21: Arrival at Zacharias' House.
1st April 1944.
I am now in a mountainous place. They are not high mountains, neither are they just hills. There are ridges and creeks as we see in our Apennines in Tuscany and Umbria. The vegetation is thick and beautiful and there is plenty fresh water, that keeps the pastures green and the orchards fruitful: apple and fig-trees are mostly cultivated in the orchards and grapes near the houses. It must be springtime because the grapes are rather big, about the size of vetch grains, and the apple-blossoms have already sprung and they look like so many little green pellets; on top of the fig branches the first fruits can be seen, still in the embryo stage, but already well formed. The meadows are real soft multicolored carpets. Sheep are grazing or resting on them and they look like white spots on the emerald of the grass.
Mary on Her donkey is climbing up a rather well kept road, probably the main road. She is climbing because the village is higher up and it looks quite tidy. My internal warner says to me: "This place is Hebron." You spoke to me of Montana. I cannot help it. It is indicated to me with this name. I do not know whether Hebron is the whole area or only the village. That is what I hear and that is what I say.
Mary is now entering the village. It is evening. Some women on their doorsteps watch the arrival of the stranger and gossip with one another. Their eyes follow Her and they are not happy until they see Her stop in front of one of the prettiest houses, in the centre of the village, with a kitchen garden in the front and rear and a well cultivated orchard around it. The orchard continues into a large meadow that rises and slopes according to the sinuosity of the mountain and ends in a wood of tall trees, beyond which I do not know what there is. The whole place is surrounded by a hedge of blackberries or wild roses. I cannot tell exactly which, because, if you remember, the flowers and leaves of these two thorny hedges are very much alike and until their branches bear fruit it is easy to confuse them. In front of the house, that is on the side that skirts the village, the place is enclosed by a small low white wall, on top of which there are rows of rose-bushes, at present without flowers, but already full of buds. In the centre there is an iron gate. It is easily understood that it is the house of a notable of the village or of a well-to-do family, because everything shows comfort and great order, if not riches and pomp.
Mary gets off the donkey and goes to the gate. She looks through the iron bars, but does not see anyone. She endeavors then to-make Herself heard. A little old woman, who more curious than the others has followed Her, shows Her a strange gadget that is used as a bell. It consists of two pieces of metal balanced on a kind of yoke, at the end of which there is a rope. When the rope is pulled, the two metal pieces strike each other and give the sound of a bell or gong. Mary pulls the rope, but so gently, that there is only a faint tinkling, which no one hears. Then the little old woman, whose face is all nose and slipper'-chin and whose tongue is worth ten put together, gets hold of the rope and pulls it several times with all her might. She makes enough noise to raise a dead man! "That's how You do it, woman. Otherwise, how can they hear You? You know, Elizabeth is old and Zacharias also is old. Now he is also dumb, as well as deaf. Also the two servants are old, don't You know? Have You ever been here before? Don't You know Zacharias? Are You…"
Mary is rescued from the deluge of information and questions by a little old man who suddenly appears panting. He must be a gardener or a farmer, for he is holding a hoe in his hand and there is a pruning knife tied to his belt. He opens the gate and Mary enters thanking the little woman but… leaving her fairly recent question unanswered. What a disappointment for the curious soul! As soon as She is inside Mary says: "I am Mary of Joachim and Anne, from Nazareth. I am your masters' cousin".
The man bows down and welcomes Her, he then calls out in a loud voice: " Sarah! Sarah!"
He opens the gate again to let in the donkey that had been left outside. Mary, in fact, to get rid of the persistent little woman, had slipped inside very quickly and the gardener just as quickly had closed the gate in the face of the gossip. And while taking the donkey in, he exclaims: "Oh! What a great happiness and what an upheaval to this household! Heaven has granted a child to the barren one, may the Most High be blessed! But seven months ago, Zacharias came back dumb from Jerusalem. He now makes himself understood by gestures or by writing. Perhaps You already know. My landlady has longed so much for You in this joy and this travail! She always spoke to Sarah about You and she would say: “If I only had little Mary with Me! I wish She were still in the Temple! I would send Zacharias to fetch Her. But now the Lord wanted Her married to Joseph of Nazareth. She is the only one who can comfort me in my pain and help me to pray to God, because She is so good. And they all miss Her in the Temple. On the last feast day, the last time I went to Jerusalem with Zacharias to thank the Lord for the child He has given me, Her teachers said to me: 'The Temple seems to be without the Cherubim of the Glory since Mary's voice is no longer heard inside these walls.'”"
He then shouts again: "Sarah, Sarah! My wife is a little deaf. But come, please, I'll show You the way."
Instead of Sarah, a fairly old woman appears at the top of the staircase on one side of the house. Her face is all wrinkles and her hair is very grey. It must have been very black at one time because her eyelashes and eyebrows are still very dark and also from the color of her face one can tell that she was swarthy. Her present very obvious pregnant condition is a strange contradiction to her evident old age, notwithstanding her wide and loose dress. She looks down shading her eyes with her hand. As soon as she recognizes Mary she raises her arms to the sky and utters an "Oh!" of joy and surprise. She then rushes, as fast as she can, towards Mary. Also Mary, who always moves very quietly, now runs, as swift as a little deer, and reaches the foot of the staircase at the same time as Elizabeth. And She embraces with great affection Her cousin who is crying with joy at seeing Her.
