5th October 1951.
It is night-time. The moon, at her highest point, with her silvery light illuminates the whole of Gethsemane and the little house of Mary and John. Everything is silent. Even the Kidron, which has become a fine stream of water, makes no noise.
All of a sudden a rustling of sandals can be heard in the deep silence and it becomes more and more distinct and closer, and with it the whispering of some deep masculine voices. Then three people appear from the clump of trees and they direct their steps towards the little house. They knock at the door.
A lamp is lit and a faint flickering light filters through a fissure in the door. A hand opens, a head looks out, a voice, John's, asks: « Who are you? »
« Joseph of Arimathea. And with me are Nicodemus and Lazarus. The hour is indiscreet. But prudence has forced it on us. We have brought something for Mary and Lazarus has escorted us. »
« Come in. I will go and call Her. She is not sleeping. She is praying up there, in Her little room, on the terrace. She likes it so much! » says John, and he quickly climbs the little staircase leading to the terrace and to the room.
The three, who have remained in the kitchen, speak to one another in low voices, in the faint light of the lamp, gathered near the table, still enveloped in their mantles, with the exception of their heads, which they have uncovered.
John comes back in with Mary, Who greets the three saying: « Peace to all of you. »
« And to You, Mary » they reply, bowing.
« Is there any danger? Has anything happened to the servants of Jesus? »
« Nothing, Woman. We have decided to come to give You a thing that – now we know for a certainty, but we had already had a foreboding of it – You wished to have. We did not come sooner, because there has been a contrast of ideas among us, and also between us and Mary of Lazarus. Martha has not declared her opinion on the matter. She only said: “The Lord, either directly, or by inspiring other people to speak, will tell you what to do.” And, actually, we have been told what to do. And that is why we have come » explains Joseph.
« Has the Lord spoken to you? Has He come to you? »
« No, Mother. He has not come any more, after His ascension to Heaven. Previously yes. He appeared to us, and we told You, in a supernatural way, after His resurrection, in my house. On that day He appeared to many people, at the same time, to give proof of His Divinity and of His Resurrection. Then we have seen Him again while He remained among men, but no longer in a supernatural manner, but as the apostles and disciples saw Him » says Nicodemus replying to Her.
« So? How did He show you the way you had to follow? »
« Through the words of one of His favourites and successors. »
« Peter? I do not think so. He is still too frightened, both of his past and of His new mission. »
« No, Mary, not Peter, who, however, is really becoming more and more confident and, now that he knows for which purpose Lazarus has used the house of the Supper room, has decided to begin regular agapes and to celebrate the mysteries regularly on the day after each Sabbath. Because he says that that is now the day of the Lord, as on that day He rose from the dead and appeared to many people to confirm them in their faith in His eternal Nature of God. There is no longer the Sabbath, as it has been for the Hebrews perhaps since the Shabuoth. There is no longer the Sabbath, because there is no longer the synagogue for Christians, but the Church, as predicted by the prophets. But there is still, and there will always be, the day of the Lord, in memory of the Man-God, of the Master, Founder, eternal Pontiff, after being the Redeemer, of the Christian Church. So from the day after the next Sabbath there will be the agapes among Christians, and there will be many of them, in the house of the Supper room. Which was not possible before, both because of the hatred of Pharisees, Priests, Sadducees and scribes, and of the temporary dispersion of many followers of Jesus, shaken in their faith in Him and frightened of the hatred of the Judaeans. But now those who hated us, both because of their fear of Rome, that has found fault with the behaviour of the Proconsul, and of the crowds, and because they consider the “excitement of the fanatics” to be over – that is how they define the faith of the Christians in Christ, owing to the momentary scattering of the believers, truly of a short duration and now completely over, because all the sheep have gone back to the Fold of the true Shepherd – are not keeping such a watchful eye on us, I should say that they take no interest in it, as if it were a dead matter that had come to its end. And that allows us to assemble for the agapes.
We want You to be able, also with regard to the previous one, to have this souvenir of Him to be shown to the believers, in order to confirm them in their faith, without it grieving You too much. » And Joseph hands Her a bulky roll, that enveloped in a dark red cloth, he had held so far concealed under his mantle.
« What is it? » asks Mary, growing pale. « His garments, perhaps? The one I made for Him for… Oh!… » She says weeping.
« At no price could we find them any more. Who knows how and where they ended up! » replies Lazarus. And he adds: « But this is also His garment. His last one. It is the clean Shroud in which the most pure Lord was enveloped after His torture and after the purification, although hurried and relative, of His members soiled by His enemies, and the summary embalming. When He rose, Joseph took both away from the Sepulchre and brought them to us at Bethany to avoid any sacrilegious abuse of them. Jesus' enemies will not dare too much in Lazarus' house. And less than ever since they heard that Rome censured the action of Pontius Pilate. Then after the first days, the most dangerous ones, we gave You the first Shroud, and Nicodemus got the other and took it to his country house. »
« Really, Lazarus, they belonged to Joseph » remarks Mary.
« That is true, Woman. But Nicodemus' house is out of town, so it does not strike the eye so much and it is safer for other reasons » Joseph replies to Her.
« Yes, particularly since Gamaliel with his son pays frequent visits to it » adds Nicodemus.
« Gamaliel!? » exclaims Mary much surprised.
