30th March 1945.
It dawns with difficulty. And daybreak is strangely delayed, although there are no clouds in the sky. But the stars seem to have lost all their brightness. And the sun, when it appears, is as pale as the moon was during the night. Opaque... Have they perhaps wept as well, as they look so dull, like the eyes of good people who have wept and still weep over the death of the Lord?
As soon as John realises that the Gates are open, he goes out, turning a deaf ear to his mother's entreaties. The women barricade themselves in the house, even more frightened now that also the Apostle has gone away.
Mary, still in Her room, Her hands resting in Her lap, looks fixedly out of the window, which opens on a not very large garden, but quite spacious and full of roses in bloom along the high walls and the bizarre flower-beds. The tufts of lilies, instead, are still without the stalks of the future flowers: thick and beautiful, but with nothing but leaves. She looks and looks, but I think that She does not see anything, except what there is in Her poor tired brain: the agony of Her Son.
The women go backwards and forwards. They approach Her, they caress Her, they beg Her to take some refreshment, and each time, as they come, there is a wave of a heavy, compound, stunning perfume.
And each time Mary thrills. But nothing else. She does not speak. She does not make a gesture. Nothing. She is exhausted. She is waiting. It is only a wait. She is the One Who awaits.
There is a knock at the door... The women rush to open. Mary turns round on Her seat, without standing up, and stares at the half-open door.
The Magdalene goes in. « Manaen is here... He would like to be useful in some way. »
« Manaen... Let him come in. He was always good. But I did not think that it was he... »
« Who did You think, Mother!... »
« Later... later. Let him come in. »
Manaen goes in. He is not as pompous as usual. He is wearing a very common tunic, of a brown shade which is almost black, and a similar mantle. No jewels and no sword. Nothing. He looks like a well-to-do person, but of the common people. He stoops to greet, first with his hands crossed on his chest, and then he kneels down as if he were in front of an altar.
« Stand up. And forgive Me if I do not reply to your bow. I cannot... »
« You must not. I would not allow that. You know who I am. So I beg You to consider me Your servant. Do You need me? I see that there is no man here. I heard from Nicodemus that they have all run away. There was nothing to be done. That is true. But at least we should have given Him the comfort of seeing us. I... I greeted Him at the Sixtus. And then I was no longer able, because... But it is useless to mention it. That also was wanted by Satan. Now I am free and I have come to put myself at Your service. Give me Your orders, Woman. »
« I should like to know and let Lazarus know... His sisters are worried, and also my sister-in-law and the other Mary. We should like to know whether Lazarus, James, Judas, and the other James are safe. »
« Judas? The Iscariot! But he betrayed Him! »
« Judas, the son of the brother of My spouse. »
« Ah! I will go » and he stands up. But in doing so he makes a gesture of pain.
« Are you wounded? »
« H'm... yes. Nothing serious. An arm is aching a little. »
« Because of us, perhaps? Is that why you were not up there? »
« Yes. That is why. And that is the only thing I regret. Not the wound. The remainder of Pharisaim, of Hebraism, of Satanism that was in me, because the cult of Israel has become Satanism, has all come out with that blood. I am like a baby, that after the excision of the sacred umbelical cord, has no further contact with his mother's blood, and the few drops still remaining in the excised cord do not flow into him, obstructed as they are by the linen string. But they fall... by now useless. The new-born baby lives with his own heart and his own blood. So do I. Till now I was not yet completely formed. Now I have come to the end, and I come, and I was born to the Light. I was born yesterday. My Mother is Jesus of Nazareth. And He gave birth to me when He uttered His last cry. I know... Because I ran to Nicodemus' house last night. I should only like to see Him. Oh! when you go to the Sepulchre, let me know. I will come... I do not know His Face as the Redeemer!
« It is looking at you, Manaen. Turn round. »
The man, who had gone in with his head so lowered and then had had eyes only for Mary, turns round almost frightened and sees the veronica. He throws himself on the floor, worshipping... And he weeps.
