse and in wood for fires for men. We shall be comfortable. »
They walk away fast turning decidedly eastwards, departing from the road to the ford or to Jericho. They soon reach the edge of a thick wood that spreads from the slopes of the hill along the plain towards the embankment.
« I am going to that house. They know me. I will ask for some milk and straw for all of us » says Manaen, going away on his horse, and he soon comes back with two men carrying bundles of straw on their shoulders and a little copper pail of milk.
They go into the wood without speaking. Manaen orders the two men to spread the straw on the ground and then dismisses them. He takes a tinder box out of the saddle pockets and lights a fire with the many dry branches lying on the ground. The fire cheers them and warms them. The pot, placed on two stones carried there by John, warms up while Manaen, after unsaddling the horse, puts up the tent of soft camel-hair, tying it to two poles driven into the ground and fixing it to the robust trunk of an age-old tree. He lays on the grass a sheepskin that was also tied to the saddle, he places the saddle on it and says: « Come, Master. It is a shelter for horsemen of the desert. But it protects from the dew and from the dampness of the ground. Straw is quite enough for us. And I can assure You, Master, that the precious carpets and canopies, the chairs of the royal palace are less, much less beautiful than this throne of Yours, than this tent and this straw, and the rich food that I have several times tasted, never had the flavour of the bread and milk that we shall relish under this tent. I am happy, Master! »
« I am happy, too, Manaen, and the same certainly applies to John. Providence has gathered us together this evening for our reciprocal joy. »
« This evening, Master, and tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, until I know that You are safe among Your apostles. I imagine that You are going to join them... »
« Yes. I am going to them. They are waiting for Me at Solomon's house. »
Manaen looks at Him. Then he says: « I came through Jerusalem... And I heard. From Bethany. And I understood why You did not stop there. You are quite right in withdrawing. Jerusalem is a body full of poison and putrefaction. More so than poor Lazarus... »
« Did you see him? »
« Yes, I did. He is afflicted with the tortures of his body and those of his heart, because of You. He is dying a very sad death... But I would rather die myself than see the sin of our fellow countrymen. »
« Was the town in a state of ferment? » asks John who is watching the fire.
« Very much so. Divided into two parties. And, what is strange, the Romans have been merciful towards some people arrested for sedition on the previous day. It is secretly whispered that it was done to avoid increasing the ferment. They also say that the Proconsul will soon be coming to Jerusalem. Before the usual time. I do not know whether it is a good thing or not. I know that Herod will certainly imitate him. And that will certainly be a good thing as far as I am concerned, because I shall be able to be close to You. With a good horse - and Antipas' stables have some very fast Arab horses - it will take no time to go from town to the river. If You are going to stop there... »
« Yes, I am. At least for the time being... »
John brings the warm milk into which each dips his bread after Jesus has offered and blessed it. Manaen offers some dates as golden as honey.
« Where did you have all these things? » asks John in amazement.
« The saddle of a horseman is a little market, John. There is everything for the rider and for the horse » replies Manaen with a frank smile on his swarthy face. He thinks for a moment and then he asks: « Master, is it lawful to love the animals that serve us and very often do so more loyally than man? »
« Why that question? »
« Because I was recently derided and reproached by some people who saw me cover, with the blanket that is now turned into our tent, my horse wet with perspiration after a race. »
« And did they not say anything else? »
Manaen looks at Jesus disconcertedly... and is silent.
« Speak frankly. You do not backbite anybody or offend Me by telling Me what they said to throw more filth at Me. »
« Master. You know everything. You really know everything and it is useless to conceal our thought and those of other people from You. Yes, they said to Me: “One can see that you are a disciple of that Samaritan. You are a heathen like Him Who infringes the Sabbaths to become unclean by touching unclean animals.” »
« Ah! That was certainly Ishmael! » exclaims John.
« Yes. And those who were with him. And I replied: “I would understand you if you said that I am unclean because I live at Antipas' Court, not because I take care of an animal created by God.” As in their group there were also some Herodians - which has become obvious for some time and it is very amazing, because previously they were in utter disagreement - they replied to me: “We are not judging Antipas' actions, but yours. Also John the Baptist was at Machaerus and was in touch with the king. But he remained just. You instead are an idolater... As people were gathering around us, I controlled myself, as I did not want to excite the people of the city. In fact for some time they have been roused by some false followers of Yours, who incite the people to rebel against those who oppose You, and also by others who commit abuse of power saying that they are Your disciples and are sent by You... »
« That's too much! Master? What will they come to? » John asks excitedly.
« They will not be able to go beyond the limit. I alone will proceed beyond that limit, the Light will shine and no one will be able to doubt any more that I was the Son of God. Come here near Me and listen. But add some wood to the fire first. »
The two are very happy to throw themselves on the thick sheepskin spread on the ground under the feet of Jesus, Who is sitting on the scarlet saddle against the tent fastened to the trunk of the tree. Manaen is almost lying down, one elbow pressed against the ground, his head resting on his hand, looking at Jesus. John sits on his heels, leaning his head on Jesus' chest, embracing Him with one arm, in his usual posture.
