432. Parable of Painted Wood.
10th May 1946.
The rustic workshop fireplace has been lit after not being used for such a long time, and the smell of glue boiling in a can mingles with the characteristic smell of sawdust and fresh shavings, which are just piling up at the foot of a bench. Jesus is working with zest to transform some timber, with the help of saw and plane, into legs for chairs, drawers and so forth. Some pieces of furniture, the modest furniture of the little house in Nazareth, have been taken into the workshop to be repaired: the kneading trough, one of Mary's looms, two stools, a garden ladder, a little chest and the door of the stone oven, the lower part of which I think has been perhaps gnawed away by mice. Jesus is working to repair what usage and old age have consumed.
Thomas, instead, with a complete outfit of a goldsmith's tiny tools, which he must have taken out of his sack lying on his little bed placed against the wall like the Zealot's, is working with a light hand at some thin silver plates. And the tapping of his little hammer on the burin, giving a silvery sound, mingles with the loud noise of the working tools used by Jesus.
Now and again they exchange a few words, and Thomas is so happy to be there with the Master and at his work of goldsmith - and in fact he says so - that in the intervals of conversation he whistles softly. Now and again he raises his eyes and thinks, and absorbed in thought he stares at the smoky wall of the large room.
Jesus notices that and asks: "Are you drawing your inspiration from that black wall, Tom? It is true that it was the long work of a just man that made it so, but I do not think that it can inspire a goldsmith..."
"No, Master, a goldsmith in fact cannot reproduce with rich metals the poetry of holy poverty... But with his metal he can imitate the beautiful things in nature and thus ennoble gold and silver reproducing with them the flowers and leaves which are in creation. I think of those flowers and leaves, and to remember their details precisely I become fixed thus, with my eyes on the wall, but in actual fact I see the woods and meadows of our Fatherland, the light leaves, the flowers resembling chalices or stars, the bearing of stalks and leafy branches..."
"You are a poet, then, a poet singing in metal what another person sings with ink on parchment."
"Yes. A goldsmith in fact is a poet who writes on metal the beautiful things of nature. But our work, artistic and beautiful, is not worth Yours, which is humble and holy, because ours serves the vanity of rich people, whereas Yours serves the sanctity of the house and the usefulness of the poor."
"What you say is right, Thomas" says the Zealot, who has appeared at the door opening on to the kitchen garden, with his tunic tucked up, his sleeves rolled up, with an old apron in front of him and a tin of paint in his hand.
Jesus and Thomas turn round looking at him and they smile. And Thomas replies: "Yes, what I say is right. But I want that once in a while the work of a goldsmith may serve to adorn a... good holy thing..."
"It's a secret of mine. I have had this idea for a long time, and since we were at Ramah I have been carrying a goldsmith's little outfit, waiting for this moment... And what about your work, Simon?"
"Oh! I am not a perfect craftsman like you, Tom. It is the first time that I have held a brush in my hand and what I paint is uneven, notwithstanding all my good will. That is why I began from the... most simple things... to acquire skill... and I can assure you that my inexperience made the girl laugh heartily. But I am glad! She is reviving hourly to a serene life, and that is what is required to cancel her past and renew her for You, Master."
"H'm! perhaps Valeria will not give her up..." says Thomas.
"Oh! what do you think it matters to Valeria to have her or not? If she had kept her, it would have been only to prevent her from being left forlorn in the world. It would certainly be a good thing if the girl were safe for ever and in everything, above all in her spirit. Is that right, Master?"
"That is true. We must pray hard for that. The girl is really simple and good, and if she were brought up in the Truth, she could yield much. She is instinctively inclined to the Light."
"I quite believe it! She has no consolation on the Earth... and she seeks it in Heaven, poor soul! I think that when Your Gospel is announced all over the world, the first and the most numerous to receive it will be the slaves, those who have no human comfort and who will take shelter in Your promises to have some... And I say that if the honour of preaching You falls to me, I will love those poor wretches with a special love…"
"And you will do the right thing, Tom" says Jesus.
"Yes. But how will you approach them?"
"Oh! I will be a goldsmith for the ladies and... a master of their slaves. A goldsmith calls at houses or the servants of rich people come to his... and I will work... Two metals: those of the Earth for the rich... those of the spirit for slaves."
"May God bless you for your good intentions, Tom. Persevere in them…"
"Yes, Master, I will."
"Well, now that You have replied to Thomas, please come with me, Master... to see my work and to tell me what I must paint now. Simple things again, because I am a very incapable apprentice."
"Let us go, Simon..." and Jesus lays down His tools and goes out with the Zealot...
