365. Letters from Antioch.
22nd January 1946.
Jesus has left Bethany together with those who were with Him, that is, Simon Zealot and Marjiam. But they have been joined by Anastasica, who is completely covered by her veil and is walking beside Marjiam, while Jesus is a little behind them with Simon. The two couples are speaking while walking. They are talking on their own of what is closest to their hearts.
Anastasica says to Marjiam, continuing on the same subject of their conversation: "I am dying to meet Her." The woman is perhaps speaking of Eliza of Bethzur. "Believe me, I was not so deeply moved when I got married or when I was declared a leper. How shall I greet Her?"
And Marjiam with a kind smile, which is grave at the same time, replies: "Oh! with Her true name! Mother!"
"But I do not know Her! Is that not too familiar? After all, who am I, as compared with Her?"
"What I was last year. Nay, you are much more than I was! I was a poor, dirty, frightened, coarse little orphan. And yet from the very first moment She always called me son and She has been a real mother to me. Last year I was trembling with excitement waiting to see Her. But when I saw Her, I no longer trembled. I no longer suffered from the terror that had remained in my blood since I had seen, with my eyes of a boy, first the fury of nature which destroyed my house and family completely and later... and later, still with my eyes of a child, I had to see how man can be more cruel than jackals and vampires... And I trembled... I wept... all the time... and I felt here a painful sensation of fear, of grief, of hatred, of everything... In a few months I became acquainted with all the evil, sorrow and cruelty there is in the world... And I could not believe that there was still kindness, love, protection..."
"How? When the Master took you?!... And when you were among His disciples, who are so good?!"
"I still trembled, sister... and I still hated. Oh! It took me a long time to be convinced that I was not to be afraid... And it took even longer to be able not to hate those who had made my soul suffer by acquainting it with what man can be: a demon clad as a beast. One does not suffer without long lasting consequences, particularly when one is a child... A mark is left, because a child's heart is still tender and warm with the kisses of his mother and it hungers more for kisses than for bread. And instead of kisses he receives blows..."
"Yes. Poor. So poor! I no longer had any hope in God or respect for men... I was afraid of man. Even when I was close to Jesus or in Peter's arms, I was afraid... I used to say: “Is it possible? Oh! This will not last. They will get tired of being good, too... And I was longing to be with Mary. A mother is always a mother, is she not? And in fact, when I saw Her, when I was in Her arms, I was no longer afraid. I understood that my past was over and that from hell I had come to paradise... When I saw that they were forgetting about me and leaving me aside, I was upset for the last time... I always suspected mischief. And I cried. Oh! How lovingly She embraced me then. I never mourned my mother's death again since that moment and I did not tremble any more... Mary is kindness and peace for unhappy people..."
"And I need kindness and peace, too..." says the woman with a sigh.
"And you will shortly have peace. See the greenery down there? That is where it is hidden, in the house at Gethsemane."
"And will Eliza be there as well? What shall I say to them. What will they say to me?"
"I do not know whether Eliza is there. She was ill."
"Oh! She will not die?! If she did, who would accept me as a daughter?"
"Be not afraid. He said: “You will have a mother and a home.” And that is what will happen. Let us walk a little quicker. I cannot restrain myself when I am near Mary."
They quicken their steps and I can no longer hear them speak.
The Zealot notices that they are almost running along the crowded road and he says to Jesus: "They look like brother and sister. See how friendly they are."
"Marjiam is good company for anybody. It is a difficult virtue and it is so necessary for his future mission. I am taking care to increase such favourable disposition in him, because it will be very useful to him."
"You are training him according to Your own taste. Is that right, Master?"
"Yes. His age allows Me to do so."
"And yet, You were able to mould also old John Felix..."
"Yes. Because he let Me destroy him and re-create him completely."
"That is true. I have noticed that the greatest sinners, once they turn, exceed in justice us, who are relatively guilty. Why?"
"Because their contrition is proportionate to their sin. Immense. Consequently it crushes them under the millstone of sorrow and humility. “I have my sin constantly in mind” says the psalmist. That keeps their spirits humble. It is a good remembrance when it is joined to hope and trust in Mercy. Half perfections, and even less than half, very often come to a stand, because they are not spurred by the remorse of having committed grave sins and by the necessity of making amends in order to proceed towards true perfection. They stagnate like still waters and they are satisfied because they are clear. But even the clearest water will become slimy and foul, unless motion purifies it of the particles of dust and rubble that the wind blows into it."
