28th March 1945.
Joseph of Arimathea puts out one of the torches, he has a last look round and goes to the opening of the sepulchre, holding up high the remaining torch still lit.
Mary bends once again to kiss Her Son through His wrappings. And She would like to do so controlling Her grief, to contain it in a form of respect for the Corpse, which, being already embalmed, no longer belongs to Her. But when She is close to the veiled face, She is unable to control Herself and relapses into a new crisis of affliction.
They lift Her with difficulty and with greater difficulty they take Her away from the funereal bed. They rearrange the cloths that had been upset, and carrying Her rather than supporting Her, they take away the poor Mother, Who goes off looking back to see Her Jesus, Who is left alone in the dark sepulchre.
They go into the silent vegetable garden in the evening light. The faint light, that had cleared after the tragedy on Golgotha, is already growing darker, as night is falling. And in there, under the thick branches, although still bare of leaves and just adorned with the white-pink buds of the blossoming apple-trees, strangely late in this orchard of Joseph, whereas elsewhere they are already all covered with open blossoms showing their tiny fruit, it is darker than in any other place.
They roll the heavy sepulchral stone into its lodging. Some long branches of a ruffled rose-bush hanging from the top of the grotto towards the ground seem to be knocking at the stone door saying: « Why are you closing before a weeping mother? » And they also seem to be weeping drops of blood, as they shed their red petals and their corollas lie along the dark stone, and the closed buds knock against the inexorable door.
But soon more blood stains that sepulchral door and more tears wet it. Mary, Who so far has been supported by John and has been sobbing rather quietly, frees Herself from the apostle and with a cry, which I think makes the very fibres of the plants quiver, throws Herself against the entrance, She gets hold of the protruding stone to shift it, She skins Her fingers and breaks Her nails without being successful and prizes the rough stone even with Her head. And Her cry sounds like the roar of a lioness that wounds herself struggling near the trap in which her little ones are closed, being compassionate and wild out of motherly love.
There is nothing left in Her of the meek virgin of Nazareth, of the patient woman, known so far. She is the mother. Only and simply a mother, attached to her child with all the fibres and nerves of her body and of her love. She is the most true « mistress » of that body, to which She has given birth, the only mistress after God, and She does not want to be robbed of Her property. She is the « queen » who is defending Her crown: Her Son.
All the rebellion and rebellious acts that in thirty-three years any other woman would have had against the injustice of the world for her son, all the holy and lawful fierceness that any other mother would have felt during those last hours to wound and kill the murderers of her son with her own hands and teeth, all such feelings, which out of Her love for mankind She has always subdued, now stir in Her heart, they boil in Her blood and, meek as She is even in Her grief that makes Her rave, She does not curse, She does not rebel. She only asks the stone to move aside, to let Her go in, because Her place is in there, where He is. She only asks men, who are pitiless in their pity, to obey Her and to open the sepulchre.
After striking and staining the unrelenting stone with the blood of Her lips and hands, She turns round, She leans against it with Her arms stretched out, gripping the two edges of the stone once again, and solemn in Her majesty of Our Lady of Sorrows, She orders: « Open it! Do you not want to? Well, I am staying here. Not inside? Well, here, outside. Here is My bread and My bed. Here is My abode. I have no other home, no other purpose. You may go. Go back to the world which is disgusting. I am staying where there is no avidity or smell of blood. »
« You cannot, Woman! »
« You cannot, Mother! »
« You cannot, Mary, my dear! »
And they try to detach Her hands from the stone, while they are frightened of those eyes, which they have never seen before flash in such a way that makes them look hard and irresistible, glassy, phosphorescent.
