31st March 1945.
Mary of Alphaeus goes in cautiously and listens. Perhaps she thinks that the Blessed Virgin has fallen asleep. She approaches Her and bends over Her. And she sees Her on Her knees, with Her face on the floor against the veronica. She whispers: « Oh! poor wretch! She has stayed like that! » She must think that She has fallen asleep like that or She has fainted.
But Mary, ending Her prayer, says: « No, I was praying. »
« On Your knees! In the dark! In the cold! With the window open! See? You are frozen. »
« But I feel so much better, Mary. While I was praying – and only the Eternal knows how exhausted I was after giving strength to so many wavering faiths and enlightening so many minds that not even His death had illuminated – I seemed to smell an angelical scent, a heavenly freshness, a caress of a wing... Only for a moment... Not longer. A drop of pacifying sweetness seemed to be instilled into the sea of myrrh that has been submerging Me furiously for three days now. The closed vault of Heaven seemed to open a little and a beam of bright love seemed to descend upon the Abandoned Mother. And I seemed to hear an incorporeal whisper, coming from an infinite distance, say: “It is really all over.” My prayer, so far desolate, has become more peaceful. It became tinged with the bright peace – oh! just a nuance! – with the bright peace that I used to experience in My contacts with God during My prayers... My prayers!... Mary, did you love your Alphaeus very much, when you were his virgin bride? »
« Oh! Mary!... I rejoiced at dawn saying: “Another night has gone by. One less to wait.” I rejoiced at sunset saying: “Another day is over. Nearer is my entrance into his house.” And as the sun set, I used to sing like a skylark thinking: “He will soon be here.” And when I saw him come, looking as handsome as my Judas – that is why Judas is my favourite – but with the eyes of a deer in love like my James, oh! then I no longer knew where I was! And when he greeted me saying: “My sweet bride!” and I was able to say to him: “My Lord”, then I... I think that, if at that moment I had been crushed by a heavy cart or struck by an arrow, I would have felt no pain. And later!... When I became his wife... Ah!... » Mary is lost in the ecstasy of recollections. She then asks: « But why that question? »
« To explain to you what My prayers were for Me. Multiply your feelings by one hundred, raise them to thousands powers, and you will understand what prayer and the wait for the hour of prayer have always been for Me... Of course, I think that, even if I did not pray in the peace of the grotto or of My room, but I was intent on the work of a woman, My soul prayed incessantly... But when I was able to say: “Well, the hour to collect My thoughts in God is coming”, My heart would burn throbbing fast. And when I got lost in Him... then... No... I cannot explain this to you. When you are in the light of God you will understand... All that had been lost for three days... And it was even more heart-rending than not having My Son any more... And Satan worked on these two wounds, laid one on top of the other, the death of My Son and the abandonment by God, creating a third wound: the terror of the lack of faith.
Mary, I am fond of you and you are relative of Mine. Later, you will tell your sons, the apostles, so that they may persevere in their apostolate and triumph over Satan. I am sure that, if I had accepted the doubt, if I had yielded to Satan's temptation and I had said: “It is not possible for Him to rise from the dead” denying God – because to say that was the same as denying God with His Truth and Power – such a great Redemption would have come to nothing. I, the new Eve, would have bitten once again at the forbidden fruit of pride and of spiritual sense, and I would have destroyed the work of My Redeemer. The apostles will be continuously tempted thus: by the world, by the flesh, by power, by Satan. Let them be firm against all tortures, and the corporal ones will be the lightest, so that they may not destroy what Jesus has done. »
« You, Mary, should tell my sons... What do You expect Your poor sister-in-law to say?! Oh! however! If they had come! That they should run away at first, well!... But later! »
« You know that Lazarus and Simon were ordered to take them to Bethany. Jesus knows everything... »
« Yes... But... Oh! when I see them, I will reproach them severely. They behaved cowardly. That everybody else should behave so is understandable, but not them, my sons! I will never forgive them... »
« Forgive them, forgive them... It was a moment of dismay... They did not believe that He could be captured. He had said so... »
« That is why I will not forgive them. They knew. So they were already prepared. When one knows something, and believes the person who tells it, nothing surprises any more! »
« Mary, also to all of you He said: “I will rise.” And yet... If I could lay your breasts and heads open, on your hearts and on your brains I would see written: “It is not possible.” »
« But, at least... Yes... It is difficult to believe... But we remained on Calvary. »
« Through the gratuitous grace of God. Otherwise we would have run away as well. Longinus, did you hear him? He said: “horrible thing”. And he is a warrior. We, women, all alone with a boy, we resisted through God's direct help. So do not boast about it. It is no merit of ours. »
« And why was it not given to them? »
« Because they will be the priests of tomorrow. So they must know. They must know, having experienced it themselves, how easy it is for a follower of a Creed to lapse into abjuration. Jesus does not want priests like those who are so little so, that they have been His most obstinate enemies... »
« You speak of Jesus as if He had already come back. »
« See? You also admit that you do not believe. So how can you reproach your sons? »
Mary of Alphaeus does not know what to say in reply. She remains with her head lowered and mechanically moves some objects. She finds the little lamp and goes out with it and comes back in after lighting it, and she puts it in its usual place.
