439. The Departure from Nazareth and the Journey towards Bethlehem in Galilee.
22nd May 1946.
It is the evening of the true Sabbath and life begins again after the Sabbatical rest. Here, in the little house in Nazareth, it begins, after the rest, with the preparations for departure. Provisions are packed, clothes are crammed in knapsacks, the straps of which are fastened tightly, sandals are examined to ensure that the leather laces and buckles are in good condition, and the little donkeys are watered and fed near the hedge of the kitchen garden... and greetings and tears shed among smiles and blessings, and promises to meet again soon... And the unexpected offer of Thomas to Mary: a buckle, we could call it a brooch, to keep a dress closed at the neck. It is made of three thin, airy, perfect stems of lily of the valley, enclosed in two leaves, so like real ones, as the metal has been wrought by a master-hand.
"I know, Mary, that You will never wear it, but please accept it just the same. I have been anxious to make it since the day when my Lord spoke of You comparing You with the lilies of the valley... I have done nothing for Your house... but I made this for You, so that the praise of Your Son may be expressed in a symbol for You Who deserve it more than any other woman. And if I have not been able to give the stem the softness of a living one and the sweet scent of the flower, may my sincere respectful love for You soften it like a caress and put on it the scent of my devotion for You, Mother of my Lord."
"Oh! Thomas! It is true. I never wear jewels, as they seem vain things to Me. But this one is not so. This is love of My Jesus and of His apostle, and it is dear to Me. I will look at it every day and think of good Thomas who loves his Master so much, that he remembers not only His Doctrine, but also His most humble words about the most humble thing and the most humble insignificant people. Thank you, Thomas. Not for its value, but for your love, thanks!"
Everybody admires the perfect work and Thomas, beaming with joy, pulls out a smaller piece of work: three tiny jasmine stars with a tiny leaf bound in a thin circle, and gives it to Aurea. "Because you did not behave coquettishly to have it, because you were here when the jasmine bloomed, and so that these little stars may remind you of our Star. But mind! With your virtues you must perfume flowers and be a flower yourself, a candid, beautiful pure flower scenting towards Heaven. If you do not do that, I will take my brooch back. Come on, do not weep... everything passes... and we will soon come back to Mary's or She will come to us... and..." But Thomas, seeing that Aurea is shedding more and more tears, feels that it is better not to continue and he goes out, mortified, saying to Peter: "If I had known that... it was going to make her weep more, I would not have given it to her... I made that brooch just to comfort her in this hour... I guessed wrongly..."
And Peter, in the confusion of the moment, does not control himself and says: "It is always like that when parting... You should have seen Syntyche..." and he realises that he has spoken, he wants to correct himself, he becomes purple... but... it is done...
Thomas understands, and kindly throws his arm round Peter's neck saying: "Don't be distressed, Peter. I know how to be quiet. And I understand why you have not said anything... Because of Judas of Simon. On the God of our fathers I swear to you that what I have learned involuntarily is forgotten. Do not be upset, Simon!..."
"It's because the Master did not want..."
"He certainly had good reasons for that. I don't take offence."
"I know. But what will He say?"
"Nothing, because He will not know. You can trust me."
"Ah! No! I will not resort to subterfuges with the Master. I made a mistake. I deserve to be reproached. And at once. I will not have peace unless I confess my error to Him. Thomas, be good. Go and call Him... I am going into the workshop. Go, and come back with Him. I am too upset to go and the others would notice me."
Thomas looks at him with compassion full of admiration and goes back into the house to call Jesus: "Master, please come here for a moment. I have something to tell You."
Jesus, Who was saying goodbye to Mary of Alphaeus, follows him at once. "What do you want?" He asks while walking beside him.
"I, nothing. Simon wants to speak to You. There he is..."
"Simon! What is the matter, why are you so upset?"
Peter throws himself at Jesus' feet moaning: "I have sinned! Absolve me!"
"Sinned? How? You were there with us, happy and peaceful ..."
"Ah! Master, I disobeyed You. I told Thomas about Syntyche... I was upset because of the tears and he was more upset than I was; he thought that he had increased them... to comfort him I said: “It is always like that when parting... If you had seen Syntyche...” and he understood!..." Peter raises his troubled face, he looks mortified and desolate.
"Praised be God, My Simon! I thought you had done something much graver than that. And your sincerity cancels even that. You spoke without malice, you spoke to one of your companions. Thomas is good and will not divulge the news..."