The meek, are not overbearing, and the humble do not persist in pride... And Mary's vehement will and imperious command soon vanish. Her eyes become meek again, like those of a tor tured dove, Her gestures are no longer imposing and She lowers Her head in a beseeching attitude, and joining Her hands She begs them: « Oh! Do leave Me! For the sake of your dead relatives, for the sake of the living ones whom you love, have mercy on a poor mother!... Feel... Feel My heart. It needs peace to stop throbbing so fiercely. It began throbbing thus up there, on Calvary. The hammer went bang, bang, bang... and each blow wounded My Child... and each blow resounded in My brain and in My heart... and My head is full of those blows, and My heart is beating fast, as those blows did on the hands and feet of My Jesus, of My little Jesus… My Child! My Child!... »
She is overwhelmed again by Her torture, which seemed to have been appeased after Her prayer to the Father near the anointing table. They are all weeping.
« I need not to hear shouts or bangs. And the world is full of voices and noises. Every voice sounds to Me like the “great cry” that curdled the blood in My veins, and every noise sounds like that of the hammer striking the nails. I need not to see men's faces. And the world is full of faces... For almost twelve hours I have been seeing faces of killers... Judas... the executioners... the priests... the Judaeans... They are all killers, all of them!... Go away! Go away... I do not want to see anybody any more... In every man there is a wolf and a snake. Man disgusts and frightens Me... Leave Me here, under these quiet trees, on this flowery grass... Before long the stars will begin to shine... They have always been His friends and Mine... Yesterday evening they kept us company in our lonely agony... They know so many things... They come from God... Oh! God! God!... » She weeps and kneels down. « Peace, My God! I am left with nothing but You! »
« Come, my daughter. God will give You peace. But come. Tomorrow is the Passover Sabbath. We shall not be able to come and bring You food... »
« Nothing! Nothing! I do not want any food! I want My Child! I will appease My hunger with My grief, I will quench My thirst with My tears... Here... Can you hear how that horned howl is weeping? It is weeping with Me, and before long nightingales will be weeping. And tomorrow, in the sunshine, wood-larks and blackcaps and all the birds He loved will weep, and doves will come with Me to knock at this stone and say: “Rise, my love, and come! Love, Who are in the large fissure of the rock, in the hiding-place of the ravine, let me see Your face, let me hear Your voice.” Ah! What am I saying! They also, the wicked killers, have called Him with the word of the Canticle! Yes, come, daughters of Jerusalem, to see your King with the diadem with which His Fatherland crowned Him on the day of His wedding with Death, on the day of His triumph as Redeemer! »
« Look, Mary! The guards of the Temple are coming. Let us go away, so that they may not scorn You. »
« The guards? Scorn? No. They are cowardly. Yes, cowardly. And if I, dreadful in My grief, should march against them, they would flee like Satan before God. But I remember that I am Mary... and I will not strike as I would be entitled to. I will be good... and they will not even see Me. And if they see Me and ask Me: “What do You want?”, I will say to them: “The charity of being allowed to breathe the balmy air coming out from this fissure.” I will say: “In the name of your mothers”. Everybody has a mother... also the pitiful robber said so... »
« But these men are worse than robbers. They will insult You. »
« Oh!... And is there still an insult of which I am not aware, after today's? »
It is the Magdalene who finds a reason capable of bending the Sorrowful Mother to obedience. « You are good, You are holy, and You believe, and You are strong. But what are we?... You are aware of it! The majority have run away. Those who have remained are trembling. The doubt, which is already in us, would overwhelm us. You are the Mother. You have not only duties and rights on Your Son, but also duties and rights on what belongs to Your Son. You must come back with us, among us, to gather us together, to reassure us, to infuse Your faith into us. You said so, after Your just reproach for our timidity and misbelief: “It will be easier for Him to rise, if He is free from these useless bandages.” I say to You: “If we succeed in being united in the faith in His Resurrection, He will rise earlier, We will evoke Him with our love… Mother, Mother of my Saviour, come back with us, since You are the love of God, to give us this love of Yours! Do You want poor Mary of Magdala to get lost again, after He saved her with so much pity? »
« No. I would be reproached for that. You are right. I must go back... and look for the apostles... the disciples... the relatives... everybody... And say... say: have faith. Say: He forgives you... Whom have I already told so?... Ah! The Iscariot... I will have to... yes, I will have to look also for him... because he is the biggest sinner... » Mary remains with Her head bent on Her breast, trembling as if She were disgusted, and then She says:
« John, you will look for him. And you will bring him to Me. You must do that. And I must do that. Father, let also this be done for the redemption of Mankind. Let us go. »
She stands up. They leave the half-dark vegetable garden. The guards look at them go out without saying anything.
