324. Return of the Eight Apostles and Arrival at Achzib.
10th November 1945.
Jesus, Who is so pale, thin and sad that I would say that He must be suffering, is on the highest point of a little mountain, where there is also a village. But Jesus is not in the village, which although on the mountain top, stretches down the south-east slope. Jesus instead is on a little spur, on the highest point, facing northwest; actually more west than north.
As Jesus is looking in various directions, He can see an undulating chain of mountains the extreme north-west and southwest ends of which jut out into the sea, to the south-west with Mount Carmel, which fades away in the clear day, to the northwest with a sharp cape, similar to the ram of a ship, very much like our Apuanian Mountains particularly in respect of white rocky veins shining in the sunshine. Torrents and streams, all very full of water at this time of the year, descend from this undulated chain of mountains and across the plain along the coast they flow into the sea. The river Kishon, the most significant of all of them, flows into the sea near the wide bay of Sicaminon, after forming a sheet of water at the confluence with another little stream near its mouth. The water of the streams glitter like topazes or sapphires in the midday sunshine of a clear day, while the sea looks like a huge sapphire veined with light strings of pearls.
Springtime in the south is already beginning to appear through the new leaves bursting from the open buds, tender shiny leaves, so fresh that I would call them virginal, unaware of dust, of storms, of bites of insects and of the contact of men. And the branches of almond-trees are already tufts of white pinkish foam, so soft and ethereal that they seem to be on the point of flying away from their native branches to sail like little clouds in the serene air. Also the fields in the plain, which is fertile although not large, delimited by the north-west and southwest capes, are verdant with corn, which makes them a pleasant sight, whereas shortly before they were bare.
Jesus is looking. Three roads can be seen from where He stands. One comes from the village and ends where He is: a narrow road suitable only for pedestrians and two other roadways, which descend from the village forking in opposite directions, towards north-west and south-west.
How sickly Jesus looks! There are more traces of penance on His face now than when He fasted in the desert. He had then grown pale, but He was still young and vigorous. He is now worn out by complex suffering that crushes both physical and moral strength. His eyes are sad, sweetly and severely sad at the same time. His thin cheeks enhance even more the spirituality of His profile, of His high forehead, long straight nose, and lips absolutely devoid of sensuality. An angelical face excluding all materiality. His beard is longer than usual, and has grown on His cheeks becoming mixed with His long hair, which hangs down over His ears, so that of His face one can only see His forehead, eyes, nose and His thin cheek-bones as pale as ivory without the least hint of colour. His hair is ruffled and dull and as a souvenir of the cave in which He has been, there are little parts of dry leaves and twigs entangled in it. His creased dusty tunic and mantle also bear witness to the wild Place in which they were worn without ever being changed.
Jesus is looking around... The midday sunshine is warming Him and He seems to enjoy it because He avoids the shade of some oaktrees to stand in the sunshine, but although the sun is bright and clear it does not enliven His dusty hair or His tired eyes; neither does it tinge His emaciated face.
It is not the sun that restores or brightens Him up, but it is the sight of His dear apostles who are coming up gesticulating and looking towards the village from the north-west road, the less steep one. His metamorphosis then takes place. His eyes brighten up and His face seems to become less emaciated because of a rosy nuance that spreads over His cheeks and above all because His smile lights it up. He stretches out His arms, which were folded, and exclaims: "My dear ones!". He says so raising His face, casting His eyes round, as if He wanted to communicate His joy to stalks and plants, to the clear sky, to the air, which already smells of springtime. He gathers His mantles round His body so that it may not get caught in the bushes and He runs down along a short cut to meet the apostles who are coming up, but have not yet seen Him. When He is within hearing range He calls them, to stop them going towards the village.
