30: The Adoration of the Shepherds.
7th June 1944. Eve of Corpus Christi.
I am writing in the presence of my Jesus-Master. He is here for me, all for me. He has come back, after such a long time, all for me.
You will say: "How? You have been hearing and seeing for almost a month and you say that He is with you after a long time?"
I will reply once again telling you what I have already told you several times both by word of mouth and in writing.
There is a difference between seeing and hearing. And above all there is a difference between seeing and hearing on behalf of other people, and seeing and hearing all for myself, exclusively for myself. In the former case I am a spectator and I repeat what I see and hear, but if that gives me joy because they are always things which bring great joy, it is also true that it is, so to say, an external joy. The word is a bad expression of what I feel so clearly. But I cannot find a better one. In brief, just imagine that my joy is like that of one who reads a lovely book or sees a beautiful scene. One is moved, enjoys it, admires its harmony and thinks: "How lovely it is to be in the place of this person!" Instead in the latter case, that is, when I hear and see for myself, then I am "that person.-" The word that I hear is for me, the person I see is for me. It is He and I, Mary and I, John and I. Alive, real, true, close to each other. Not in front of me, as if I were watching a film being shown, but beside my bed, or moving about my room, or leaning on pieces of furniture, or sitting, or standing, like real people alive, as my guests, which is quite different from a vision on behalf of everybody. In a word all that "is mine"
And Jesus is here today, in actual fact He has been here since Yesterday afternoon, in His usual white woollen garment, which is rather ivory-white, and is so different in weight and shade from the magnificent one which He wears in Heaven and which seems to be made of immaterial linen, and is so white that it seems to be woven with yarn as clear as light. He is here with His long tapering fingers which are white verging to old ivory, with His handsome long pale face in which His dominating sweet eyes of dark sapphire shine between His thick brown eyelashes sparkling with blond-red reflections. He is here with His long soft hair, which is brighter blond-red where exposed to light and darker in the deep folds. He is here! He is here! And He is smiling at me while I write about Him. As He used to do at Viareggio… and as He stopped doing as from the Holy Week… causing all the distress which almost became a fever of despair, when in addition to the grief of being deprived of Him I was also bereft of the comfort of living where at least I had seen Him and I could say: "He used to lean there, to sit down here, here He bent to lay His hand on my head" and where my relatives had died.
Oh! unless one has experienced that, one cannot understand! It is not a question of pretending to have all that. We know very well that they are gratuitous graces and that we do not deserve them, neither can we expect them to last when they are granted to us. We know that. And the more they are given to us, the more we lower ourselves in humility, acknowledging our disgusting misery as compared with the Infinite Beauty and Divine Wealth which bestows itself upon us. But what do you think, Father? Does a son not wish to see his father and mother? Or a wife her husband? And when death or a long absence prevents them from seeing their dear ones, do they not suffer and do they not find comfort by living where they lived, and if they have to leave that place, do they not suffer twice as much, as they lose also the place where their love was reciprocated by the absent relative? Can those who suffer thus be reproached? No. And what about me? Is Jesus not my Father and Spouse? Dearer, much dearer than the dearest father and spouse?
And that He is such to me, you can judge by how I behaved at my mother's death. I suffered, you know? I still weep, because I loved her, notwithstanding her character. But you know how I got over that difficult hour. Jesus was there. And He was dearer to me than my mother. Shall I tell you something? I suffered and I am suffering more now because of my mother's death, which took place eight months ago, than I suffered then . Because during these last two months I have been without Jesus for me and without Mary for me, and also now, if They leave me for a moment, I feel more than ever the desolation of being a sick orphan and I fall again into the deep human grief of those cruel days. I am writing while Jesus is looking at me and therefore I am not exaggerating or distorting anything. In any case it is not my custom, and even if it were, it would be impossible to persist in it while He is watching me.
I have written this here, where it is not my habit to do so, because with regard to Mary's visions I never interpose my poor ego, as I already know that I must continue describing Her glories. Was Her Maternity not a crown of glories every moment? I am very ill and it is burdensome for me to write. And afterwards I feel extremely weak. But in order to make Her known, so that She may be loved more, I disregard everything. Are my shoulders aching? Is my heart giving in? Am I suffering from a racking headache? Is my temperature rising? It does not matter! Let Mary be known, beautiful and dear as I see Her through God's kindness and Hers, and that is enough for me.