The road, dusty and thrown into a mess by the stream of people who went along it, striking it with their feet, with stones and cudgels, runs round Calvary and arrives at the main road, which is parallel to the walls. And the traces of what has happened are even clearer here. Twice Mary utters a cry and She stoops to examine the ground in the feeble light, because She seems to see some blood and She thinks it is the blood of Her Jesus. But it is nothing but tatters of cloth torn off, I think, in the confusion of the flight. The little stream, that flows along the road, babbles softly in the deep silence which has fallen everywhere. The town seems to be forlorn, as nothing but silence comes from it.
They are now at the little bridge that leads to the steep Calvary road. And, in front of it, there is the Judicial Gate. Before disappearing in there, Mary turns round to look at the top of Calvary... and She weeps desolately. Then She says: « Let us go. But lead Me. I do not want to see Jerusalem, its streets, its inhabitants. »
« Yes, but let us be quick. They are about to close the Gates and, see? their guards have been reinforced. Rome is afraid of turmoils. »
« Quite rightly. Jerusalem is a den of tigers! It is a tribe of killers! It is a rabble of robbers! And those usurpers aim with their rapacious fangs not only at property, but also at lives. For thirty-two years they have laid snares for the life of My Child... He was a little lamb of milk and roses, with golden curly hair... He could hardly say “Mummy”, and take His first steps, and laugh with His few teeth between His lips of pale coral, when they came to slaughter Him... Now they say that He had blasphemed, and infringed the Sabbath, and incited people to revolt, and aimed at a throne, and sinned with women... But what had He done then? Which blasphemy could He have uttered, if He could hardly call his Mummy? What Law could He infringe, if He, the Eternal Innocent, then was also the little innocent child of man? What revolt could He stir, if He was not even able to be naughty? Which throne could He aim at? He had His throne both on the Earth and in Heaven, and He did not seek any other: in Heaven He had His Father's bosom, on the Earth My lap. He never cast a sensual glance, and you, young beautiful women, can confirm that. But then, but then... His senses were confined to the need of warmth and nourishment, He made love, yes, but to My tepid breast, to lay His little face on it and sleep so, and to My round nipple, from which My love flowed as milk... Oh! My Child!... And they wanted You dead! That is what they wanted to deprive You of: Your life! Your only treasure. They wanted to deprive the Mother of Her Son, and the Son of His Mother, to make us the most miserable and desolate people in the Universe. Why deprive the Living One of His life? Why unduly claim the right to remove this thing that is life: the gift of the flower and of the animal, the gift of man? My Jesus asked nothing of you. Neither money, nor jewels, nor houses. He had a house, a little holy one, and He left it out of love for you, you men-hyenas. For your sake He had given up what even the young one of an animal has, and poor and alone He had gone through the world, without even the bed that the Just One had made for Him, without even the bread His Mother used to make for Him, and He had slept wherever He could and He had eaten as He was able. In the houses of kind people, like every son of man, or on the grass of meadows, watched over by the stars. Sitting at a table, or sharing the grains of corn or wild blackberries with the birds of God. And He did not ask you for anything. On the contrary, He gave you what He had. He only wanted to live, to give you the Life with His word. And all of you, and you, Jerusalem, have deprived Him of His life. Are you sated and fed with His Blood and His Flesh? Or are you not yet satisfied? And you, a hyena after being a vampire and a vulture, do you want to feed on His Corpse, and not yet satisfied with opprobrium and tortures, do you still want to be pitiless and take delight in disfiguring His remains and seeing once again His spasms, His sobs and convulsions in Me, the Mother of the Murdered One? Have we arrived? Why are you stopping? What does that man want of Joseph? What is he saying? »
Joseph, in fact, has been stopped by one of the rare passers-by, and in the dead silence of the deserted town their words are heard very clearly.