Mary is sitting once again near the stretched out veronica. The veronica, in the yellow flickering little flame of the oil lamp acquires a particular liveliness, and the lips and eyes seem to move.
« Are You not taking anything? » asks Mary's sister-in-law, who is somewhat mortified.
« A little water. I am thirsty. »
Mary goes out and comes back... with some milk.
« Do not insist. I cannot. Some water, yes. There is no more water in Me. I think I have no more blood either. But… »
There is a knock at the door. Mary of Alphaeus goes out. People can be heard talking in low voices in the hall, then John looks into the room.
« John. Have you come back? Still nothing? »
« Yes. Simon Peter... and Jesus' mantle... together... At Gethsemane. The mantle... » John falls on his knees and says: « Here it is... But it is all torn and covered with blood. The marks of the hands are Jesus'. Only He had them so long and thin. But it has been torn by teeth, it is very clear that this is the mouth of a man. I think it must have been... it must have been Judas Iscariot, because near the spot where Simon Peter found the mantle, there was a piece of Judas' yellow tunic. He went back there... later... before committing suicide. Look, Mother. »
Mary has done nothing but caress and kiss the heavy red mantle of Her Son, but, pressed by John, She opens it and sees the marks of blood, dark against the red of the Blood, and the tears of the teeth. She trembles and whispers: « How much blood! » She does not seem to see anything but that.
« Mother... the ground is red with it. Simon, who ran up there in the early morning hours, says that there was still fresh blood on the leaves of the grass... Jesus... I do not know... He did not seem to me to be wounded... Where did so much blood come from? »
« From His Body. In the bitter anguish... Oh! Jesus total Victim! Oh! My Jesus! » Mary weeps so distressingly, with an exhausted lament, that the women appear at the door and look in and then they go away. « This, this while everybody was abandoning You... What were you doing, while He was suffering His first agony? »
« We were sleeping, Mother... » John weeps.
« Was Simon there? Tell Me. »
« I had gone to look for the mantle. I had thought of asking Jonah and Mark... But they have run away. The house is closed and everything has been abandoned. So I went down to the walls, to go along all the road we had gone on Thursday... I was so tired that evening, and so grieved, that now I could not remember where Jesus had taken off His mantle. It seemed to me that He had it, then that He did not have it... On the spot where He was arrested there was nothing... Where we three were, nothing... I went along the path taken by the Master... And I thought that also Simon Peter was dead, because I saw him there, all crouched against a rock. I shouted. He raised his head... and I thought he had gone mad, so changed was he. He uttered a cry and tried to run away. But he staggered, blinded by his weeping, and I got hold of him. He said to me: “Leave me. I am a demon. I denied Him. As He said... and the cock crowed and He looked at me. I ran away... I ran here and there through the country, and then I found myself here. And, see? Jehovah made me find His Blood here to accuse me. Blood everywhere. Blood everywhere! On the rock, on the ground, on the grass. I had it shed. Like you, like everybody. But I denied that Blood.” He seemed delirious. I tried to calm him and take him away. But he did not want. He said: “Here. Here. To guard this Blood and His mantle. And I want to wash it with my tears. When there is no more blood on the cloth, perhaps I will go back among the living, beating my breast and saying: 'I have denied the Lord!'” I told him that You wanted him. That You had sent me looking for him. But he would not believe me. Then I told him that You wanted also Judas, to forgive him, and that You were suffering as You were no longer able to do so, because of his suicide. Then he wept more calmly. He wanted to know everything. And he told me that there was still fresh Blood on the grass and that the mantle had been maltreated by Judas, of whose tunic he had found a piece. I let him talk and talk, and then I said: “Come to the Mother.” Oh! how much I had to insist to convince him! And when I thought that I had succeeded in convincing him and I got up to come, he did not want to come any more. He came only when it was getting dark. But when he arrived beyond the gate, he hid once again in a desert vegetable garden saying: “I don't want people to see me. I bear written on my forehead the word: Denier of God.” Now that it is completely dark, I have succeeded in dragging him here. »
« Where is he? »
« Behind that door. »
« Let him come in. »
« Mother... »
« John... »
« Do not reproach him. He is repentant. »
« Do you still know Me so little? Let him come in. »
John goes out. He comes back. Alone. He says: « He dare not. Try to call him Yourself. »
And Mary calls him kindly: « Simon of Jonah, come. » Nothing. « Simon Peter, come. » Nothing. « Peter of Jesus and Mary, come. » A sharp burst of weeping. But he does not go in. Mary stands up. She leaves the mantle on the table and goes to the door.