Lazarus cannot help smiling sarcastically while he replies to Her: « Yes. The sign, the famous sign that he was waiting for, to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, has shaken him. No one can deny that the sign was such as to crush even the hardest heads and hearts and make them surrender. And Gamaliel was shaken, crushed and demolished by the most powerful sign, more than the houses that collapsed on Preparation Day, while the world seemed to perish with the Great Victim. Remorse has torn him, more than the veil of the Temple was torn, the remorse for never having understood Jesus for what He really was. The closed sepulchre of his spirit of an old pig-headed Jew has opened, like the tombs that let the bodies of the just appear, and he is now anxiously seeking truth, light, forgiveness, life. The new life. The one that only through Jesus and in Jesus can be obtained. Oh! He will still have to work hard to clear his ancient ego completely of the rubble of his past way of thinking! But he will succeed. He is seeking peace, forgiveness and knowledge. Peace for his remorse and forgiveness for his stubbornness. And full knowledge of Him Whom, when he could, he did not want to know fully. And he goes to Nicodemus to reach the aim that he is now determined to reach. »
« Are you sure that he will not betray you, Nicodemus? » asks Mary.
« No. He will not betray me. After all he is a just man. Remember that he dared to impose himself on the Sanhedrin, during the infamous trial, and that he openly showed his disdain and disgust towards the unjust judges, by going away and by ordering his son to go away in order not to be an accomplice, not even by a passive presence, in that supreme crime. That with regard to Gamaliel.
Then, with regard to the Shrouds, since I am no longer a Hebrew and consequently no longer subject to the prohibition of Deuteronomy concerning carved images and castings, I was thinking of making a statue of Jesus crucified, as best I can – I will use one of my gigantic cedars of Lebanon – and of concealing one of the Shrouds inside it, the first one, if You, Mother, will give it back to us. It would always distress You too much to see it, because the filthiness with which Israel struck the Son of its God is visible on it. Further, certainly because of the shocks it received when descending from Golgotha, shocks that continuously shifted that tortured Head, the image is so confused that it is difficult to distinguish it. But that cloth, although the image is confused and it is dirty, is always dear and sacred to me, because on it there is always some of His blood and perspiration. Hidden in that sculpture it will always be safe, because no Israelite of the high castes will ever dare to touch a sculpture. But the other one, the second Shroud, which was on Him from the evening of Preparation Day until the dawn of the Resurrection, must come to You. And – I am warning You so that You may not be too deeply moved in seeing it – and you must be informed that the more the days passed, the more clearly His image appeared, as He was after being washed. When we collected it from the Sepulchre, it seemed that it simply retained the impression of His members covered with the oils, and, mixed with them, the drainage of blood and serum from the many wounds. But either through a natural process or, which is much more certain, by a supernatural will, a miracle of Him to give joy to You, the more time passed, the more precise and clear the impression has become. He is there on the cloth, handsome, imposing, even if wounded, serene, peaceful, also after so many tortures. Have You the courage to see it? »
« Oh! Nicodemus! That was My supreme desire! You say that His appearance is peaceful… Oh! to be able to see Him thus, not with the tortured expression that is on Nike's veil! » replies Mary, joining Her hands against Her heart.
Then the four shift the table to have more room; then, as Lazarus and John stand on one side, Nicodemus and Joseph on the other, they slowly unfold the long cloth. The dorsal side appears first, beginning from the feet; then after the quasi-junction of the heads, the front side. The lines are very clear, and clear are the signs, all the signs of the scourging, crowning with thorns, rubbing of the cross, bruises caused by blows received or by falls, and the wounds of the nails and of the lance.
Mary falls on Her knees, She kisses the cloth, She caresses those impressions, She kisses the wounds. She is distressed, but visibly happy to be able to have that supernatural miraculous image of Him.
When She finishes venerating it, She turns and says to John, who cannot be near Her, compelled as he is to hold one corner of the cloth: « It was you who told them, John. You alone could tell them, because you alone were aware of this desire of Mine. »
« Yes, Mother, it was I. And I did not even have time to inform them of Your desire, that they agreed to it. But they have had to wait for a suitable moment to do so… »
« That is, a very clear night, in order to be able to come without torches or lamps, and a period of time without the festivities that assemble crowds and notables here in Jerusalem and nearby places. And that out of prudence… » explains Nicodemus.
« And I have come with them for greater safety. As the owner of Gethsemane, I was able to come and see this place without shocking the eyes of anyone… commissioned to watch everything and everybody » says Lazarus concluding.
« May God bless you all. But you have spent the money for the Shrouds… And that is not fair… »
« It is fair, Mother. I, from the Christ, Your Son, have received a gift that no money can buy: life given back to me after four days in a sepulchre, and before that, the conversion of my sister Mary. Joseph and Nicodemus have had from Jesus the Light, the Truth, the Life that does not die. And You… You, with Your sorrow of a Mother and Your love of the Most holy Mother for all men, have purchased for God, not a cloth, but the whole Christian world that will always be greater and greater. There is no money that can compensate You for what You have given. So take this, at least. It is Yours. And it is just that it should be so. Also Mary, my sister, thinks so. That has always been her opinion, since the moment that He rose and even more since He left You to ascend to His Father » Lazarus replies to Her.
« Then let it be So. will go and get the other one. It in fact grieves Me so much to see it… This one is different. This one gives peace! Because here He is serene, in peace by now. In His mortal sleep, He already seems to be feeling the Life that is coming back and the glory that no one will ever be able to strike and demolish. I now wish nothing else, apart from being reunited to Him. But that will happen when and as God has predisposed. I am going. And may God give you one hundred times as much joy as you have given Me. »
She takes the Shroud reverently, after the four have folded it, She goes out of the kitchen and quickly climbs the little staircase… And She soon comes down again and comes in with the first Shroud, which She hands to Nicodemus, who says to Her:« May God reward You, Woman. We are going now, as it is almost dawn, and it is wise to be home before its light spreads and people come out of their houses. »
The three venerate Her before going out, and then with quick steps, going back along the road by which they came, they go towards one of the gates of Gethsemane, the one closest to the Bethany road.
Mary and John remain at the door of the little house until they see them disappear, they then go back into the kitchen and close the door speaking to each other in low voices.