They come back after some time and Jesus points at the garden ladder. "Paint that. Paint makes wood impenetrable and preserves it longer, in addition to making it more beautiful. It is like the defence and ornament of virtues on a human heart. It may be rough, coarse... But as soon as virtues clothe it, it becomes beautiful and pleasant. See, to have a beautiful paint which serves its purpose, one must take care of many things. First of all: you have to choose carefully what is necessary to make it. That is, a clean can free from mould and residues of old paints, good oils and good colours, and then you have to mix them patiently, working on them to make a liquid which is neither too thick nor too thin. And you must not tire working until the least clot is dissolved. When that is done, you have to take a brush the bristles of which do not come off, and they must be neither too hard nor too soft; the brush is to be cleaned of any previous paint, and before applying the paint, you have to remove from the wood all roughness, the peelings of old paints, dirt, everything, and then neatly, with a steady hand and much patience, you spread the paint, working in the same direction all the time. Because on the same board you meet different resistances. On knots, for instance, the paints remains smoother, that is true, but it does not cover them well, as if the wood rejected it. Vice versa, the paint sticks well on the soft parts of the wood, but the soft parts are generally not very smooth and thus blisters or stripes form... One then must remedy the defect by spreading the paint with a steady hand. Then in old pieces of furniture there are new parts, like this rung, for instance. And in order not to show that the poor ladder has been botched, but is very old, one must get the new rung and the old ones to be alike... There you are, like that!" Jesus bent at the foot of the ladder is working and speaking at the same time... Thomas, who has left his burins to come near Jesus and see, asks: "Why did You begin from the bottom and not from the top? Was it not better the other way round?"
"It would appear to be better, but is not. Because the lower part is more worn out and will wear out more because it rests on the ground. So you must paint it several times. A first coat, a second and a third one if necessary... and not to waste time waiting for the lower part to dry and thus be ready for a new coat, you paint the top and then the central parts of the ladder."
"But in doing so, one might stain one's clothes and spoil what was painted previously."
"If you are careful you do not stain your clothes and you do not spoil anything. See? This is how you do it. You gather your clothes and stand apart. Not out of disgust for the paint, but not to spoil the paint which, being fresh, is delicate" and Jesus with His arms raised up paints the top of the ladder.
And He continues to speak:
"And you do the same with souls. At the beginning I told you that paint is like the ornament of virtues on human hearts. It adorns and protects wood from wood-worm, from rain, from the sun. Woe to the landlord who does not take care of painted fittings and allows them to deteriorate! When one sees that the wood is losing its paint, one must not waste time, but fresh paint is to be put on. Paints must be refreshed... Also virtues acquired in a first fit of enthusiasm towards justice may grow feeble or fade away completely if the landlord does not watch, and body and soul, laid bare, at the mercy of inclement weather and of parasites, that is, of passions and dissipations, can be attacked and lose the garment which adorns them, and end by being... good only for the fire.
Therefore, with regard both to ourselves and to those whom we love as our disciples, when we notice that the virtues which serve to defend our egos are being shattered or are fading away, we must provide at once with diligent patient work until the end of our lives, so that we may go to sleep, when we die, with body and soul worthy of a glorious resurrection. And in order to ensure that your virtues are true and good, you must begin with pure courageous intentions, which remove all rubbish and mould, and you must work not to leave any imperfection in the building up of virtues, and then take an attitude, which is neither too hard nor too lenient, because both intolerance and excessive indulgence are harmful. And the brush: your will. Let it be free from preexistent human inclinations which might vein the spiritual hue with material disfigurements, and prepare yourselves or other people, with suitable operations, which are laborious, it is true, but necessary, to cleanse the old ego from any ancient leprosy, so that it may be pure to receive virtue. Because you cannot mix what is new with what is old.
You then begin to work: in good order, with consideration. You must not jump here and there without a good reason. You must not work a little in one direction and then a little in another. One would get less tired, that is true. But the paint would be uneven. As happens in disorderly souls. They display perfect points, then close to them there are deformities, different shades... One must insist on the spots resisting the paint, on the knots: confusion of matter or of dissolute passions, which, of course, have been mortified by will, which like a plane has laboriously smoothed them, but they remain to offer resistance like a knot amputated but not destroyed. And they deceive at times, as they appear to be well clad with virtue, whereas it is but a light veil which soon falls off. Beware of the knots of concupiscence. Ensure that virtue covers them over and over again, so that they may not flourish again disfiguring the new ego. And cover the soft parts, which receive the paint too easily, but they do so to their own liking: if there are blisters and stripes you must insist with isinglass, smoothing and smoothing in order to give one or more coats of paint, so that such parts may become as glossy as hardened enamel. And watch that you do not overload. To exact too much from virtue makes the creature rebel, boil over and blister at the first impact. No. Neither too much nor too little. Be fair when working on yourselves and on creatures made of flesh and soul.