Peter is crouched outside. Like a dog with no master. He cries so loud and all curled up, that he cannot hear the noise of the door that opens squeaking or the shuffling of Mary's sandals. He realises that She is there when She bends so low as to take his hand, pressed against his eyes, and She compels him to stand up. She goes back into the room dragging him like a little boy. She closes the door and locks it, and bent with sorrow, as he is with shame, She goes back to Her seat.
Peter kneels at Her feet and weeps without restraint. Mary caresses his grey hair, wet with the perspiration of sorrow. Nothing but such caress, until he calms down.
Then, when at last Peter says: « You cannot forgive me. So do not caress me. Because I have denied Him », Mary says:
« Peter, you have denied Him. That is true. You had the courage of denying Him in public. The cowardly courage of doing that. The others... Everybody, except the shepherds, Manaen, Nicodemus and Joseph and John, has only been cowardly. They have all denied Him: the men and women of Israel, except a few women... I will not mention the nephews and Alphaeus of Sarah. They were relatives and friends. But the others!... And they did not even have the satanic courage of lying to save themselves, or the spiritual courage of repenting, weeping, or the more elevated one of acknowledging their error in public.
Your are a poor man. Or rather, you were. As long as you relied on yourself. Now you are a man. Tomorrow you will be a saint. But even if you were not what you are, I would have forgiven you the same. I would have forgiven also Judas, to save his soul. Because the value of a soul, also of one only, deserves every effort to overcome disgust and resentment, to the extent of being crushed thereby. Bear that in mind, Peter. I will repeat it to you: “The value of a soul is such that, at the cost of dying through the effort of suffering to have it close to us, one must hold it so, in one's arms, as I am holding your grey-haired head, if one realises that, by holding it so, it can be saved.” So... Like a mother who, after the father's punishment, presses the head of her guilty son to her heart, and more with the words of her distressed heart that beats with love and sorrow, than with the father's blows, reforms and achieves.
Peter of My Son, poor Peter who have been, like everybody, in the hands of Satan in this hour of darkness, and you were not aware of it, and you think that you had done everything by yourself, come, do come here, on the heart of the Mother of My Son's children. Here Satan can no longer harm you. Here storms abate, and while waiting for the sun, My Jesus, Who will rise to say to you: “Peace to you, My Peter”, the morning star rises, pure, beautiful, and making everything it kisses pure and beautiful, as happens on the clear waters of our sea in the fresh spring mornings. That is why I have wished so much to have you. At the foot of the Cross, I was tortured because of Him and of you and – how come you did not perceive it? – and I called your spirits so loud that I think they really came to Me. And closed in My heart, or rather, laid on My heart, like the loaves of the offering, I held them under the bath of His Blood and His tears. I was able to do so, because, in John, He made Me the Mother of all His progeny... How much I longed for you!... That morning, in that afternoon, at night and the following day... Why, poor Peter, wounded and trampled on by the Demon, did you keep a mother waiting so long? Do you not know that it is the task of mothers to tidy up, cure, forgive and lead their children? I will lead you to Him.