He then stands up. He bows to Mary and says: « I am going. »
« But it is the Sabbath. You know. They already accuse us of infringing the Law through His instigation. »
« We are on an equal footing, because they infringe the law of Love. The first and greatest. He said so. May the Lord console You. » He goes out.
Hours go by. How slow they are for those who are waiting...
Mary stands up and, leaning on pieces of furniture, She goes to the door. She tries to walk across the large entrance hall. But when She has nothing to lean on, She staggers as if She were intoxicated.
Martha, who sees Her from the yard, which is beyond the door open at the end of the hall, rushes towards Her. « Where do You want to go? »
« In there. You promised Me. »
« Wait until John comes. »
« Enough of waiting. You can see that I am calm. Since you have had the room locked from inside, go and have it opened. I will wait here. »
Susanna, as all the women have gathered there, goes away to call the master of the house with the keys. Mary in the meantime leans on the little door, as if She wished to open it with the power of Her will. The man arrives. Frightened and downcast, he opens the door and withdraws. And Mary, supported by the arms of Martha and Mary of Alphaeus, goes into the Supper room.
Everything is still as it was at the end of the Supper. The course of events and the instructions given by Jesus have prevented tampering. Only the seats have been put back in their places. And Mary, Who has not been in the Supper room, goes straight to the place where Her Jesus was sitting. She seems to be guided by a hand. And She looks like a sleep-walker, so stiff is She in Her effort to walk... She proceeds. She walks round the couch, She insinuates Herself between it and the table... She remains standing for a moment and then She collapses across the table in a fresh outburst of tears. She then calms down. She kneels down and prays with Her head resting on the edge of the table. She caresses the table-cloth, the seat, the dishes, the edge of the large tray on which the lamb was, the large knife used to carve it, the amphora placed before that seat. She does not know that She is touching what also the Iscariot has touched. She then remains stupified, with Her head resting on Her arms crossed on the table.
All the women are silent, with the exception of Her sister-in-law who says: « Come, Mary. We are afraid of the Jews. Would You like them to come in here? »
« No. This is a holy place. Let us go. Help Me... You have done the right thing in telling Me. I would also like a chest, a beautiful large one with a lock, to close all My treasures in it. »
« I will have it brought to You from our mansion tomorrow. It is the nicest one in the house. It is strong and safe. I give it to You with joy » says the Magdalene promising it.
They go out. Mary is really exhausted. She staggers in climbing the few steps. And if Her grief is less dramatic, it is because it no longer has the strength of being so. But in its quietness it is even more tragical.
They go into the room in which they were previously, and before going back to Her seat, Mary caresses the Holy Face of the veronica, as if it were a face of flesh.
There is another knock at the door. The women hasten to go out and close the door.
In Her tired voice Mary says: « If it is the disciples, and in particular Simon Peter and Judas, let them come to Me at once. » But it is Isaac, the shepherd. He goes in weeping after some minutes and he prostrates himself at once before the veronica and then before the Mother, and he does not know what to say. It is Mary Who says: « Thank you. He saw you and I saw you. I know. He looked at you as long as He could. »
Isaac weeps louder. He can speak only when he has finished weeping. « We did not want to go away. But Jonathan begged us. The Jews were threatening the women... and later we were no longer able to come. It was... it was all over... Where should we have gone then? We scattered through the countryside and at dead of night we gathered together half way between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We thought we would turn His Death away by going towards His Grotto... But then we felt that it was not right to go there... It was selfishness, and we came back towards the City... And we found ourselves, without knowing how, at Bethany... »
« My sons! »
« Lazarus! »
« James! »
« They are all there. Lazarus' fields at dawn were strewn with people who were wandering and weeping... His useless friends and disciples!... I... went to Lazarus and I thought I was the first... Instead your two sons were already there, woman, and yours, with Andrew, Bartholomew, Matthew. Simon Zealot had convinced them to go there. And Maximinus, who had gone out in the country early in the morning, had found more. And Lazarus has helped them all. And he is still doing so. He says that the Master had ordered him to do that. And also the Zealot says so. »
