167. In the House of Johanna of Chuza. Jesus and the Roman Ladies.
19th May 1945.
Jesus comes off a boat at the wharf at Chuza's garden, helped by a boatman who had taken Him there. A gardener who has seen Him runs to open the gate which closes the entrance to the property on the lake side. It is a strong tall gate, which, however, is concealed by a very thick high hedge of laurel and box on the outer side, towards the lake, and by roses of all colours on the inner side, towards the house. The magnificent rose-bushes decorate the bronze laurel and box leaves, they creep through the branches and peep out on the other side, or they pass over the green barrier and let their flowery heads fall on the other side. Only the central part of the gate, across the avenue, is barren and is opened there to let through people going to or coming from the lake.
"Peace to this house and to you, Joanna. Where is your mistress"
"Over there, with her friends. I will call her at once. They have been waiting for You three days, because they were afraid of being late."
Jesus smiles. The servant runs away to call Johanna. In the meantime Jesus walks slowly towards the place mentioned by the servant, admiring the wonderful garden, one could say the wonderful rosery, which Chuza had built for his wife. Magnificent early roses of all types, sizes and shapes are a blaze of colours in this sheltered inlet of the lake. There are other flower plants. But they are not yet in bloom and their number is minimal as compared to the quantity of rose-bushes.
Johanna arrives. She has not even laid down the basket half full of roses, nor the scissors she was using to cut them, and she runs thus, her arms stretched out, agile and beautiful in her wide dress of very thin woollen material, of a very light pink hue, the folds of which are held in place by silver filigree studs and buckles, decorated with sparkling pale garnets. On her dark wavy hair a mitre-shaped diadem, also in silver and garnets, hold a very light pink byssus veil, which hangs over her back, leaving uncovered her ears, adorned with earrings matching the diadem, her smiling face and thin neck, round which she wears a shining necklace which is made like the rest of her precious ornaments. She drops her basket at Jesus' feet and kneels down to kiss His tunic, among the roses spread on the ground.
"Peace to you, Johanna. I have come."
"And I am happy. They have come, too. Oh! Now I seem to have done the wrong thing by organising this meeting! How will you manage to understand one another? They are heathens!" Johanna is somewhat worried.
Jesus smiles, and laying His hand on her head He says: "Be not afraid. We will understand one another very well. You have done the right thing “by organising this meeting.” Our meeting will be full of blessings as your garden is full of roses. Now, pick up those poor roses which you dropped and let us go to your friends."
"Oh! There is any amount of roses. I was picking them to pass the time and then my friends are so... so voluptuous. They love flowers as if they were... I do not know..."
"I love them, too! See, we have already found a subject on which we can understand one another. Come on! Let us pick up these wonderful roses..." and Jesus bends to set the example.
"Not You! Not You, my Lord! If You really want to... well... it's done."
They walk as far as a bower made by multicoloured interlaced rose-bushes. Three Roman ladies are casting glances at them from the threshold: Plautina, Valeria and Lydia. The first and last ones are hesitant, but Valeria runs out and makes a curtsy saying: "Hail, Saviour of my little Fausta!"
"Peace and light to you and to your friends."
The friends curtsy without speaking.
We already know Plautina. Tall, stately, with beautiful dark, rather authoritative eyes, under a smooth very white forehead, a perfect straight nose, a well shaped rather tumid mouth, a roundish well defined chin, she reminds me of some beautiful statues of Roman empresses. Heavy rings shine on her beautiful hands and large golden bracelets round her statuesque arms, on her wrists and above her elbows which appear pinkish white, smooth and perfect under her short draped sleeves.
Lydia, on the other hand, is fair-haired, thinner and younger. Her beauty is not the stately beauty of Plautina, but she possesses all the grace of feminine youth which is still a little unripe. And since we are on a pagan subject, I could say that if Plautina looks like the statue of an empress, Lydia could well be Diana or a gentle modest looking nymph.