Would you like to see Him? Would you like to see His smile, to be convinced that He still loves you? Would you? Oh! then move away from My poor lap of a woman, and lay your forehead on His crowned forehead, your lips on His wounded lips and kiss your Lord. »
« He is dead... I shall never be able. »
« Peter. Reply to Me. Which do you think is the last miracle of your Lord? »
« The Eucharist. No. That of the soldier cured there... there... Oh! do not remind me!... »
« A faithful, loving strong woman met Him on Calvary and wiped His Face. And He, to tell us how much love can do, impressed the image of His Face on the linen cloth. Here it is, Peter. A woman achieved that, in an hour of hellish darkness and of divine wrath. Simply because she loved. Bear that in mind, Peter, for the hours in which the Demon will seem to you to be stronger than God. God was the prisoner of men, He was already overwhelmed, condemned, scourged, He was already dying... And yet, as God is always God even among the most cruel persecutions, and if the Idea is struck, God Who inspires it is untouchable, so God to deniers, to unbelievers, to the men of the foolish “whys”, of the guilty “it cannot be”, of the sacrilegious “what I do not understand is not true”, replies, without any words, with this cloth. Look at it. One day, you told Me, you said to Andrew: “The Messiah showed Himself to you? It cannot be true”, and then your human reason had to bend before the power of the spirit, that saw the Messiah where reason did not see Him. On another occasion, on the stormy sea, you asked: “Shall I come, Master?” and then, when you were half way, on the agitated water, you became doubtful saying: “Water cannot hold me” and, with your doubt as ballast, you were almost drowned. Only when the spirit that believed prevailed against human reason, you were able to find the help of God. On another occasion you said: “If Lazarus has been dead four days, why have we come? To die in vain?” Because with your human reason you could not suppose any other solution. And your reason was disproved by the spirit, that by pointing out to you, through the man raised from the dead, the glory of Him Who had raised him, showed you that you had not gone there in vain. Another time, many other times, upon hearing your Lord speak of death, and a cruel death, you said: “That will never happen to You!” And you can see how your reason has been given the lie. I now wait to hear the word of your spirit in this last case... »
« Forgive me. »
« No. Another word. »
« I believe. »
« Another one. »
« I don't know... »
« I love. Peter, love. You will be forgiven. You will believe. You will be strong. You will be the Priest, not the Pharisee who oppresses and has nothing but formalism and lack of active faith. Look at Him. Dare to look at Him. Everybody has looked at Him and venerated Him. Even Longinus... And would you not be able? And yet you were able to deny Him! If you do not recognise Him now, through the fire of My motherly loving sorrow that joins you and reconciles you, you will never be able again. He rises from the dead. How will you be able to look at Him in His new splendour, if you do not know His face in the passage from the Master you know to the Triumpher Whom you do not know? Because sorrow, all the Sorrow of ages and of the world, has worked on Him with chisel and mallet in the hours from Thursday evening to the ninth hour on Friday. And they have changed His Face. Previously He was only the Master and Friend. Now He is the Judge and King. He has ascended on His throne to judge. And He has put on His crown. He will remain so. The only difference is that after His glorious Resurrection, He will no longer be the Man Judge and King, but the God Judge and King. Look at Him. Look at Him while Humanity and Sorrow veil Him, in order to be able to look at Him when He triumphs in His Divinity. »
Peter at last raises his head from Mary's lap and looks at Her, with his eyes red with weeping, in the face of an old child, who is desolate and surprised at the evil he has done and at all the good he finds.
Mary compels him to look at his Lord. Then while Peter, as if he were before a living face, says moaning: « Forgive me, forgive me! I do not know how it happened. What happened. I was not myself. It was something that made me be not myself. But I love You, Jesus! I love You, my Master! Come back! Come back! Do not go away like that, without telling me that You have understood me! », Mary repeats the gesture already made in the sepulchral room. Standing, Her arms outstretched, She looks like the priestess at the moment of the offerings. And as there She offered the immaculate Host, here She offers the repentant sinner. She is indeed the Mother of saints and sinners!
Then She makes Peter stand up and continues to console him. And She says to him: « I am now happier. I know that you are here. Go now where the women and John are. You all need rest and food. Go. And be good... » as if he were a boy.
And while in the house, which is calmer this second night after His death and is inclined to go back to the human customs of sleep and food, and has the tired resigned appearance of dwellings where the survivors recover slowly from the blow of death, Mary alone wants to stay up, motionless in Her place, awaiting, in prayer. Always. Always. Always. For the living and for the dead. For the just and the guilty. For the return. The return. The return of Her Son.
Her sister-in-law wanted to stay with Her. But now she is sound asleep, sitting in a corner, with her head leaning against the wall. Martha and Mary go in twice, but then, sleepy as they are, they withdraw into a nearby room, and after a few words, they fall asleep as well... And farther away, in a room as small as a plaything, Salome and Susanna are sleeping, while, on two mats laid on the floor, Peter and John are sleeping noisily. The former still sobbing mechanically at intervals in his snoring, the latter with the smile of a child who is dreaming of a happy vision.
Life resumes its activity and the flesh its rights... Only the Morning Star shines wakefully, with Her love watching near the image of Her Son.
And the night of Holy Saturday passes by thus. Until the crow of a cock, at the first light of daybreak, makes Peter jump to his feet with a shout. And his frightened sorrowful cry awakes those who were sleeping. The truce is over for them and sorrow begins all over again. As for Mary, it only increases the anxiety of Her wait.