« But Simon and Joseph, my other sons, where are they? »
« I don't know, woman. We had been together until the earthquake. Then... I don't know anything else precisely. Amidst the darkness and lightning and the dead who had risen and the quaking ground and the whirlwind, I lost my head. I found myself in the Temple. And I still wonder how I got there, beyond the sacred limit. Consider that between me and the altar of scents there was only a cubit... Imagine! I was where only the priests on duty are allowed to stand!... And... and I saw the Holy of Holies!... Yes. Because the veil of the Holy is torn from top to bottom, as if the power of a giant had torn it... If they had seen me in there, they would have stoned me. But no one could see any more. I met nothing but ghosts of dead and ghosts of living people. Because we looked like ghosts in the light of thunderbolts, in the bright light of fires, and with terror on our faces... »
« Oh! my Simon! My Joseph! »
« And Simon Peter? And Judas of Kerioth? And Thomas and Philip? »
« I do not know, Mother... Lazarus sent me to see you, because they had told him that... they had killed you all. »
« Well, go at once to reassure him. I have already sent Manaen. But you had better go as well and tell him... tell him that He alone has been killed. And I with Him. And if you see any of the other disciples, take them there with you. But I want the Iscariot and Simon Peter here. »
« Mother... forgive us if we did not do more. »
« I forgive everything... Go. »
Isaac goes out. And Martha and Mary, Salome and Mary of Alphaeus overwhelm him with prayers, recommendations, orders. Susanna weeps silently, because nobody speaks to her of her husband. And that reminds Salome of hers. And she weeps as well.
There is silence again, until there is a further knocking at the door.
Since the town is quiet, the women are not so frightened. But when through the half open door they see Longinus' clean-shaven face appear, they all run away as if they had seen a dead body enveloped in its shroud or the Devil himself. The master of the house, who is idling about the hall curiously, is the first to run away.
The Magdalene, who was with Mary, rushes there. Longinus, with an involuntary mocking smile on his lips, has gone in, and has closed the heavy main door himself. He is not wearing a uniform, but he has on a short grey tunic under a mantle which is also dark.
Mary Magdalene looks at him and he looks at her. Still leaning against the door, Longinus asks: « May I come in without contaminating anybody? And without terrifying anyone? This morning at dawn I saw Joseph, the citizen, and he mentioned the Mother's desire to me. I apologise for not thinking of it myself. Here is the lance. I had kept it as a souvenir of a... of the Saint of Saints. Oh! He is indeed! But it is right that the Mother should have it. With regard to the garments... it is more difficult. Do not tell Her... but perhaps they have already been sold for a few coins... It is the right of the soldiers. But I will try to find them... »
« Come. She is in there. »
« But I am a heathen! »
« It does not matter. I will go and tell Her, if you wish so. »
« Oh! no... I did not think I deserved that. »
Mary Magdalene goes to the Blessed Virgin. « Mother, Longinus is out there... He offers the lance to You. »
« Let him come in. »
The master of the house, who is at the entrance, grumbles: « But he is a heathen. »
« I am the Mother of everybody, man. As He is everybody's Redeemer. »
Longinus goes in and on the threshold he salutes in the Roman way, with his arm (he has taken off his mantle) and then he greets Her saying: « Ave, Domina. A Roman greets you: the Mother of mankind. The true Mother. I would have liked not to be there at... at... at that affair. But it was an order. But, if I serve to give what You wish, I forgive destiny for choosing me for that horrible thing. Here » and he gives Her the lance enveloped in a red cloth. Only the steel head, not the shaft.
Mary takes it and becomes even wanner. Her very lips disappear in the pallor. The lance seems to open Her veins. And Her lips tremble as She says: « May He lead you to Himself. Because of your kindness. »
« He was the only Just Man I ever met in the vast empire of Rome. I regret I only knew Him through the words of my companions. Now... it is late! »
« No, son. He has finished evangelizing. But His Gospel remains. In His Church. »
« Where is His Church? » Longinus is slightly ironical.