Valeria, who is not in the desperate situation in which we saw her at Caesarea, appears in the beauty of a young mother, rather plumply shaped but still very young, with the quiet look of a mother who is happy to breastfeed her own child and see it grow healthy. Rosy and brown, her smile is a quiet but very kind one. I am under the impression that the two ladies are of a lower rank than Plautina, whom they respect as a queen, as is obvious also from their attitude.
"Were you attending to flowers? Go on, go on. We can talk also while you pick this beautiful work of the Creator, which flowers are, and while you arrange them in these precious vases with the ability of which Rome is mistress, to lengthen their lives, which unfortunately are too short... If we admire this bud, which is just opening its yellow pink petal in a lovely smile, how can we not be sorry to see it dying? Oh! How amazed the Jews would be if they heard Me speak thus! But also in a flower we feel there is something which is alive. And we regret to see its end. But plants are wiser than we are. They know that on every wound caused by cutting a stem a new shoot will grow and it will become a new rose. And so we must learn the lesson and make of our somewhat sensual love for flowers a spur to a higher thought."
"Which one, Master?" asks Plautina, who is listening diligently and is intrigued by the refined thought of the Jewish Master.
"This one. That as a plant does not die as long as its roots are nourished by the soil, it does not die because its stems die, so mankind does not die because one being ends his earthly life. But new flowers are always born. And – a thought which is even higher and will make us bless the Creator – while a flower, once it is dead, will not come to life again, which is sad, man, when he is asleep in his last sleep, is not dead, but he lives a brighter life, drawing, through his better part, eternal life and splendour from the Creator Who formed him. Therefore, Valeria, if your little girl had died, you would not have lost her caresses. The kisses of your creature would have always come to your soul, because, although separated from you, she would not have forgotten your love. See how pleasant it is to have faith in eternal life? Where is your little one now?"
"In that covered cradle. I never parted from her before, because the love for my husband and for my daughter were the only interests of my life. But now that I know what it is to see her dying, I do not leave her even for a moment."
Jesus goes towards a seat on which there is a kind of wooden cradle, covered by an expensive cover. He uncovers it and looks at the sleeping child, whom the fresher air awakes tenderly. Her little eyes seem surprised when they open and her lips part in an angel's smile, while her tiny hands, which heretofore were closed, are now open and anxious to get hold of Jesus' wavy hair. The twittering of a sparrow marks the progress of speech in her little mind. At last the great universal word trills: "Mummy!"
"Pick her up, pick her up" says Jesus Who moves to one side to let Valeria bend over the cradle.
"She will give You trouble! I will call a slave and have her taken into the garden."
"Trouble? Oh! No! Children are never any trouble. They are always My friends."
"Have You any children or grandchildren, Master?" asks Plautina, who watches how Jesus, smiling, teases the baby to make her laugh.
"No, I have neither children nor grandchildren. But I love children as I love flowers. Because they are pure and without malice. Nay, give Me your little one, woman. It is such a great joy for Me to press a little angel to My heart." And He sits down holding the little baby, who watches Him and ruffles His beard and then finds something more interesting to do playing with the fringes of His mantle and with the cord of His tunic, to which she devotes a long mysterious speech.
Plautina says: "Our good and wise friend, one of the few who does not disdain us and does not become corrupt associating with us, will have told You that we were anxious to see You and hear You, to judge You for what You are, because Rome does not believe in idle stories.. Why are You smiling, Master?"
"I will tell you later. Go on."
"Because Rome does not believe in idle stories and wants to judge with true knowledge and conscience before condemning and extolling. Your people exalt You and calumniate You to the same degree. Your deeds would convince one to exalt You. The words of many Jews would induce people to consider You little less than a criminal. Your words are solemn and wise like a philosopher's. Rome is very fond of philosophic doctrines and... I must admit it, our present philosophers do not have a satisfactory doctrine, also because their ways of living do not correspond to their doctrines."