"And are the imperfections, which we allow to exist and persist in us, dust and rubble?"
"Yes, Simon. You are still too stagnant. Your movement towards perfection is almost imperceptible. Do you not know that time flies? Do you not consider that in the time which is left, you ought to strive to become perfect? If you do not possess the strength of perfection, to be achieved by means of a firm will in the time which is still left, how will you be able to resist the storm that Satan and his followers will raise against the Master and His Doctrine? The day will come when you will be completely bewildered and you will ask yourselves: “Why were we utterly overwhelmed, since we were with Him for three years?” The answer is within you, in your behaviour! He who strives more to become perfect in the time still left, will be more able to remain faithful."
"Three years... So... Oh! my Lord!... So shall we be losing You next spring?"
"These trees have their little fruits and I will taste them when they are ripe. But after the fruit of this year, I shall not taste the new crop... Do not be distressed, Simon. Distress is sterile. Strengthen yourself in justice in order to be able to be faithful at the dreadful moment."
"Yes, I will. With all my strength. Can I tell the others as well? So that they may be prepared, too?"
"Yes, you can. But only those with a strong will, will do it."
"And what about the others? Will they be lost?"
"No. But they will be severely tried by their attitude. They Will be like one who thought that he was strong and finds himself knocked down and defeated. They will be dumbfounded and humiliated. Humble, at last! Because, believe Me, Simon, if there is no humility, it is not possible to proceed. Pride is the stone on which Satan's pedestal stands. Why keep it in your hearts? Is that dreadful being a pleasant master?"
"No, Master, he is not."
"And yet you keep in your hearts the supporting point, the chair for his lessons. You are full of pride. You have it for everything and for every reason. You are even proud of being “My disciples”. But, how silly of you, does the comparison of what you are with Him Who chose you, not cure you? Not because I called you, you will be saints. It will depend on what you have become after My call. Holiness is a building that each one builds by himself. Wisdom can teach him the method and plan. But it is up to you to do the material work."
"That is true. So, we shall not be lost. After the trial, will we be more holy because we are humble?..."
"Yes." A short severe "yes".
"Is that how You say it, Master?"
"Yes, that is how I say it."
"You would like us to be holy before the trial..."
"Yes, I would, with regard to everybody."
"Everybody? Shall we not be all equal in the trial?"
"Neither before it, nor during it, nor after it you will be equal. And yet I gave everyone the same word..."
"And the same love, Master. We are very guilty towards You..."
The Zealot, after a rather long silence, is about to speak. But the apostles and disciples who have met Marjiam at the lower slopes of Gethsemane, are hurrying towards them, and Simon is silent while Jesus replies to the greeting of everyone and then goes towards the olive-grove and the house, walking beside Peter.
Peter informs Him that they have been on the look-out since dawn, that Eliza is still ill in Johanna's house, that some Pharisees had come the previous evening, that... that... a bundle of rather confused news, and at last the question: "And what about Lazarus?", to which Jesus replies in detail. Peter, who is very curious, cannot refrain from asking: "And... nothing, Lord? No... news?"
"Yes. You will be told in good time. Where is Marjiam with the woman? Already in the house?"
"Oh! no. The woman did not dare to go on. She is sitting on the roadside waiting for You. Marjiam... Marjiam... disappeared. Has he run to the house?"
"Let us quicken our steps."
But no matter how much they hurry, they do not arrive at the house before Mary with Her sister-in-law, Salome, Porphirea, the wives of Bartholomew and Philip, have come out to venerate Him.
Jesus greets them from afar and turns His steps towards the place where Anastasica is sitting humbly, He takes her by the hand and leads her towards His Mother and the women. "Here is the flower of this Passover, Mother. One only this year. May it be pleasing to You because I brought it."
The woman has knelt down. Mary bends and raises her saying: "Daughters are in the hearts not at the feet of their mothers. Come, My daughter. Let us become familiar with our faces, as our souls already know one another. Here are some of our sisters. Some more will be coming. Let it be a kind family full of love for all its members and full of holiness for the glory of God."
The women disciples kiss one another lovingly and exchange greetings. They enter the house and go up to the terrace, which is surrounded by the white blossoms of hundreds of olive-trees. The groups part: Jesus with the men, the women with the newcomer. Susanna, who had gone to town, comes back with her husband. Johanna arrives with the children. Annaleah appears with her angelical face; and Jairus, who was with the disciples while they were running towards Jesus, comes back with his daughter, who joins the group of the women, near Mary, Who caresses her.