They remain embraced for an instant and then Elizabeth detaches herself exclaiming: "Ah!", an exclamation of mingled joy and sorrow and she places her hands on her enlarged abdomen. She bows her face and turns red and pale alternately. Mary and the servant hold out their hands to support her because she staggers, as if she were unwell. But Elizabeth, after a moment of concentration, lifts her face which is now so bright that she looks much younger. She then looks at Mary with evident veneration as if she sees an angel, she bows in a deep salutation exclaiming: "You are blessed amongst all women! Blessed is the Fruit of Your womb! (She says exactly that: two clearly separate sentences). How did I deserve that the Mother of my Lord should come to me, Your servant? There, at the sound of Your voice, the child leaped out of joy in my womb and when I embraced You, the Spirit of the Lord whispered deepest truths to my heart. You are blessed, because You believed that it was possible for God also what does not appear possible to the human mind! You are blessed, because by Your faith You will accomplish the things the Lord predicted to You and the Prophets foretold for our times! You are blessed, for the Salvation You have brought to the house of Jacob! You are blessed for the Holiness You have brought to my son, whom I feel leaping with joy, like a happy little kid, in my womb, because he feels free from the burden of guilt, and is called to be the Predecessor, sanctified before Redemption by the Holy One Who is growing within You!
Mary, with two tears that run down like two pearls from Her sparkling eyes to Her smiling lips, with Her face raised to heaven and also Her arms raised up, in the attitude that Her Jesus will take so often, exclaims: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord" and She continues the canticle as it has been handed down to us. At the end, at the verse: "He has come to the help of Israel his servant etc.", she puts Her hands on Her breast, kneels down stooping to the ground, adoring God.
The servant, who quite wisely had disappeared when he realized that Elizabeth was not really physically unwell, on the contrary, she was confiding her thoughts to Mary, is now coming back from the orchard with a solemn old man, whose hair and beard are completely white, and who greets Mary from a distance with great gestures and loud guttural sounds.
Zacharias is arriving says Elizabeth, touching the shoulder of Mary, engrossed in prayer. "My Zacharias is dumb. God has punished him because he did not believe. I will tell You later. But now I hope that God will forgive him, because You have come. You, full of Grace."
Mary rises and goes to meet Zacharias. She stoops to the ground in front of him, kissing the hem of his white robe that reaches down to the ground. It is a very wide robe, held tight to the waist by a large embroidered braid.
Zacharias welcomes Mary by gestures and they both move toward Elizabeth. They all enter a room on the ground floor. It is a wide room, tastefully arranged, where they make Mary sit down and they offer Her some new milk – there is still foam on it – and some small cakes.
Elizabeth gives some orders to the maid servant, who has appeared at last, her hands still covered with flour and her hair whiter than usually because of the flour dust on it. Perhaps she was baking bread. She gives orders also to the male servant, whose name I hear is Samuel, and tells him to take Mary's trunk to a room which she indicates to him. She thus fulfills her duties of a landlady towards her guest.
In the meantime Mary is replying to the questions Zacharias is asking Her, writing them on a wax tablet with a style. From Her answers I understand that he is asking Her about Joseph and Her married life with him. I also understand that Zacharias has been denied all supernatural light about Mary's state and Her condition of Mother of the Messiah. Elizabeth goes near her husband and laying her hand on his shoulder, in a loving attitude, as if she were caressing him chastely, she says to him: "Also Mary is a mother. Rejoice over Her happiness. " But she does not say anything else. She looks at Mary. And Mary looks at her but does not encourage her to say more and Elizabeth keeps silent.
A sweet, very sweet vision! It obliterates the horror of the sight of Judas' suicide.
Last night, before falling asleep, I saw Mary crying, bent over the unction stone, on the dead body of Our Redeemer. She was on His right-hand side, with Her back to the opening of the sepulcher grotto.
The torches lit up Her face so that I could see Her poor face ravaged by sorrow and washed by tears. She would take Jesus' hand, caress it, warm it against her cheeks, kiss it, stretch its fingers out… kiss them one by one, those poor motionless fingers. Then She would caress His face, would bend down to kiss His open mouth, His half-open eyes, His wounded forehead. The reddish light of the torches made the wounds of the tortured body appear more real and rendered the cruelty of His torture and the realism of His death more true and real. And I remained in contemplation until my mind was clear. When I came out of my sopor, I prayed and I lay down to go to sleep. Then the above vision began. But Mother said to me: "Don't move. Just look. You will write it tomorrow" In my sleep I dreamt it all over again. When I woke up at 6.30 I saw what I had already seen both when I was awake and in my sleep. And I wrote while I was seeing. Then you came and I asked you if I could add the following. They are various sketches of Mary's stay in Zacharias' house.