"They cannot have a way of living corresponding to their doctrine."
"Because they are pagans, is that right?"
"No, because they are atheists."
"Atheists? But they have their gods."
"They do not even have those any more, woman. I remind you of the ancient philosophers, the greatest ones. They were heathens, too. However, consider how high was the moral tone of their lives! It was mingled with errors, because man is inclined to err. But when they were confronted with the greatest mysteries: life and death, when they had to face the dilemma of Honesty or Dishonesty, of Virtue or Vice, of Heroism or Cowardice and they considered that if they turned to evil, a great misfortune would befall their fatherland and their fellow citizens, then with a super effort of will they rejected the tentacles of evil polyps and, holy and free, they chose Good, at all costs. That Good which is no one else but God."
"You are God, so they say. Is that true?"
"I am the Son of the True God, I became flesh, but I still remain God."
"But what is God? The greatest Master, if we look at You."
"God is much more than a Master. Do not minimise the sublime idea of Divinity to a limitation of wisdom."
"Wisdom is a deity. We have Minerva. She is the goddess of knowledge."
"You have also Venus, the goddess of pleasure. Can you admit that a god, that is, a being superior to men, possesses, raised to the highest degree, all the horrible vices of mortals? Can you conceive that an eternal being has for all eternity the petty, mean, humiliating delights of those who have only one hour's time? And that the superior being makes them the scope of his life? Do you not consider what a desecrated heaven is the one you call Olympus, where the most acrid juices of mankind ferment? If you look at your heaven, what can you see? Lust, crime, hatred, war, thefts, crapulence, snares, revenge. If you wish to celebrate the feast of your gods, what do you do? You indulge in orgies. What cult do you give them? Where is the true chastity of the virgins consecrated to Vesta? On what divine code of law do your pontifices base their judgement?
What words can your augurs read in the flight of birds or in the peal of thunder? And what answers can the bleeding entrails of sacrificed animals give to your haruspices? You said: “Rome does not believe in idle stories.” Why does she believe, then, that twelve poor men, by sending a pig, a sheep and a bull round the fields and sacrificing them, can gain Ceres' favour, when you have an endless number of deities, one hating the other, and you believe in their revenges?
No. God is something quite different. He is Eternal, One and Spiritual."
"But You say that You are God and yet You are flesh."
"There is an altar with no god in the fatherland of gods. Man's wisdom has devoted it to the unknown God. Because wise men, the true philosophers, have realised that there is something beyond the illustrated scenario created for the eternal children, that is for men whose souls are enveloped in the swaddling clothes of error. If those wise men – who realised that there is something beyond the false scenario, something really sublime and divine, which created everything that exists and from which comes all the good there is in the world – if those men wanted an altar to the unknown God, Whom they perceived to be the True God, how can you call god what is not god and how can you say that you know what you do not know? Learn, therefore, what God is, that you may know and honour Him. God is the Being Who by His thought made everything from nothing. Can the tale of stones changing into men convince you and satisfy you? I solemnly tell you that there are men more hard and wicked than stones, and stones more useful than men. But is it not more pleasant for you, Valeria, to say, looking at your little baby: “She is the living will of God, created and formed by Him, gifted by Him with a second life which does not end, so that I will have my little Fausta forever and ever, if I believe in the True God”, rather than say: “This rosy flesh, this hair thinner than a spider's web, these clear eyes originate from a stone”? Or to say: “I am entirely like a she-wolf or a mare, and like an animal I mate, like an animal I procreate, like an animal I rear, and my daughter is the fruit of my beastly instinct and she is an animal like me, and tomorrow, when she is dead and I am dead, we shall be two carrions which will dissolve with a foul odour and will never see each other again”? Tell Me! Which of the two choices would your maternal heart prefer?"
"Certainly not the latter, my Lord! If I had known that Fausta was not a thing that could be dissolved forever, my grief, when she was in agony, would not have been so violent. Because I would have said: “I have lost a pearl. But it still exists. And I will find it.”"