« It is known that you have entered Pilate's house. You are a violator of the Law. You will answer for that. Passover is interdicted to you! You are contaminated. »
« And you, too, Helkai. You have touched me and I am all covered with the blood of Christ and with the sweat of His death! »
« Ha! horror! Away, away with that blood! »
« Be not afraid. It has already abandoned and cursed you. »
« And you as well, you cursed one. And now that you are flirting with Pilate, don't think that you can take the Corpse away. We have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the story comes to an end. »
Nicodemus has approached them slowly, while the women have stopped with John, leaning against a closed portal.
« We have seen that » replies Joseph. « Cowards! You are afraid even of a dead body! But of my vegetable garden and of my sepulchre I do what I like. »
« We shall see. »
« We shall see. I will appeal to Pilate. »
« Yes. Fornicate with Rome, now. »
Nicodemus moves forward: « Better with Rome than with the Demon, as you, deicides, do! In any case, tell me: how come you are plucking up courage again? A moment ago you were running away, a prey to terror. Are you recovering already? Is what you had not sufficient yet? Was your house not burnt down? Tremble! The punishment is not over, on the contrary it is coming. Like the Nemesis of the heathens it is impending over you. Neither guards or seals will prevent the Avenger from rising and striking. »
« Cursed! » Helkai runs away and goes and knocks against the women. He realises that and utters a dreadful insult against Mary. John does not say one word. With the leap of a panther he clings to him and knocks him down and, pressing him with knees and holding his hands round his neck, he says to him: « Ask Her to forgive you or I will strangle you, you demon. » And he does not relax his hold until the other, pressed and half choked by John's hands, utters gaspingly: « Forgive me. »
But his cry has attracted the attention of the patrol. « Halt there! What's happening? Further seditions? Stand still, all of you, or you will be struck. Who are you? »
« Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who have been authorised by the Proconsul to bury the Nazarene Who has been put to death, and we are coming back from the sepulchre with His Mother, a son and women relatives and friends. This man offended the Mother and has been compelled to ask Her forgiveness. »
« Only that? You should have cut his throat. You may go. Soldiers, arrest that man. What else do these vampires want? Also the hearts of mothers? Hail Judaeans! »
« How horrible! But they are no longer men... John, be good to them. Take into consideration the memory of Me and of My Jesus. He preached forgiveness. »
« Mother, You are right. But they are criminals and they make me lose my head. They are sacrilegious, they offend You and I cannot allow that. »
« Yes, they are criminals. And they know that they are. Look how few there are in the streets, and how those few slink away. After committing a crime, delinquents are afraid. It horrifies Me to see them flee thus, enter houses and barricade themselves there, out of fear. I feel that they are all guilty of the Deicide. Look over there, Mary, at that old man. He already has a foot in the grave and yet, now that he is illuminated by the light of that door that has opened, I think I saw him march past accusing My Jesus, up there, on Calvary...