« When God created the world, and man, created in His image and likeness, was made its king, He showed all the creatures to man and wanted him to give a name to each of them, in order to be able to tell one from the other. And we read in Genesis “that each name given by Adam was good and was its true name.” And also in Genesis we read that God, after creating Man and Woman, said: “Let us make Man in our image and likeness, that he may be the master of the fish of the sea, of the birds of heaven, of the cattle, of all the Earth and of the reptiles that crawl on the Earth.” And when God created woman, Adam's helpmate, like him made in the image and likeness of God, as it was not convenient that Temptation, lying in wait, should tempt the male created in the image of God and corrupt him even more obscenely, God said to man and woman: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the Earth and conquer it, and be masters of the fish of the sea, of the birds of heaven and of all living animals on the Earth.”, and He also said: “See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are on the Earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit, that they may serve as food for you and for all the animals of the Earth and for the birds of heaven and for everything that moves on the Earth and has in itself a living soul, that they may live.”
The animals and plants, and everything the Creator made to be useful to man, are a gift of love and a patrimony committed to the care of His children by the Father, so that they may use it with profit and gratitude to the Giver of all providence. Therefore they are to be loved and treated with proper care. What would you say of a son, to whom the father gave clothes, furniture, money, fields, houses, saying: “I give you all this for yourself and your successors, that you may have what will make you happy. Use it with love, in memory of my love that gives it to you.”, if they allowed everything to be destroyed or they squandered all their wealth? You would say that they did not honour their father, that they did not love him or his gift. Likewise man must take care of what God with providential love has placed at his disposal. Care does not mean idolatry or immoderate affection for animals or plants, or anything else. Care means feeling of compassion and gratitude for the minor things that serve us and have a life of their own, that is their sensitivity.
The living soul of inferior creatures mentioned by Genesis, is not the same as the soul of man. It is life, simply life, that is, being sensitive to real things, both material and emotional. When an animal dies it becomes insensitive because death is its real end. There is no future for it. But while it lives it suffers cold, hunger, fatigue, it is subject to injuries, to pain, to joy, to love, to hatred, to diseases and to death. And man, in remembrance of God, Who gave him such means to make his exile on the Earth less difficult, must be humane towards animals, his inferior servants. In the Mosaic Book is it not prescribed to have feelings of humanity towards animals, whether they are birds or quadrupeds?
I solemnly tell you that the works of the Creator are to be contemplated with justice. If one looks at them with justice, one sees that they are “good”. And good things are to be always loved. We see that they are given for a good purpose and out of an impulse of love, and as such we can and must love them, seeing beyond the finite being, the Infinite Being, Who created them for us. One sees that they are useful, and are to be loved as such. Nothing, bear this in mind, was made without a purpose in the Universe. God does not waste His perfect Power in useless things. This blade of grass is not less useful than the mighty trunk to which our temporary shelter is fastened. The drop of dew, the little pearl of frost are just as useful as the immense sea. A midge is as useful as the elephant and the worm that lives in the mud is not less useful than a whale. There is nothing useless in Creation. God made everything with a good aim and with love for man. Man must use everything with upright purpose and with love for God, Who gave him everything on the Earth, that it may be subject to the king of Creation.
You said, Manaen, that animals often serve man better than men do. I say that animals, plants, minerals, elements exceed man in obeying, by passively following the laws of creation, or actively following the instinct instilled by the Creator, or surrendering to become tamed for the purpose for which they were created. Man, who should be the pearl of Creation, is too often the ugly thing in Creation. He should be the note most in harmony with the heavenly chorus in praising God, whereas he is too often the dissonant note that curses or blasphemes or rebels or dedicates his song to praise creatures instead of the Creator. It is therefore idolatry, offence, filth. And that is a sin.
So be at peace, Manaen. To have compassion for a horse, that has become wet with perspiration serving you, is not a sin. The tears one makes one's fellow-creatures shed and the uncontrolled love that offends God, Who is worthy of all the love of man, are sins. »
« But do I commit sin by staying with Antipas? »
« Why do you stay there? To have a good time? »
« No, Master. To watch over You. You know: that is why I was going there just now. Because I know that they sent messengers to Herod to incite him against You. »
« Then there is no sin. Would you not prefer to be with Me, sharing My poverty of life? »
« Are You asking me? I said so at the beginning. This night under the tent, the poor food we have relished has no comparison as far as I am concerned. Oh! if it were not necessary to be close to their den to listen to the hisses of snakes, I would stay with You! I have understood the truth of Your mission. I made a mistake one day. It served to make me understand and I will no longer leave justice. »
« See! Nothing is useless. Error also, for those tending to the Good, is a means of achieving the Good. An error falls off like the case of a chrysalis, and out comes a butterfly that is not misshapen, does not stink, does not crawl, but flies seeking calyces of flowers and sunbeams. Good souls are also like that. They may allow themselves to be enveloped by miseries and difficulties for a moment. Then they free themselves and fly from flower to flower, from virtue to virtue, towards Perfection. Let us praise the Lord for His works of continuous mercy, that are active, also unknown to man, in the heart of man and around him. »
And Jesus prays, on His knees, because the low limited tent does not allow any other posture. Then, after kindling the fire in front of the tent and hobbling the horse, they prepare for the night, and make arrangements to watch by turns the fire and the animal, on which Manaen throws the heavy fleece as a mantle to protect it from the night chill.