« It is here. Today it is struck and scattered. But tomorrow it will gather like a tree that tidies up its foliage after a storm. And, even if there were nobody else, I am here. And the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Mine, is all written in My heart. All I need do is to look at My heart in order to be able to repeat it to you. »
« I will come. A religion that has as its head such a hero can but be divine. Ave, Domina! »
And also Longinus goes away.
Mary kisses the lance where there is still the Blood of Her Son... And She does not want to remove that Blood. But She leaves it saying: « a ruby of God, on the cruel lance »...
The day goes by thus, amid clear spells and threats of storms.
John comes back only when the sun shining perpendicularly tells that it is midday. « Mother, I have not found anybody, except... Judas of Kerioth. »
« Where is he? »
« Oh! Mother! How horrible! He is hanging from an olive-tree, all swollen and black, as if he had been dead for weeks. Rotten. Horrible... Above him vultures, crows, I do not know what, are shrieking fighting atrociously... It was their brawling that called me in that direction. I was on the road of the Mount of Olives, and on a hillock I saw ugly black birds wheel round and round. I went... Why? I do not know. And I saw. How horrible!... »
« How horrible! You are right. But above Goodness there was Justice. In fact Goodness is absent, now... But Peter! But Peter!... John, I have the lance. But the garments... Longinus did not mention them. »
« Mother, I want to go to Gethsemane. He had no mantle on when He was captured. Perhaps it is still there. Then I will go to Bethany. »
« Go. Go for the mantle... The others are with Lazarus. So do not go to Lazarus. It is not necessary. Go and come back here. »
John runs away, without taking any refreshment. Mary also is without any. The women, standing, have eaten bread and olives, working all the time at their balms.
Then Johanna of Chuza comes with Jonathan. Her features are disfigured by tears. And as soon as she sees Mary, she says: « He saved me! He saved me and He is dead. Now I wish I had never been saved! »
It is Our Lady of Sorrows Who has to comfort this woman, who was cured but has remained morbidly sensitive. And She consoles and fortifies her saying: « You would not have known and loved Him, and now you would not be able to serve Him. How much there is to be done in future! And we will have to do it, because you can see... We have remained, and the men have run away. The true giver of life is always the woman. In Good. In Evil. We will generate the new Faith. We are full of it, as it was deposited in us by the Spouse God. And we will generate for the Earth. For the welfare of the world. Look how handsome He is! How He smiles and begs for this holy work of ours! Johanna, I love you, you know that. Do not weep any more. »
« But He is dead! Yes. There He still looks as if He were alive. But He is no longer alive. What is the world without Him? »
« He will come back. Go. Pray. Wait. The more you believe, the sooner He will rise from the dead. That belief is My strength... And only God, Satan and I know how many assaults have been made upon this faith of Mine in His Resurrection. »
Johanna also goes away, weak and bent like a lily too saturated with water.
But once she has gone out, Mary relapses into Her torture. « I have to give strength to everybody. To everybody! And who gives it to Me? » And She weeps, caressing the Face of the image, because She is now sitting near the chest on which the veronica is spread.
Joseph and Nicodemus come. And they spare the women the trouble of going out to buy myrrh and aloe, because they have brought some little bags of them. But their strength yields before the Face impressed on the linen cloth and the ravaged face of the Mother. They sit in a corner after greeting Her and they become silent. They are grave, gloomy... Later they go away.
Mary has no more strength to speak. But the darker it gets, which occurs rather early because of a mass of sultry clouds, the more She is tortured. The shadows of the evening are also for Her, as for all those who suffer, a source of deeper grief.
The other women also become sadder. Particularly Salome, Mary of Alphaeus and Susanna. But at last they have some consolation as Zebedee, Susanna's husband, Simon and Joseph of Alphaeus arrive in a group. The first two remain in the hall, explaining that John found them as he was going through the Ophel suburb. The other two instead were found by Isaac while they were wandering through the countryside, undecided as to whether they should go back to town, or go to their brothers who they supposed were at Bethany.