He called Him a robber... My Jesus a robber!... That young man, a little more than a boy, uttered obscene blasphemies, invoking His Blood upon himself... Oh! the wretch!... And that man? So brawny and strong, will he have refrained from striking Him? Oh! I do not want to see! Look: the faces of their souls are superimposed on the faces of their bodies and... and they no longer look like men, but like demons... So fearless they were against the Man Who had been tied and crucified... And now they run away, they hide themselves, they shut themselves up. They are afraid. Of whom? Of a dead body. He is nothing but a dead body, as far as they are concerned, because they deny that He is God. So, of what are they afraid? Upon whom are they shutting their doors? Upon remorse. Upon punishment. It is of no avail. Remorse is within you. And it will follow you forever. And the punishment is not a human one. And locks and sticks, doors and bars are of no use against it. It descends from Heaven, from God, the avenger of His sacrificed Son, and it penetrates through walls and doors, and with its heavenly flame it marks you for the supernatural punishment awaiting you. The world will come to the Christ, to the Son of God and Mine, it will come to Him Whom you have pierced, but you will be those marked forever, the Cains of a God, marked as the dishonour of the human race. I, Who was born of you, I, Who am the Mother of everybody, must say that with regard to Me, your daughter, you have been more than step-fathers and that, in the immense number of My children, you are the ones who impose the greatest fatigue on Me in receiving you, because you are soiled with the crime against My Child. Neither do you repent saying: “You were the Messiah. We acknowledge and worship You.” Here is another Roman patrol. Love is no longer on the Earth. There is no more Peace among men. And Hatred and War are agitated like those smoky torches. The rulers are afraid of the unrestrained crowd. By experience they know that, when that wild beast named man has tasted the flavour of blood, he becomes avid of slaughter... But be not afraid of these men. They are neither royal lions nor panthers. They are very cowardly hyenas. They rush upon defenceless lambs. But they are afraid of the lion armed with lances and authority. Do not fear these creeping jackals. The sound of your steps with hobnailed boots puts them to flight and your shining lances make them meeker than rabbits.
Those lances! One of the them slit the heart of My Son! Which of them? Their sight pierces My heart... And yet I should like to have them all in My trembling hands, to see which is the one that still has traces of blood, and say: “It is this one! Give Me it, soldier! Give it to a mother in remembrance of your far away mother, and I will pray for her and for you.” And no soldier would deny Me it. Because they, the men on the war-path, were the best during the agony of the Son and of the Mother. Oh! why did I not think of that up there? I was like one whose head had been struck. It was already stunned by those blows... Oh! those blows! Who will grant Me not to hear them any more, here, in My poor head? The lance... How much I would like to have it!... »
« We can look for it, Mother. The centurion seemed to be very kind to us. I do not think that he will deny us it. I will go tomorrow. »
« Yes, John. I am poor. I have only a little money. But I will deprive Myself of it, to the last farthing, to have that lance... Oh! why did I not ask for it then? »
« Mary, my dear, none of us were aware of that wound... When You saw it, the soldiers were far away. »
« That is true... Grief has made Me feeble-minded. And His clothes? I have nothing of what belonged to Him! I would give My blood to have them... » Mary weeps again desolately.
And She arrives thus in the street where is the Supper room. And it is time, because She is exhausted and She drags Herself along like an old decrepit woman. And She says so.
« Pluck up heart. We have arrived now. »
« Arrived? So short the road that this morning seemed so long? This morning? Was it this morning? Not before? How many hours and how many ages have gone by since I came here yesterday evening and since I left it this morning? Is it really I, the fifty-year-old Mother, or a very aged woman, a woman of many years ago, laden with years on My bent shoulders and on My white hair? I seem to have lived all the sorrow of the world, and that it is all on My shoulders, which bend under its weight. An incorporeal cross, but so heavy! Of stone. Perhaps even heavier than My Jesus'. Because I carry My cross and His with the remembrance of His torture and with the reality of My torment. Let us go in. Because we must go in. But it is no consolation. It is an increase of sorrow. My Son came in through this door for His last meal. And He went out through it to face death. And He had to put His foot where His traitor had put it, when he went out to call those who had to capture the Innocent. I saw Judas at that door... I saw Judas! And I did not curse him. But I spoke to him as a mother whose heart was torn apart. Torn apart because of the good Son and of the wicked one... I saw Judas! I saw the Demon in him! I, Who have always held Lucifer under My heel, and looking only at God I never lowered My eyes on Satan, I recognised his face looking at the Traitor, I spoke to the Demon... And he ran away, because he cannot bear My voice. Will he have left him now? So that I may speak to that dead body and I, the Mother, may conceive him again with the Blood of a God and bring him forth to Grace? John, swear to Me that you will look for him and that you will not be cruel to him. I am not, although I should be entitled to...