And if, as in most cases - because girls like Aurea are an exception, not the rule - there are new parts mixed with old ones, as Israelites have, passing from Moses to the Christ, as well as heathens with their mosaic of beliefs which cannot be cancelled all of a sudden and will surface with nostalgic memories, at least in the most pure matters, then one must be more vigilant and tactful and insist until the old part is homogeneous with the new one making use of preexistent situations to complete the new virtues. For instance, the Romans hold in high esteem patriotism and manlike courage. They are both considered almost as myths. Well, do not destroy them but inculcate a new spirit on patriotism, that is, the spirit of making Rome great also spiritually as the Centre of Christendom and make use of Roman manliness to strengthen in Faith those who are strong in battle. Another instance: Aurea. Her disgust at a brutal revelation urges her to love what is pure and to hate what is impure. Well, make use of both feelings to lead her to perfect purity hating corruptness, as if it were the brutal Roman. Do you understand Me? And use habits as means of penetration. Do not destroy brutally. You would not dispose at once of what is needed to build. But slowly replace what must not remain in a convert, with charity, patience and tenacity. And since matter overwhelms people, heathens in particular as, even if they are converts, they are always in touch with the heathen world, in which they live, you must insist on the necessity of shunning sensual pleasures. All the rest comes in after sensuality. Watch the exasperated sensuality of heathens and which, let us admit it, is very strong also among us, and when you notice that the contact with the world spoils the preservative paint, do not continue to paint the top, but go back to the lower part, balancing spirit and flesh, top and bottom. But always start from the flesh, from material vice, to prepare the soul to receive the Guest Who does not cohabit in impure bodies or with spirits stinking with carnal corruption... Do you understand me?
And do not be afraid of becoming corrupted if you touch with your garment the lower parts, that is the material ones, of those whose spirits you are curing. Act wisely, so that at all times you may reconstruct rather than bring about ruination. Live engrossed in your ego nourished with God, enveloped with virtue, proceed gently particularly when you have to take care of the most sensitive spiritual ego of other people, and you will certainly succeed in changing even the most despicable beings into creatures worthy of Heaven."
"What a beautiful parable You have told us! I want to write it for Marjiam!" says the Zealot.
"And for me, as all of me is to be made beautiful for the Lord" says slowly trying to find the words, Aurea who, barefooted, has been standing for some time at the door of the kitchen garden.
"Oh! Aurea! Were you listening to us?" asks Jesus.
"I was listening to You. It is so beautiful! Have I done wrong?"
"No, girl. Have you been here long?"
"No. And I am sorry because I do not know what You said previously. Your Mother has sent me to tell You that the meal will be ready shortly. The bread is about to be taken out of the oven. I have learned how to bake it... How lovely! And I have learned to bleach linen, and Your Mother has told me two parables concerning bread and linen."
"Has She? What did She say?"
"That I am like flour still in the sieve, that Your goodness purifies me, Your grace works in me, Your apostolate perfects me, Your love cooks me and from coarse flour mixed with so much bran I will end up, if I allow myself to be worked on by You, by being flour for hosts, flour and bread of sacrifice, good for the Altar. And on the linen, which was dark, oily and coarse, and which after so much borit grass (1) and so many blows of mortification has become clean and soft, the sun will now shine, and it will become white... And She said that that is what the Sun of God will do with me, if I always remain in the Sun and I accept to be cleansed and mortified to become worthy of the King of kings, of You, my Lord. What lovely things I am learning... I seem to be dreaming... Lovely! Everything is beautiful here... Do not send me away, Lord!"
"Would you not like to go with Myrtha and Naomi?"
"I would prefer to stay here... But... also with them. But not with Romans, no, Lord..."
"Pray, child!" says Jesus laying His hand on her honey-blond hair. "Have you learned the prayer?"
"Oh! yes! It is so lovely to say: “My Father!” and think of Heaven... But the will of God frightens me a little... because I do not know whether God wants what I want..."
"God wants your welfare."
"Does He? You say so?! In that case I am no longer afraid... I feel that I will remain in Israel... to become more and more acquainted with this Father of mine... And... to be the first disciple of Gaul, my Lord!"
"Your faith will be satisfied because it is good. Let us go..."
And they all go out towards the basin under the spring of water to wash themselves, while Aurea runs to Mary and their two feminine voices are heard: Mary's, which is fluent in speaking, whereas the other is uncertain, of a person trying to find words. And one can hear their shrill voices laughing when a language error is made and which Mary corrects kindly...
"The girl is learning well and quickly" remarks Thomas.
"Yes. She is good and willing."
"And then! With Your Mother as teacher!... Not even Satan could resist Her!..." says the Zealot.
Jesus sighs without speaking...
"Why are You sighing thus, Master? Was I not right?"
"Yes, quite right. But there are men more resistant than Satan, who at least runs away from Mary's presence. There are men who are close to Her and who, although taught by Her, do not improve..."
"But not us, eh?" says Thomas.
"No, not you... Let us go..."
They go into the house and it all ends.