They hear the distant call, but perhaps from the spot where they are they cannot see Jesus, Whose dark mantle blends with the darkness of the wood that covers the slope. They look around gesticulating... Jesus calls them again... At last a clearing in the wood shows Him to them, in the sunshine, with His arms stretched out, as if He already wanted to embrace them. Then a loud cry reechoes along the coast: "The Master!" and they start running up the crags, leaving the road, scratching themselves, stumbling, panting, without feeling the weight of their sacks or the difficulty in climbing... urged as they are by joy of seeing Him again.
The younger and more agile ones are naturally the first to reach Him, that is, Alphaeus' sons, as they proceed with the steady steps of people who live among hills, and John and Andrew, who run as fast as fawns, laughing happily. And they fall at His feet lovingly and reverently, beaming with happiness... Then James of Zebedee arrives and next the ones who are less experienced in races and mountains, Matthew and the Zealot who arrive almost together, and last... Peter.
But he elbows his way through the group in no uncertain manner to reach the Master, Whose legs have been embraced by the first arrivals, who are still kissing His mantle or His hands. He grasps John and Andrew who are clinging to Jesus' garments like oysters to a rock, and panting because of the exertion, he pushes them aside so that he can fall at Jesus' feet saying: "Oh! My Master! I am now back to life, at last! I could not bear it any longer. I have grown old and thin as if I had been seriously ill. Look whether it is true, Master..." and he raises his head to be looked at by Jesus. But in doing so he sees the change in Jesus and he stands up shouting: "Master!? But what have You done? How foolish we are!
Just look! Can't you see anything? Jesus has been ill!... Master of mine, what happened to you? Tell Your Simon!"
"Nothing, My friend."
"Nothing? With that face? Then someone has hurt You?"
"It's not possible. You have either been ill or persecuted! I have eyes to see!..."
"So have I. And I see that in fact you have grown old and thin. So, why are you so?" the Lord asks, smiling at Peter who is scanning Him as if he wanted to find out the truth from Jesus' hair, skin, beard...
"But I have suffered! And I do not deny it. Do You think it was pleasant to see so much grief?"
"You have said it! I suffered also for the same reason..."
"Just for that, Jesus?" asks Judas of Alphaeus with so much pity and love.
"Yes, because of that grief, My brother. Because of the grief caused by the necessity to send away..."
"And by the grief of being compelled by..."
"Please!... Be silent! Silence on My injury is dearer to Me than any word uttered to console Me, saying: “I know why You have suffered.” In any case, you may all know, that I suffered for many reasons, not just for that one. And had Judas not interrupted Me, I would have told you." Jesus is austere in saying so. They are all subdued.
But Peter is the first to collect himself and he asks: "But where have You been, Master? And what have You done?"
"I was in a grotto... praying... meditating... fortifying My spirit, obtaining strength for you in your mission, and for John and Syntyche in their suffering."
"But where? Without clothes, without money! How did You manage?" Simon is excited.
"In a grotto I did not need anything."
"But what about food, fire, a bed, everything... I mean! I was hoping that You would be a guest, like a lost pilgrim, at Jiphthahel, or elsewhere in a house, I mean. And that gave me some peace. But... eh?! Tell Him whether I was tormented by the thought that He was without clothes, without food, without the possibility of getting any, and above all, without the will of getting it. Ah! Jesus! You should not have done that! And You will never do it again! I will not leave You for one hour. I will sew my tunic to Yours, so that I can follow You like a shadow, whether You like it or not. I will part from You only if I die."
"Or if I die."
"Oh! not You. You must not die before me. Don't say that. Do You really want to break my heart?"
"No. On the contrary I want to rejoice with you and with everybody in this lovely hour that brings My dearest friends back to Me. See! I am already feeling better because your sincere love nourishes, warms and consoles Me in everything" and He caresses them one by one, while their faces shine with happy smiles, their eyes sparkle with joy and their lips tremble with emotion at those words, and they ask: "Really, Lord?", "Is that so, Master?", "Are we so dear to You?"
"Yes. So dear. Have you any food with you?"