There is peace and love in the gathering. Then the sun sets and before dismissing those who have to go back to their own houses or to the ones where they are guests, Jesus gathers them all together to pray and blesses them. He then dismisses them and remains with those who prefer to crowd in the house at Gethsemane or to spend the night under the olive-trees, rather than go away. So the women − who remain are: Mary, Mary of Alphaeus, Salome, Anastasica, Porphirea; the men are: Jesus, Peter, Andrew, James and Judas of Alphaeus, James and John of Zebedee, Simon Zealot, Matthew and Marjiam.
Supper is soon over. Then Jesus invites His Mother and Mary of Alphaeus to go with Him and the disciples into the silent olive-grove.
Perhaps the other women would like to go as well. But Jesus does not invite them, on the contrary He says to Salome and Porphirea: "Entertain our new sister speaking of holy things and then go to bed without waiting for us. Peace be with you." So the three women resign themselves to their destiny.
Peter is rather sulky and he becomes silent; all the others, instead, are talking while going in group towards the rock of Jesus, future agony. They sit on its edge, facing Jerusalem, which is slowly calming down, after the confusion of the day.
"Light some branches, Peter."
"Because I want to read to you what John and Syntyche have written. Since you are dissatisfied, you had better know that that is the reason why I did not let the three women come."
"But my wife was there that evening!..."
"But it would have been impolite to exclude Salome only of the old women disciples... In any case it will give you the opportunity to give vent to your desire to speak, as you will be able to tell your prudent wife what you are now going to hear."
Peter, rejoicing at the praise of his wife and at the permission to inform her of the secret, is no longer sulky and he busies himself lighting a bright fire, from which flames rise straight and still in the calm air.
Jesus takes out of His waist the two letters, He unfolds them and reads them in the middle of the circle of eleven attentive faces.
"“To Jesus of Nazareth honour and blessings. To Mary of Nazareth blessings and peace. To my holy brothers peace and good health. To my beloved Marjiam peace and caresses.
Tears and smiles are in my heart and on my face as I sit down to write this letter to you all. Recollections, nostalgia, hope and peace for the duty I have accomplished, are with me. All the past, which is of value to me, that is, the past, which began twelve months ago, is before me and a psalm of gratitude to God rises from my heart, as He has been too merciful towards me, a culprit. May You be blessed and with You the Holy Mother Who gave birth to You in this world, and the other mother whom I remember as mercy incarnate. And with You may Peter, John, Simon, James and Judas, and the other James, and Andrew and Matthew be blessed. And last may my dearest Marjiam be blessed, and I have taken him on my heart to bless him. May you all be blessed for what you have given me, from the moment I met you until the moment I left you! Oh! not of my own will! May God forgive those who tore me away from you! May God forgive them. And may He increase in me the strength to do it. For the time being, through His help and with Him I can do it. But alone, no, I would not yet be able to do it, because too scorching is the injury that they did to me by tearing me away from true Life, from You, Most Holy Jesus. It is still too scorching, notwithstanding Your consolation is a continuous balmy shower to me...”"
Jesus glances over several lines without reading them. And He resumes: "“My life...”" but Peter, who to let the Master see, has taken a blazing branch and is holding it high, standing near Him and craning his neck to see what is written, says: "No, it is not so! Why are You not reading it, Master? You have left something out! I am an ass, but not to the extent that I cannot read slowly. I can read: “Your promises have exceeded my hope...”"
"You are an awful bore! You are worse than a boy!" says Jesus smiling.
"Of course I am! I am almost old! So I am more cunning than a boy."
"You ought to be also more prudent."
"Prudence is good with enemies. Here we are with friends. John says something beautiful about You. And I want to know. So that I will know which way to turn in the event You should send me elsewhere, like a bale of goods. Please, read everything! Mother, Please tell Him that it is not fair to give selected news, as if it were little fish. Give us everything: seaweed, mud, small fish and exquisite fish, everything! Will you all help me! You look like dummies to me. And you make me angry! And you are laughing!"
It is almost impossible not to laugh seeing the excitement of Peter who is jumping about, like a restive colt, waving his blazing branch, heedless of the sparks falling on him.
Jesus has to give in, in order to calm him and continues to read.
"“Your promises have exceeded my hope in Your promises. Oh! Holy Master! When in that sad winter morning You promised me that You would come to comfort Your depressed disciple, I did not understand the true value of Your promise. Sorrow and man's limitation were oppressing the power of my spirit, which was too dull to be able to understand the extent of Your promise.