Oh! let Me go into that room, where My Jesus had His last meal. Where the voice of My Child spoke His last words in peace! »
« Yes. We shall go. But now, look, come here, where we were yesterday. Have a rest. Say goodbye to Joseph and Nicodemus, who are withdrawing. »
« Yes, I will say goodbye to them. Oh! I say goodbye to them, I thank them. I bless them! »
« Come, do come. You will do so at Your leisure. »
« No. Here. Joseph... Oh! I have not known anybody with this name who did not love Me... »
Mary of Alphaeus bursts into tears.
« Do not weep... Joseph also... It was out of love that your son was mistaking. He wanted to give Me peace in a human way... But today!... You saw him... Oh! all the Josephs are kind to Mary... Joseph, I thank you. And you, Nicodemus... My heart prostrates itself under your feet which are tired because of the long way you have gone for Him... for the last honours paid to Him... I have but My heart to give you... and I give it to you, the loyal friends of My Son... and... and excuse a mother with a pierced heart for the words I spoke to you in the sepulchre... »
« Oh! Holy Mother! Do forgive us! » says Nicodemus.
« Be good, now. Rest in Your Faith. We will come tomorrow » adds Joseph.
« Yes, we will come. We are at Your disposal. »
« It is Sabbath tomorrow » objects the mistress of the house.
« The Sabbath is dead. We will come. The Lord be with you » and they go away.
« Come, Mary. »
« Yes, come, Mother. »
« No. Open. You promised to do so after the greetings. Open this door! You cannot close it to a mother. To a mother who is trying to breathe the smell of the breath, of the body of her child in the air of the room. But do you not know that I gave Him that breath and that body? I, Who carried Him for nine months, Who gave birth to Him, suckled Him, brought Him up and took care of Him? That breath is Mine! The smell of that body is Mine! It is Mine, and it has become more beautiful in My Jesus. Let Me smell it once again. »
« Yes, dear. Tomorrow. You are tired now. You are burning with fever, You cannot. You are not well. »
« Yes. I am not well. Because in My eyes I have the sight of His Blood, and in My nose the smell of His Body covered with sores. Let Me see the table on which He leaned when He was alive and healthy, and let Me smell the scent of His youthful body. Open it! Do not bury Him for the third time! You have already concealed Him under spices and bandages, then you have shut Him up under the stone. Why now deny a Mother the possibility of finding again the last trace of Him in the breath He left beyond this door? Let Me go in. On the floor, on the table, on the seats, I will look for the traces of His feet, of His hands. And I will kiss them, I will kiss them until I consume My lips. I will search... I will search... Perhaps I shall find a fair hair of His head. A hair not encrusted with blood. But do you know what a hair of a son means for a mother? You, Mary of Clopas, you, Salome, are mothers. And do you not understand? John? John? Listen to Me. I am your Mother. He has made Me such. He did! You must obey Me. Open the door! I love you, John. I have always loved you, because you loved Him. I will love you even more. But open the door. Open it, I say! Do you not want to? Do you not want to? Ah! So I no longer have a son!? Jesus never refused Me anything. Because He was My Son. You are refusing. You are not a son. You do not understand My grief... Oh! John, forgive... forgive Me... Open… Do not weep... Open... Oh! Jesus! Jesus!... Listen to Me... Let Your spirit work a miracle! Open to Your poor Mother this door that nobody wants to open! Jesus! Jesus! »
With clenched fists Mary knocks at the little closed door. It is a paroxysm of torture, until She turns pale and, while whispering: « Oh! My Jesus! I am coming! I am coming! », She collapses without strength into the arms of the weeping women, who support Her to prevent Her from falling at the foot of that door, and they carry Her thus into the room in front of it.