Jesus and Manaen lie down on the straw and cover themselves with their mantles to go to sleep. John, who is afraid of falling asleep, walks up and down outside the tent adding wood to the fire and watching the horse, which regards him with its intelligent dark eyes and stamps its hooves rhythmically, shaking its head, making the silver chains of the trappings jingly, and crushing aromatic stems of wild fennel growing at the foot of the tree to which it is tied. And as John offers it some which are more beautiful and have come up a little farther away, it neighs with satisfaction and tries to rub its soft pinkish nostrils on the apostle's neck. From afar, in the dead silence of the night, the calm rustling noise of the river is heard.
« And also the third year of My public life has come to its end. Now comes the preparatory period for My Passion. That is, the period in which everything seems confined to few actions and few people. It almost decries My figure and My mission. In actual fact He, Who seemed defeated and rejected, was the hero getting ready for His apotheosis, and around Him were concentrated and elevated to this highest peak not people, but the passions of people.
Everything that preceded and that in certain episodes perhaps seemed aimless to ill-disposed or superficial readers, is now illuminated by its gloomy or bright light. Particularly the most important figures. Those that many will not admit are useful to know, just because they contain the lesson for the present masters, who more than ever are to be instructed to become true masters of the spirit. As I said to John and Manaen, nothing of what God does is useless, not even a thin blade of grass. Thus nothing is superfluous in this work. Neither the magnificent figures nor the weak and gloomy ones. On the contrary, the weak and gloomy figures are more useful to the masters of the spirit than the perfected and heroic ones.
As from the height of a mountain, near its summit, it is possible to take in the whole structure of the mountain and the reasons for the existence of woods, torrents, meadow and slopes, to reach the peak from the plain, and one can see all the beauty of the sight, and is more deeply convinced that the works of God are all useful and wonderful, and that one serves and completes another, and they are all present to form the beauty of Creation; thus, always with regard to those whose spirits are righteous, all the different figures, episodes, lessons of these three years of My life spent in evangelizing, contemplated from the height of the summit of My work as a Master, serve to give the right view of that complex, which is political, religious, social, collective, spiritual, selfish to the extent of being criminal, or unselfish to the point of sacrifice, in which complex I was a Master and in which I became the Redeemer. The grandiosity of a drama is not seen in one scene, but in all its parts. The figure of the protagonist emerges from the different lights by which secondary parts illuminate it.
We are now close to the summit, and the summit was the Sacrifice for which I became incarnate, and as all the most secret feelings of hearts and all the intrigues of sects have been disclosed, we can only do what the wayfarer does when he reaches the summit, that is, to look at everything and everybody; to become acquainted with the Jewish world; to know what I was: the Man above senses, selfishness, hatred, the Man Who had to be tempted by all sorts of people to take vengeance, to seek power, to wish for the honest delights of marriage and family life, the Man Who had to put up with everything living in the world and suffer by it, because infinite was the distance between the imperfection and sin of the world and My Perfection, the Man Who replied “No” to all the voices, to all the allurements, to all the reactions of the world, of Satan and of My human ego. And I remained pure, loyal, merciful, humble, obedient even to death on a Cross.
Will all this be understood by modern society, to which I grant this knowledge of Myself to strengthen it against the more and more powerful attacks of Satan and the world? Also nowadays, as twenty centuries ago, those to whom I reveal Myself will contradict one another. Once again I am the sign that is rejected. But not with regard to Myself, but with regard to what I stir up in them. Good people, those of good will, will have the good reactions of the shepherds and of humble people. The others will react in a wicked manner, like the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and priests of those days. One gives what one has. A good person who comes in touch with wicked people provokes a surge of greater wickedness in them. And judgement will be passed on men as it was done on Good Friday, according to how they have judged, accepted and followed the Master, Who with a fresh attempt of infinite mercy has made Himself known once again.
How many people's eyes will open and how many will acknowledge Me saying: “It is He. That is why our hearts burnt within us as He talked and explained the Scriptures to us.”? My peace to them and to you, My little, faithful, loving John. »