"You are right. When I was coming towards you, your friend told me that she was amazed at your passion for flowers. And she was afraid that it might upset Me. But I reassured her saying to her: “I love flowers, too, so we will understand each other quite well.” But I wish to bring you to love flowers, as I have brought Valeria to love her baby, of whom she will now take greater care, as she knows that Fausta has a soul, which is a particle of God enclosed in the body which her mother made for her; a particle which will not die and which her mother will find again in Heaven, if she believes in the True God.
The same applies to you. Look at this beautiful rose. The purple which adorns the imperial robe is not so magnificent as this petal, which is not only a pleasure to the eye because of its hue, but is also a joy to touch because of its smoothness and to smell because of its scent. And look at this one, and this one, and this one. The first one is like blood gushing from a heart, the second is like fresh fallen snow, the third one is pale gold, the last one is like the sweet face of this child smiling in My lap. And further: the first one is stiff on an almost thornless stem, the leaves of which are reddish as if they had been sprayed with blood, the second has only a few thorns, and its leaves are pale and dull on the stem, the third one is as flexible as a reed and its small leaves are as shiny as green wax, the stem of the last one is so thick with thorns, that it seems anxious to prevent all possible access to its rosy corolla. It looks like a file with very sharp teeth.
Now consider this. Who made all that? How? When? Where? What was this place in the mists of time? It was nothing. It was an amorphous stirring of elements. One: God, said: “I want” and the elements separated and gathered in family groups. And another “I want” thundered and the elements arranged themselves, one with the other: the water between the lands; or one on the other: air and light on the formed planet. One more “I want” and plants were made. And then the stars, then animals and at last man. And God, to make man, His favourite creature, happy, granted him, as magnificent toys, flowers, stars and finally the joy of procreating not what dies, but what survives death, by the gift of God, and which is the soul. These roses are as many “wills” of the Father. His infinite power makes it clear in an infinite number of beautiful things. My explanation is rather a difficult one because it clashes with the brazen resistance of your beliefs. But I hope, as it is our first meeting, that we have understood one another a little. Let your souls ponder on what I have told you. Have you any questions to ask? Ask them. I am here to clarify things. Ignorance is not a disgrace. It is disgraceful to persist in ignorance where there is someone willing to clarify doubts."
And Jesus, as if He were the most experienced father, goes out holding the little child, who is taking her first steps and wants to go towards a jet of water swaying in the sunshine.
The ladies remain where they were, speaking to one another. And Johanna, hesitating between two desires, is standing on the threshold of the bower. At last Lydia makes up her mind and followed by the others goes towards Jesus, Who is laughing because the little one is trying to catch the solar spectrum with her hand and grasps nothing but light, and she insists over and over again, babbling with her rosy lips.
"Master... I have not understood why You said that our masters cannot lead a good life because they are atheists. They believe in Olympus. But they believe..."
"They have but the outward appearance of belief. As long as they really believed, as the truly wise men believed in the Unknown God I mentioned to you, in that God Who satisfied their souls, even if He was nameless, even if inadvertently they did not want to, as long as they turned their thoughts to that Being, by far superior to the poor gods full of the faults of mankind, of the low faults of mankind, the gods that paganism created for itself, they somehow reflected God, by necessity. A soul is a mirror that reflects and an echo that repeats..."
"It's a great word!"
"It is a great truth."
Valeria, who is fascinated by the thought of immortality, asks: "Master, tell me where the soul of my child is. I will kiss that spot like a shrine and I will worship it, because it is part of God."
"The soul! it is like this light that little Fausta wishes to grasp and cannot, because it is incorporeal. But it is there. You, I, your friends can see it. Likewise a soul can be seen in everything that differentiates man from animals. When your little one will tell you her first thoughts, you can say that such understanding is her soul which is revealing itself. When she will love you not by instinct, but with her reason, consider that that love is her soul. When she will grow beautiful beside you, not so much in her body as in virtue, consider that that beauty is her soul. And do not worship her soul, but God Who created it, God Who wishes every soul to be a throne for Him."