"Yes. I was sure that You would be exhausted and I got some on the way. I have bread and roast meat, milk, cheese and apples; and a flask of generous wine and some eggs for You. Providing they are not broken..."
"Well, let us sit down here, in this lovely sunshine, and eat. While eating you can tell Me..."
They sit in the sun on a terrace and Peter opens his sack and examines his treasure: "Everything is all right" he exclaims. "Also the honey from Antigonea. Well! Didn't I tell you! On our way back, if they had put us in a barrel and had got a madman to roll it, or if they had put us in a boat without oars, even if the boat leaked, and there was a storm, we would have come back safe and sound... But going there... The more I think of it the more convinced I am that the demon was interfering with us. To prevent us from going with those two poor wretches..."
"Of course! On our way back there was no purpose..." confirms the Zealot.
"Master, did You do penance for us?" asks John, who is so intent in contemplating Jesus that he forgets to eat.
"Yes, John. My thought followed you. I perceived your dangers and your affliction. I helped you as I could..."
"Oh! I felt it! I even told you. Do you remember?"
"Yes. It is true" they all confirm.
"Well, you are now giving back to Me what I gave you."
"Did You fast, Lord?" asks Andrew.
"Of course He did! Even if He wanted to eat, as He was without money, in a cave, how could you expect Him to get food?" replies Peter.
"All for our sake! How sorry I am!" says James of Alphaeus.
"Oh! no! Do not worry! I did not do it for you only, but for the whole world as well. As I did when I began My mission, so I did now. Then, at the end, I was assisted by angels. I am assisted by you now. And believe Me, it is a double joy to Me. Because the ministry of charity is unbreakable by angels. But it is not so easily found among men. You are practising it. And from men, for My sake, you have become angels having chosen to be holy at all costs. You therefore make Me happy, both as God and as Man-God. Because you give Me what comes from God: Charity, and you give Me what pertains to the Redeemer: your elevation to Perfection. That is what comes from you and it is more nourishing than any food. Also then, in the desert, I was nourished with love after fasting. And it restored Me. And what happened then, is happening now! We have all suffered. Both you and I. But not in vain. I think, I know that it has helped you more than a full year of teaching. Sorrow, meditation on the harm man can do to his neighbour, the piety, faith, hope, charity you had to practise, all by yourselves, have matured you like children who become men..."
"Oh! yes! I have grown old, I have indeed. I will never again be the same Simon of Jonah as I was when I left. I have understood how sorrowful, how toilsome is our mission, notwithstanding all its beauty..." says Peter with a sigh. "Well, we are all together now. Tell Me..."
"Speak, Simon. You can speak better than I can" says Peter to the Zealot. "No. As a good leader you must speak on behalf of everybody" replies the other. And Peter begins, stating as a preliminary introduction: "But help me." He recounts everything in good order until the departure from Antioch. He then begins to speak of their return:"We were all grieved, as You can readily understand. I will never forget the last words of those two..." With the back of his hand Peter wipes two big tears streaming down his cheeks... "They sounded like the last cry of someone drowning... Listen... you had better go on... I cannot..." and he gets up and goes away to control his emotion.