Later I see a very wide country. The moon is at its zenith and she is sailing smoothly in a sky crowded with stars. They look like diamond studs fixed to a huge canopy of dark blue velvet and the moon is smiling in the middle of them with her big white face, from which streams of light descend and make the earth white. The barren trees seem taller and darker against so white a ground, whereas the low walls which rise here and there on the boundaries, look as white as milk and a little house far away seems a block of Carrara marble.
On my right I see a place enclosed by a thorn-bush hedge on two sides and by a low rugged wall on the other two. The wall supports a kind of low wide shed, which inside the enclosure is built in masonry and part in wood, as if in summer the wooden part should be removed and the shed should become a porch. From the enclosure intermittent short bleatings can be heard now and again. It must be the little sheep which dream or perhaps sense that it is almost daybreak because of the very bright moonlight. The brightness is intense to an excessive degree and it is increasing more and more as if the planet were coming near the earth or were sparkling because of a mysterious fire.
A shepherd looks out of the door, and lifting one arm to his forehead to shield his eyes, he looks up. It seems improbable that one should protect one's eyes from moonlight. But the moonlight in this case is so bright that it blinds people, particularly those who come out from a dark enclosure. Everything is calm. But the bright moonlight is surprising. The shepherd calls his companions. They all come to the door: a group of hairy men of various ages. Some are just teenagers, some are already white haired, They comment on the strange event and the younger ones are afraid. One in particular, a boy about twelve years old, starts crying, and the older shepherds jeer at him.
"What are you afraid of, you fool?" the oldest man says to him. "Can't you see that the air is very quiet? Have you never seen clear moonlight? You have always been tied to your mother's apronstrings, haven't you? But there are many things for you to see! Once, I had gone as far as the Lebanon mountains, even farther. High up. I was young, and walking was a pleasure. And I was also rich, then… one night I saw such a bright light that I thought Elijah was about to come back in his chariot of fire. And an old man, he was the old man then – said to me: “A great adventure is about to take place in the world.” It was for us a misadventure, because the Roman soldiers came. Oh! Many things you will see, if you live long enough."
But the little shepherd is no longer listening to him. He looks as if he is no longer frightened, because he leaves the threshold and steals from behind the shoulders of a brawny herdsman, behind whom he had previously sought shelter, and goes out on to the grassy fold in front of the shed. He looks up and walks about like a sleep-walker or one hypnotised by something that compellingly attracts him. At a certain moment he shouts: "Oh!" and remains petrified with his arms slightly stretched out. His mates look at one another dumbfounded.
"But what is the matter with the fool?" says one.
"I will send him back to his mother tomorrow. I don't want mad people as guardians of the sheep" says another.
And the old man who had spoken earlier says: "Let us go and see before we judge him. Call also the others who are sleeping and bring your sticks. It might be a wild animal or some robber…"
They go in, they call the other shepherds and they come out with torches and clubs. They join the boy.
"There, there" he whispers smiling. "Above the tree, look at the light that is coming. It seems to be coming on the ray of the moon. There it is, it is coming near. How beautiful it is!"
"I can only see a rather brighter light."
"So can I."
"So can I" say the others.
"No. I see something like a body" says one whom I recognise to be the shepherd who gave the milk to Mary.
"It is… it is an angel!" shouts the boy. "Here he is, he is coming down, he is coming near… Down! On your knees before the angel of God!"
A long and venerable "Oh!" comes from the group of shepherds, who fall down face to the ground and the older they are, the more they appear to be crushed by the refulgent apparition. The young ones are on their knees, looking at the angel who is coming nearer and nearer, and then he stops mid-air above the enclosure wall, waving his large wings, a pearly brightness in the white moonlight surrounding him.
"Do not fear. I am not bringing you misfortune. I announce you a great joy for the people of Israel and for all the people of the world." The angelic voice is the harmony of a harp and of singing nightingales.