"He swore it to me, in fact... But see? Now I am afraid that I am too foolish and that I cannot keep a secret."
"You have kept it so far."
"Yes, but just consider! Never one word to Philip and Nathanael! And now..."
"Come on, stand up! Man is always imperfect. But when he is so without malice, he commits no sin. Be careful, but do not distress yourself any more. Your Jesus can but kiss you. Thomas, come here." Thomas approaches Him. "You have certainly understood the reasons for being silent."
"Yes, Master. And I swore to respect them as far as I am concerned and capable. I have already told Simon..."
"The foolish Simon" says Peter with a sigh.
"No, my friend. You have edified me through your perfect humility and sincerity. You have taught me a great lesson, which I will never forget. For prudential reasons I shall not be able to make it known, and that grieves me, because only a few among us are or would be as just as you have been... But they are calling us! Let us go."
Many in fact are already in the street and the three women - Naomi, Myrtha and Aurea - have already mounted their little donkeys. Mary and Her sister-in-law are near Aurea, and they kiss her again, and when they see Jesus approaching, they kiss the two women disciples and they greet Jesus last and are blessed by Him, before He sets out...
And the Blessed Virgin and Mary of Clopas go back into the house... where, in remembrance of what was there a short while before, there are chairs out of place, kitchenware lying about... the disorder which takes place at every departure.
Mary, lost in thought, caresses the little loom on which She taught Aurea to work... Her eyes are shining with tears She has restrained.
"You are suffering, Mary!" says Mary of Clopas who is weeping without any effort to hold back her tears. "You had grown fond of her!... They come here... then they go away... and we suffer..."
"It is our life of women disciples. You heard what Jesus said today: “That is what you will do in future; you will be hospitable, supernaturally hospitable, seeing in every creature a brotherly soul, considering yourselves pilgrims and welcoming your guests as pilgrims. You will give them help, comfort, advice, and then you will let your brothers go to their destiny, without holding them back with jealous love, sure as you are that you will meet them after your death. Persecutions will come and many will leave you to go towards martyrdom. Do not be cowardly and do not advise cowardice to anybody. Remain in your empty house praying to support the courage of martyrs, unperturbed to fortify the weaker ones, strong in order to be ready to imitate heroes. Get accustomed to separations, to heroism, to the apostolate of brotherly charity, as from now…”. And we do so. Suffering… certainly! We are creatures made of flesh… But the spirit rejoices with a supernatural happiness which is to do the will of the Lord and cooperate to His glory. On the other hand... I am the Mother of everybody... and I must not be the Mother of one only. I am not even the Mother of Jesus exclusively... You see how I let Him go away without holding Him back... I would like to be with Him, that is true. But He deems that I must stay here until He will say: “Come”. And I am staying. His days of rest here? My joys of a mother. My peregrinations with Him? My joys of a disciple. My solitude here? My joys of a believer who does the will of Her Lord."
"That Lord, Mary, is Your Son..."
"Yes. But He is still My Lord ... Are you staying with Me, Mary?"
"Yes, if You will allow me... My house is so sad during the first hours, when my sons go away!... Tomorrow it will be different... And this time, I would weep even more..."
"Because I have been weeping my heart out since yesterday... I am like a cistern... A cistern in the rainy season."
"But why, My dear?"
"Because of Joseph... yesterday... Oh! I don't know whether I should go and reprimand him severely, because after all he is my son, because I carried him in my womb and I suckled him at my breast and no first-born son is above his mother, ... or whether I should not speak any more to that rascal who was born of me and offends my Jesus and You and..."
"You will do nothing of the kind. You will always be his “mother”. The mother who pities her stubborn, sick, perverted son and soothes him with her kindness, and leads him to God with prayers and patience... Cheer up, do not weep!...
Come with Me. We will pray for him in My room, and for those who are travelling, for the girl, that she may not suffer too much and she may grow in holiness... Come, Mary" and She takes her away...
The pilgrims in the meantime are going their way south-westwards. The women are in front, on their donkeys, which, being well fed and rested, are trotting lively, compelling Marjiam and Abel, who for prudential motives are at either side of Aurea, as she is in the saddle for the first time, to proceed almost at a running pace. But although it is tiring, it helps to take the girl's mind off the sorrowful separation from Mary. Now and again, to let the two young men take breath, Myrtha reins in her donkey and makes a halt. And she resumes going only when the apostolic group joins them. And during such pauses, Aurea becomes sad again, as she is not distracted by the adventures of horseback riding...