Simon Zealot resumes: "None of us spoke for a long while... We could not... We had a lump in our throats, which were aching... And we did not want to weep... because if one of us had begun, it would have been the end... I had taken the reins, because Simon of Jonah, to conceal his sorrowful state, had gone to the end of the cart pretending to search for something in the sacks. We stopped at a little village half way between Antioch and Seleucia. Although moonlight became brighter and brighter as night became darker, we stopped there, because we were not familiar with the roads. And we dozed there, lying on our belongings. None of us would eat... because we could not. We were thinking of those two... At daybreak we crossed the bridge and before the third hour we were at Seleucia. We took the horse and cart back to the hotel-keeper and since he was such a kind man, we asked his advice with regard to the ship. He said: “I will come to the port with you. I know people and they know me.” And that is what he did. He found three boats leaving for ports in this area. But on one there were some... queer fellows, with whom we did not want to be. Our man told us, as he had heard of them from the owner of the boat. The second one was from Ashkelon and they refused to call at Tyre, unless we paid a sum of money that we could not afford. The third one was a really miserable little boat, with a load of timber. A poor boat, with few hands and I think with a great deal of misery. That is why they agreed to call at Tyre, although they were heading for Caesarea, providing we paid for one day's meals and wages for the whole crew. It suited us. Actually both Matthew and I were somewhat worried. There are storms at this time of the year... and You know what happened on our way there. But Simon Peter said: “Nothing will happen.” So we went on board. The boat sailed so smoothly and fast that angels seemed to be acting as sails. We reached Tyre in only half of the time which had taken us to get there and when we arrived the owner of the boat was so kind that he agreed to tow our boat until we were near Ptolemais. Peter, Andrew and John had gone into it to handle it... But it was very easy... Nothing like our outward voyage. At Ptolemais we parted. And we were so pleased that before getting into our boat where all our things were, we gave him more money than we had agreed upon. We stopped one day at Ptolemais, and then we came here... But we will never forget what we suffered. Simon of Jonah is right."
"And are we not right also in saying that the demon interfered with us only on our outward voyage?" some of the apostles ask.
"You are right. Now listen. Your mission is over. We shall now go towards Jiphthahel, waiting for Philip and Nathanael. And we must do that at once. Then the others will come... In the meantime we shall evangelize here, at the borders of Phoenicia and in Phoenicia itself. But what has recently happened is to be buried in your hearts forever. You shall not reply to anybody enquiring about it."
"Not even to Philip and Nathanael? They know that we came with You..."
"I will speak to them. I have suffered very much, My dear friends, as you have seen yourselves. With My suffering I paid for John's and Syntyche's peace. Do not let My suffering be useless. Do not overburden My shoulders with another weight. I have already so many!... And their weight becomes heavier day by day, hour by hour... Tell Nathanael that I have suffered very much. Tell Philip, and tell them to be good. Tell the other two. If you tell them that you have understood that I have suffered, and that I confirmed it, you are telling them the truth. Nothing else is needed."
Jesus is speaking wearily... The eight look at Him sorrowfully, and Peter dares to caress His head, standing behind His back. Jesus raises His head and looks at His honest Peter with a sad loving smile.
"Oh! I cannot bear to see You like that! It seems... I feel that the joy of our reunion is over and that only its holiness is left! Well... Let us go to Achzib. You will change Your clothes, shave Your cheeks and tidy Your hair. You cannot stay like that! I cannot bear to see You like that... You look like one... who has escaped from cruel hands, like one who has been beaten, or is exhausted... You look like Abel of Bethlehem in Galilee, freed from his enemies..."
"Yes, Peter. But it is the heart of your Master that has been ill-treated... and it will never recover again... On the contrary it will be hurt more and more. Let us go..."
John sighs:"I am sorry... I would have liked to inform Thomas, who is so fond of Your Mother, of the miracle of the song and of the ointment..."
"You will tell him one day... Not now. One day you will tell everything. You will then be allowed to speak. I Myself will say to you: “Go and tell everything you know.” In the meantime see the truth in the miracle. That is: the power of Faith. John and Syntyche calmed the sea and cured the man not by means of words or of the ointment. But through the faith with which they mentioned the Name of Mary and made use of Her ointment. And also because your faith was there as well, and your charity. Charity towards the injured man. Charity towards the Cretan. You saved the life of the former and tried to give faith to the latter. But if it is easy to cure bodies, it is very difficult to cure souls... There is no disease more difficult to wipe out, than a spiritual one..." and Jesus gives a deep sigh.
They are within sight of Achzib. Peter goes ahead with Matthew looking for lodgings. The others follow gathered round Jesus. The sun sets fast, while they enter the village...