"Today, in the City of David, the Saviour has been born!" In saying so, the angel spreads out his wings wider and wider, moving them as a sign of overwhelming joy, and a stream of golden sparks and precious stones seem to fall from them: a real rainbow describing a triumphal arch above the poor shed. "… the Saviour, Who is Christ." The angel shines with a brighter light. His two wings, now motionless, pointed upright towards the sky like two still sails on the sapphire of the sea, seem two bright flames ascending to Heaven. "… Christ, the Lord!" The angel gathers his sparkling wings and covers himself with them as if they were a coat of diamonds on a dress of pearls, he bows down in adoration, with his arms crossed over his heart, while his head bent down as it is, disappears in the shade of the tops of the folded wings. Only an oblong bright motionless form can be seen for a few moments. But now he stirs. He spreads out his wings, lifts his head, bright with a heavenly smile, and says: "You will recognise Him from the following signs: in a poor stable, behind Bethlehem, you will find a baby in swaddling clothes, in a manger for animals, because no roof was found for the Messiah in the city of David." The angel becomes grave, almost sad, in saying that. But from the Heavens many angels – oh! how many! – come down, all like him – a ladder of angels descending and rejoicing and dimming the moonlight with their heavenly brightness. They all gather round the announcing angel, fluttering their wings, exhaling perfumes, playing notes in which the most beautiful voices of creation find a recollection, but elevated to uniform perfection. If painting is the expression of matter to become light, here melody is the expression of music to give men a hint of the beauty of God. To hear this melody is to know Paradise, where everything is harmony of love which emanates from God to make the blessed souls happy, and then from them returns to God to say to Him: "We love You!"
The angelical "Glory" spreads throughout the quiet country in wider and wider circles and the bright light with it. And the birds join their singing to greet the early light, and the sheep add their bleatings for the early sun. But, as previously in, the grotto for the ox and the donkey, I love to believe that the animals are greeting their Creator, Who has come down among them to love them both as a Man and as God.
The singing slowly fades away, as well as the light, and the angels ascend to Heaven…
The shepherds come back to reality.
"Did you hear?"
"Shall we go and see?"
"And what about the animals?"
"Oh! Nothing will happen to them! We are going to obey God's word!…"
"But where shall we go?"
"Didn't he say that He was born today? And that they did not find lodgings in Bethlehem?" It's the shepherd who gave the milk, who is speaking now. "Come with me, I know where He is. I saw the woman and I felt sorry for Her. I told them where to go, for Her sake, because I thought they might not find lodgings, and I gave the man some milk for Her. She is so young and beautiful, and She must be as good and kind as the angel who spoke to us. Come. Let us go and get some milk, cheese, lambs and tanned hides. They must be very poor… and I wonder how cold He must be Whose name I dare not mention! And imagine! I spoke to the Mother as I would have spoken to a poor wife!…" They go into the shed and they come out shortly afterwards, some with little flasks of milk, some with little nets interwoven with esparto containing small whole round cheeses, some with baskets, each containing a little bleating lamb and some with tanned hides.
"I am taking them a sheep. She lambed a month ago. Her milk is very good. It will be useful if the woman should have no milk. She seemed a young girl to me and so pale! A jasmine face in moonlight" says the shepherd who gave the milk. And he leads them.
They set out in the moonlight aided by their torches, after closing the shed and the enclosure. They go along country paths, among thorn-bush hedges stripped by winter.
They go round Bethlehem. They reach the stable not the way Mary came, but from the opposite direction, so that they do not pass in front of the better stables, instead they find this one first. They go near the hole.
"I wouldn't dare!"
"You go in!"
"At least have a look."
"You, Levi, who saw the angel first, obviously because you are better than we are, look in." Before they said he was mad… but now it suits them if he dare what they do not.
The boy hesitates, but then he makes up his mind. He goes near the hole, pulls the mantle a little to one side, looks… and remains enraptured.
"What can you see?" they ask him anxiously in low voices.
"I can see a beautiful young woman and a man bending over a manger and I can hear… I can hear a little baby crying, and the woman is speaking to Him in a voice… oh! what a voice!"