"But where is this incorporeal and sublime thing: in one's heart? In one's brains?"
"It is in the whole of man. It contains you and is contained within you. When it leaves you, you become a corpse. When it is killed by a crime that man commits against himself, you are damned, separated from God forever."
"You therefore agree that the philosopher who said that we are “immortal” was right, although he was a heathen?" asks Plautina.
"I do not agree. I will go further. I say that it is an article of faith. The immortality of the soul, that is the immortality of the superior part of man is the most certain and most comforting mystery to believe. It is the one that assures us of where we come from, where we go, who we are, and it removes all the bitterness of every separation."
Plautina is deeply absorbed in thought. Jesus watches her and is silent. At last she asks: "And have You a soul?"
Jesus replies: "Certainly."
"But are You or are You not God?"
"I am God. I told you. But now I have taken the nature of Man. And do you know why? Because only by this sacrifice of Mine I was able to resolve the points which were insuperable for your reason, and after demolishing errors and freeing minds, I was able also to free souls from a slavery which I cannot explain to you just now. I therefore enclosed Wisdom and Holiness in a body. I spread Wisdom like seed on the ground and pollen to the winds. Holiness will flow, as from a precious broken amphora, on to the world in the hour of Grace and will sanctify men. Then the Unknown God will become known."
"But You are already known. Who doubts Your power and Your wisdom, is either wicked or a liar."
"I am known. But this is only daybreak. Midday will be full of the knowledge of Me."
"What will Your midday be like? A triumph? Shall I see it?"
"Truly, it will be a triumph. And you will be present. Because you loathe what you know and you crave for what you ignore. Your soul hungers."
"That is true. I hunger for truth."
"I am the Truth."
"Then, give Yourself to me who am hungry."
"All you have to do is to come to My table. My word is the bread of truth."
"But what will our gods say if we abandon them? Will they not avenge themselves on us?" asks fearful Lydia.
"Woman: have you ever seen a foggy morning? The meadows are lost in the vapour that conceals them. Then the sun shines and the vapour is dissolved and the glistening meadows are more beautiful. The same applies to your gods, the fog of a poor human thought, which, ignoring God and needing to believe, because faith is a permanent necessity for man, created Olympus, a real nonexistent idle story. And thus your gods, when the sun, that is, the True God, rises, will dissolve in your hearts without being able to do any harm. Because they do not exist."
"We shall have to listen to You again... quite a lot... We are most definitely before the unknown. Everything You say is new to us."
"But does it disgust you? Can you accept it?"
Plautina replies sure of herself: "No. It does not. I feel more proud of the little I know now, and which Caesar does not know, than I do of my name."
"Well, then, persevere. I leave you with My peace."
"What? Are You not staying, my Lord?" Johanna is desolate.
"No, I am not staying. I have a lot to do..."
"Oh! I wanted to speak to You about my trouble!"
Jesus, Who had begun to walk, after saying goodbye to the Roman ladies, turns round and says: "Come as far as the boat and You will tell Me what your pain is."
And Johanna goes. And she says: "Chuza wants to send me to Jerusalem for some time and I am not happy about it. He is doing it because he does not want me to be confined any longer now that I am healthy..."
"You, too, are creating useless fogs for yourself!" says Jesus Who is stepping on to the boat. "If you considered that you can thus give Me hospitality or follow Me more easily, you would be happy and would say: “Bounty has seen to it.”"
"Oh!... that is true, my Lord. I had not thought about that."
"So, you can see! Be a good wife and obey. Obedience will give you the reward of having Me as your guest at next Passover and the honour of helping Me to evangelize your friends. My peace be always with you."
The boat sets out and it all ends.