Marjiam, who is experienced in the misfortunes of a little orphan taken in, out of charity, by an adoptive mother after he had known Mary, comforts her telling her how one becomes attached to the adoptive mother "exactly as if she were one's own mother", and mentions his own impressions and relates how happy are Mary and Matthias with Johanna, and Anastasica with Eliza.
Aurea listens to the stories, and when Marjiam concludes by saying: "Believe me, the women disciples are all good, and Jesus knows to whom we poor wretches should be entrusted", and Abel corroborates saying: "And you must trust my mother who is so happy to have you and has prayed so much during these days to have you from God", Aurea replies: "I believe it. And I love her... But Mary is Mary... and you must bear with me..."
"Yes. But we are sorry to see you sad..."
"Oh! but I am not so sad as I was in the house of the Roman or during the first hours after my liberation... I am only... lost. For years I have never received a caress... Only Mary caressed me after I had been subjected to masters for many years..."
"My darling! But I am here to caress you! I will be another Mary for you. Come here, near me... If you were a little girl, I would take you in the saddle with me, as I used to do with my Abel when he was a little boy... But you are already a woman..." says Myrtha approaching her and taking her by the hand. "You are my little woman and I will teach you many things, and when Abel goes away evangelizing, you and I will receive pilgrims as the Lord says, and we will do much good in His Name. You are young and you will help me..."
"But look at that light over there, beyond that hill!" exclaims James of Zebedee, who has come up to the women.
"Is it a wood on fire?"
"Or a village?"
"Let us run up there and see..."
No one is tired any longer, because curiosity overwhelms all sensations. Jesus follows them benevolently, leaving the road to take a path which climbs up a hillock. They soon reach the top...
But it is neither a wood nor a village which is on fire, but a large hollow moor all covered with heather, lying between two hills. The heather, parched by the summer heat, has caught fire perhaps because of a spark which escaped the woodmen working higher up cutting trees, and is now burning: a carpet of low but bright flames which move around seeking new heather to burn, after having consumed where they had been burning previously. The woodcutters try to fight the fire by striking the flames. But in vain. They are too few and if they work on one side, the fire spreads on another.
"If it reaches the wood, it will be a disaster. There are resin trees there" says Philip.
Jesus, with folded arms, standing on the extreme edge of the hillock, looks and smiles... thinking...
The contrast between the white moonlight to the east and the red glow of the flames to the west, is strong and the backs of the onlookers are white in the moon-beams, whereas their faces are red in the reverberation of the flames. And the flames spread unceasingly, like water which rises, overflows and floods...
The fire is now only a few metres from the wood and it is already lighting up the piles of wood placed at its borders, while the light, which is becoming brighter and brighter, shows the little houses of a village on the top of the hill where the fire is climbing.
"Poor people! They will lose everything!" say many. And they look at Jesus, Who is smiling, but does not speak...
Then... He unfolds His arms and cries: "Stop! Die down! I want it."
And suddenly, as if a huge bank of earth had fallen to suffocate the flames, the fire goes out prodigiously, the lively nimble dance of the flames changes into red flameless embers, then the red becomes violet, grey-red... an occasional flash quivers among the ashes... and then only the silvery moonlight shines on the forests.
In the clear light the woodcutters are seen while they gather gesticulating, looking around, above... for the angel of the miracle...
"Let us go down. I will work on those souls through the unforeseen opportunity given to Me and we will stop in the village instead of resting in the town. We will leave at dawn. They will certainly have room for the women. The wood is quite enough for us" says Jesus and He goes down quickly followed by the others.
"But why were You laughing? You looked very happy!" asks Peter.
"You will find out from My words."
They are already where the fallow ground is covered with ashes still warm and creaking under their sandals. They go across it. When they are in the middle, where the moon shines fully, they are seen by the woodcutters.
"Oh! I told you! He is the only one who could do that! Let us run and venerate Him" shouts a woodman and he does so by throwing himself on the ashes at Jesus' feet.
"What makes you think that I could do it?"
"Because only the Messiah can do that."
"And how do you know that I am the Messiah? Do you know Me, perhaps?"
"No. But only the Good One Who loves the poor can have had pity, and only the Holy One of God can have given an order to the fire and be obeyed. Blessed be the Most High Who sent us His Messiah! And blessed be the Messiah Who came in time to save our homes!"
"You ought to be more anxious to save your souls."
"We save them by believing in You and endeavouring to do what You teach. But You realise, Lord, that the distress of being deprived of everything can weaken our already weak souls... and lead us to doubt Providence."