"What is She saying?"
"She is saying: “Jesus, little one! Jesus, love of Your Mummy! Don't cry, little Son..”.. She is saying: “Oh! If I could only say to You: 'Take some milk, little one'. But I have not got any yet..”.. She says: “You are so cold, My love! And the hay is stinging You! How painful it is for Your Mummy to hear You crying so, without being able to help You!.”.. She says: “Sleep, soul of Mine! Because it breaks My heart to hear You crying and see Your tears!” and She kisses Him, and She must be warming His little feet with Her hands, because She is bent with Her arms in the manger."
"Call Her! Let them hear you."
"I won't. You should call Her, because you brought us here and you know Her!"
The shepherd opens his mouth, but he only utters a faint moaning noise. Joseph turns round and comes to the door. "Who are you?"
"Shepherds. We brought you some food and some wool. We have come to worship the Saviour."
They go in, and the stable becomes brighter because of the light of the torches. The older men push the young ones in front of them.
Mary turns round and smiles. "Come" She says. "Come!", and She invites them with Her hand and Her smile, and She takes the boy who saw the angel and She draws him to Herself, against the manger. And the boy looks, and is happy.
The others, invited also by Joseph, move forward with their gifts and they place them at Mary's feet with few deep-felt words. They then look at the Baby Who is weeping a little and they smile moved and happy.
And one of them, somewhat bolder than the rest, says: "Mother, take this wool. It's soft and clean. I prepared it for my child who is about to be born. But I offer it to You. Lay your Son in this wool. It will be soft and warm." And he offers the sheep hide, a beautiful hide, well covered with white soft wool.
Mary lifts Jesus, and puts it round Him. And She shows Him to the shepherds, who, kneeling on the hay on the ground, look at Him ecstatically!
They become bolder, and one suggests: "He should be given a mouthful of milk, better still, some water and honey. But we have no honey. We give it to little babies. I have seven children, and I know…"
"There is some milk here. Take it, Woman."
"But it is cold. It should be warm. Where is Elias? He has the sheep."
Elias must be the shepherd who gave the milk. But he is not there. He remained outside and is looking from the hole, but he cannot be seen in the dark night.
"Who led you here?"
"An angel told us to come, and Elias showed us the way. But where is he now?
The sheep declares his presence with a bleat.
"Come in. You are wanted." He enters with his sheep, embarrassed because they all look at him.
"It's you!" says Joseph, who recognizes him, and Mary smiles at him saying: "You are good."
They milk the sheep and with the hem of a piece of linen dipped into the warm creamy milk, Mary moistens the lips of the Baby Who sucks the sweet cream. They all smile, and even more so, when Jesus falls asleep in the warmth of the wool, with the little bit of linen still between His lips.
"But You can't stay here. It's cold and damp. And… there is too strong a smell of animals. It's not good… it's not good for the Saviour."
"I know" replies Mary with a deep sigh. "But there is no room for us in Bethlehem."
"Take heart, Woman. We will look for a house for You."
"I will tell my mistress" says Elias. "She is good. She will receive You, even if she had to give You her own room. As soon as it is daylight, I will tell her. Her house is full of people. But she will find room for You."
"For My Child, at least. Joseph and I can lie also on the floor. But for the Little One…"
"Don't worry, Woman. I will see to it. And we will tell many people what we were told. You will lack nothing. For the time being, take what our poverty can give You. We are shepherds…"
"We are poor, too. And we cannot reward you" says Joseph.
"Oh! We don't want it. Even if You could afford it, we would not want it. The Lord has already rewarded us. He promised peace to everybody. The angels said: “Peace to men of good will.” But He has already given it to us, because the angel said that this Child is the Saviour, Who is Christ, the Lord. We are poor and ignorant, but we know that the Prophets say that the Saviour will be the Prince of Peace. And he told us to come and adore Him. That is why He gave us His peace. Glory be to God in the Most High Heaven and glory to His Christ here, and You are blessed, Woman, Who gave birth to Him: You are holy, because You deserved to bear Him! Give us orders as our Queen, because we will be happy to serve You. What can we do for You?"