Simon asks: « Where is Mary? I want to see Her » and preceded by his mother, he goes in and kisses his distressed relative.
« Are you alone? Why is Joseph not with you? Why have you parted? Are you still at variance with each other? You must not. See? The reason of the disagreement is dead! » And She points at the face of the veronica.
Simon looks at it and weeps. He says: « We have never parted again. And we will not part. Yes, the reason of the disagreement is dead. But not as You think. It is dead because Joseph, now, has understood... Joseph is out there... and he dare not come in... »
« Oh! no. I never frighten anybody. I am nothing but mercy. I would have forgiven also the Traitor. But it is no longer possible. He has killed himself. » And She stands up. She walks with a stoop and calls: « Joseph Joseph! »
But Joseph, overwhelmed with weeping, does not reply.
She goes to the door, as She had done to speak to Judas, and leaning on the door-post, She stretches the other hand out and lays it on the head of the eldest and most stubborn of Her nephews. She caresses him and says: « Let Me lean on a Joseph! Everything was peace and serenity as long as I had that name as king in My house. Then My holy man died... And all the human welfare of poor Mary died as well. The supernatural welfare of My God and Son has remained... Now I am the Forlorn wretch... But if I can be embraced in the arms of a Joseph I love, and you know whether I love you, I shall be less forlorn. I shall seem to have gone back in time. And that I can say: “Jesus is absent. But He is not dead. He is at Cana, at Nain, working, but He will soon be back...” Come, Joseph. Let us go in together where He is waiting to smile at you. He left His smile to us to tell us that He bears us no ill-will. »
Joseph goes in, held by the hand by Her, and as soon as he sees Her sat down, he kneels in front of Her, with his head on Her lap and sobbing says: « Forgive me! Forgive me! »
« It is not Me, it is Him you must ask. »
« He cannot forgive me. On Calvary I tried to attract His attention. He looked at everybody, but not at me... He is right... I have known and loved Him, as a Master, too late. Now, it is all over. »
« It begins now. You will go to Nazareth and say: “I believe”. Your faith will have an infinite value. You will love Him with the perfection of future apostles, who will have the merit of loving Jesus known only through the spirit. Will you do that? »
« Yes! I will! To make amends. But I should like to hear a word from Him. And I shall never hear it again... »
« On the third day He will rise and He will speak to those whom He loves. The whole world is awaiting His Voice. »
« You are blessed, since You can believe... »
« Joseph! Joseph! My spouse was your uncle. And he believed something that is much more difficult to believe than this. He did believe that poor Mary of Nazareth was the Spouse and Mother of God. Why can you, the nephew of that Just man after whom you are named, not believe that a God can say to Death: “Enough!” and to Life: “Come back!”? »
« I do not deserve that faith, because I have been bad. I was unfair to Him. But You... You are the Mother. Bless me. Forgive me. Give me peace... »
« Yes... Peace... Forgiveness... Oh! God! Once I said: “How difficult it is to be the 'redeemers' .” Now I say: “How difficult it is to be the Mother of the Redeemer!” Have mercy, My God! Mercy!... Go, Joseph. Your mother has suffered so much during these hours. Console her... I am staying here... With what I have of My Child... And My solitary tears will obtain Faith for you. Goodbye, My dear nephew. Tell everybody that I want to be silent... to think... to pray... I am... I am a poor woman hanging from a thread over an abyss... The thread is My Faith... And your lack of faith, because nobody is capable of believing totally and holily, your lack of faith knocks continuously against My thread... And you are not aware of what exhaustion you induce in Me... You do not know that you are helping Satan to torture Me. Go... »
And Mary remains alone... She kneels before the veronica. She kisses the forehead, the eyes, the lips of Her Son and says: « So! So! To have strength... I must believe. I must believe. On behalf of everybody. »
Night has fallen. A starless, dark, sultry night. Mary remains in the shadow with Her sorrow.
The day of the Sabbath is over.