"Who informed you of Me?"
"Some of Your disciples... Here are our families... We had them woken because we were afraid that the whole hill would catch fire... Come here... Then we sent another man to inform them that a miracle had been worked and to come and see. Here they are, Lord. Mine. Jacob's, this one is Jonathan's, this one Mark's, this is the family of my brother Tobias, this one is of my brother-in-law Melkia, this is Philip's and this is Eleazar's. The others are the families of the shepherds who are now at the pastures up in the high mountains..."
It is a group of about two hundred and fifty people at most, including the little ones, sucking infants or babies just weaned, whimpering half asleep, or sleeping unaware of the danger in which they had been.
"Peace to you all. The angel of God has saved you. Let us praise the Lord together."
"You saved us! You are always present where faithful people believe in You!" say many women... And the men nod solemnly.
"Yes. Providence is present where there is faith in Me. But one must act with constant circumspection both in spiritual matters and in material ones. What set fire to the moor? Probably a spark from one of your fires or a little branch which one of the boys wanted to light on the fire to play with it, waving it and throwing it down the slope with the thoughtlessness of his age. It is in fact pleasant to see an arrow of fire furrow the air at dusk. But you can see what an imprudent act may cause! It can cause serious damage. A spark or a little branch which fell on the dry heather was enough to set a valley on fire, and if the Eternal Father had not sent Me, the whole wood would have become a bonfire, which in the grip of fire would have consumed your goods and your lives.
The same applies to matters of the spirit. You must pay continual prudent attention to ensure that no arrow of fire or spark may cling to your faith and destroy it, after smouldering unnoticed in your hearts, by means of arson wanted by those who hate Me and committed to deprive Me of believers. Since the fire was stopped here in time, from malefic it became beneficent, destroying the useless heath which you allowed to flourish in the valley, and preparing, by such destruction and the fertilizing ashes, a ground which you can exploit with useful cultivations, if you are willing to do so. But with hearts it is quite a different matter! When all the Good has been destroyed, nothing but bramble for the fodder of demons will grow in them. Remember that and be vigilant against My enemies' insinuations, which will be thrown into your hearts like infernal sparks.
Be ready to fight the fire then. And what is that fight? A stronger and stronger Faith, a firm will to belong to God. It means to belong to a holy Fire. Because fire does not consume fire. Now, if you are fire of love for the true God, the fire of hatred against God will not be able to harm you. The Fire of love defeats every other fire. My Doctrine is love and those who accept it enter the Fire of Charity and cannot be tortured by the fire of the Demon.
From the top of that hill, while I was watching the heather burning and I heard the words of your souls to the Lord their God, more than I noticed your actions aiming at putting out the flames, I was smiling. And one of My apostles asked Me: “Why are You smiling?” I promised him: “I will tell you when speaking to those who have been saved”. And I am doing that now. I was smiling thinking that as the flames spread among the heather of the valley, in vain restrained by your efforts, so My Doctrine will spread throughout the world, persecuted in vain by those who reject Light. And it will be light. It will be purification. It will be beneficent. How many little snakes have perished among these ashes, and other harmful insects with them! You were afraid to come to the valley, because there were too many asps in it. Well, not even one has survived. Likewise the world will be freed of many heresies, of many sins, of many sorrows, when it becomes acquainted with Me and is cleansed by the fire of My Doctrine. Cleansed and freed of harmful vegetation, it will be ready for the seed, and will become rich in holy fruits. That is why I was smiling... In the fire which was advancing, I saw a symbol of the spreading of My Doctrine in the world. Then the love for our neighbour, which is never to be separated from that for the Lord, made Me consider your necessities. And I lowered My thoughts from the contemplation of the interests of God to that of the interests of My brothers, and I stopped the fire, so that while rejoicing, you might praise the Lord. You can thus see that My thought rose to God, it descended from Him made more powerful, because union with God always increases our powers, and rose, once again, to God with yours. Thus, through charity, I did at the same time promote the interests of the Father and of My brothers. Do likewise in your future lives.
And now I ask you to give shelter to these women for the night. The moon is setting and the fire has delayed our journey. We cannot therefore proceed to the next town."
"Come! Come all of you! There is room for everybody. We might have been homeless! Our homes are yours. Our houses are poor, but clean. Come and they will be blessed" they all shout.
And they slowly climb the rather steep slope as far as the little village, which miraculously escaped destruction, then each pilgrim disappears with his host...