"You can love My Son, and always cherish the same thoughts as you have now."
"But what about You? Is there anything You wish? Have You no relatives whom You would like to inform that He has been born?"
"Yes, I have them. But they are far away. They are at Hebron…"
"I will go" says Elias. "Who are they?"
"Zacharias, the priest, and My cousin Elizabeth."
"Zacharias? Oh! I know him well. In summer I go up those mountains because the pastures are rich and beautiful, and I am a friend of his shepherd. When I know you are settled, I will go to Zacharias."
"Thank you, Elias."
"You need not thank me. It is a great honour for me, a poor shepherd, to go and speak to the priest and say to him: “The Saviour has been born.”"
"No. You must say to him: “Your cousin, Mary of Nazareth, has said that Jesus has been born, and that you should come to Bethlehem.”"
"I will say that."
"May God reward You. I will remember you, Elias, and every one of you."
"Will You tell Your Baby about us?"
"I certainly will."
"I am Elias.", "And I am Levi.", "And I am Samuel.", "And I Jonah.", "And I Isaac.", "And I Tobias.", "And I Jonathan.", "And I Daniel.", "And I Simeon.", "My name is John.", "I am Joseph and my brother Benjamin, we are twins."
"I will remember your names."
"We must go… But we will come back… And we will bring others to worship Him."
"How can we go back to the sheep-fold, leaving the Child?"
"Glory be to God Who has shown Him to us!"
"Will You let us kiss His dress?" asks Levi, with an angelic smile. And Mary lifts Jesus slowly, and sitting on the hay, envelops the tiny little feet in a linen, and offers them to be kissed. And the shepherds bow down to the ground and kiss the tiny feet, veiled by the linen. Those with a beard clean it first; almost everyone is crying, and when they have to go, they walk out backwards, leaving their hearts there…
The vision ends thus, with Mary sitting on the straw with the Child on Her lap and Joseph who, leaning with his elbow on the manger, looks and adores.
"I will speak today. You are very tired, but have a little more patience. It is the eve of Corpus Christi. I could speak to you about the Eucharist and the saints who became apostles of Its cult, as I spoke to you of the saints who were apostles of the Sacred Heart. But I want to speak to you of something else and of a class of worshippers of My Body who are the forerunners of Its cult. That is: the shepherds. They were the first worshippers of My Body of the Word, Who had become Man.
Once I told you and also My Church says this, the Holy Innocents are the proto-martyrs of Christ. Now I tell you that the shepherds are the first worshippers of the Body of God. And they have all the qualifications to be the worshippers of My Body, o Eucharistic souls.
Firm faith: they believe the angel promptly and unquestioningly.
Generosity: they give all their wealth to their Lord.
Humility: they approach people, who from the human point of view, are poorer than they, and they do so with a modest attitude that does not humiliate them, and they profess themselves their servants.
Desire: what they are unable to offer, they endeavor to obtain by means of charitable work.
Prompt obedience: Mary wishes to inform Zacharias and Elias goes at once. He does not postpone the matter.
Love finally: they suffer in departing from the grotto and you say: “They leave their hearts there.” And you are right.
But should the same not happen with My Sacrament?
And there is another point, and it is entirely for you: note to whom the angel reveals himself first and who deserves to hear Mary's love effusions. Levi: the boy. God shows Himself to those who have a child's soul and He shows them also His mysteries and allows them to hear His divine words and Mary's. And those with a child's soul have also Levi's holy daring and they say: “Let us kiss Jesus' dress.” They say that to Mary. Because it is always Mary Who gives you Jesus. She is the Bearer of the Eucharist. She is the Living Pyx. Who goes to Mary, finds Me. Who asks Her for Me receives Me from Her. When a creature says to Mary: “Give me Your Jesus that I may love Him”, My Mother's smile causes Heaven's colors to change into a more lively brightness because of its greater delight.
Say, therefore, to Her: “Let me kiss Jesus' dress, let me kiss His wounds.” And dare even more: “Let me rest my head on Your Jesus' Heart, that I may delight in It.” Come. And rest. Like Jesus in His cradle, between Jesus and Mary."