May You be blessed, o spiritual Visitor of my nights, which thus are not desolation and grief as I foresaw, but expectation of You, or joyful meeting with You. Night, the dread of sick people, of exiles, of lonely people, of culprits, has become for me Felix, really happy to do Your will and serve You, the waiting of the wise virgins for the arrival of the bridegroom'. My poor soul has even more. It has the blessing of being the bride awaiting her Love, who comes to the nuptial room to give her every time the joy of their first meeting and the fortifying ecstasy of their union.
Oh! my Master and Lord, while I bless You for giving me so much, I beg You to remember the other two promises that You made me. The most important one, for the very weak man I am, is not to let me be alive at the hour of Your passion. You are aware of my weakness! Do not let him, who for Your sake despoiled himself of hatred, do not let him put on again the thorny scorching uniform of hatred, through his hatred for Your executioners. The other promise is for Your poor disciple, who is also too weak and imperfect: be near me, as You told me, at the hour of my death. Now that I know that there is no distance for You, and that seas, mountains, rivers and the will of men cannot prevent You from giving the comfort of Your tangible presence to those whom You love, I no longer doubt that I can have You when I breathe my last. Come, Lord Jesus! Come soon to lead me to peace.
Now that I have spoken to You of my soul, I will inform You of my work. I have many pupils, of every race and country. In order not to hurt any of them, I have divided them, and one day I teach the heathens and the next day the believers, with good profit, owing to the shortage of teachers here. I give the money I earn to the poor, whom I thus attract to the Lord. I have resumed my old name, not because I am fond of it, but out of prudence. When I am in the world, I am 'Felix'. During the hours in which I belong to Jesus, I am 'John': the grace of God. I explained to Philip that my true name was Felix and that I was called John only to be distinguished from my brothers. And he was not amazed owing to the common habit of changing names or calling people by nicknames. I hope to do a good deal of work here, to prepare thus the road for my holy brothers. If I were stronger I would like to go into the country and make Your Name known there. Perhaps I will be able to do so in early summer or when it is cooler in autumn. If I am fit, I will do so. The pure air at Antigonea, the gardens, which are so placid and beautiful, the flowers, children, little hens, the loving kindness of the gardeners and above all the deep, wise, filial fondness of Syntyche do me a lot of good. I would say that my health has improved. But Syntyche is not of the same opinion, although I only gather her opinion through the diligent continuous care she has for me, for my food, for my resting and to ensure that I do not get cold... But I do feel better. Is this perhaps not the sensation that comes from one's duty accomplished heroically? That is what Syntyche says. And I would like to know whether she is right. Because duty is a moral matter, whilst disease is a bodily matter. I would also like to know whether You come to me really or whether You just appear to my spiritual senses, but so perfectly that I cannot tell where the material reality of Your Presence ends. Dear blessed Master, Your John kneels down asking for Your blessing. Peace and blessings to Your Mother, to Mary and to the holy brothers. A kiss to Marjiam that he may remember to send me Your holy words, which are bread for the exiles working in the vineyard of the Lord.”
That is John's letter... What do you think of it?"
They all exchange their impressions... But the outstanding point is in regard to Jesus' Presence. They harass Him with questions... how it can be, whether it can be, and whether Syntyche sees, and so on...
Jesus beckons to them to be silent and He unfolds Syntyche's roll. He reads: "“Syntyche to the Lord Jesus with all the love of which she is capable. Veneration and praise to our Blessed Mother. Gratitude and blessings to my brothers in the Lord. The embrace of his far away sister to Marjiam. John has told You about our life, Master. He has told You very synthetically what he does and what I do in a womanly way. My little school is full of girls and I make a good spiritual profit, because I lead them to You, my Lord, speaking of the true God while we work together. In this region where so many races have mingled, there is an intricate tangle of religions. It is so intricate that... that they are nothing but impracticable religions, shreds of religions of no further use. In the middle there is the rigid uncompromising faith of Israelites, which breaks with its weight the worn out threads of the other religions without achieving anything. As John has pupils, he must act wisely. I can proceed more freely with my girls. Women are always considered inferior beings, so much so that families of different religions do not care if the girls mix in one school. It is enough if they learn the fruitful art of embroidery. And blessed be the scornful concept the world has of us women, because it allows me to widen the field of my action more and more. Our embroidery work is selling easily and rapidly, our renown is spreading, noblewomen come from afar. I thus have the opportunity of speaking to all of them of God... Oh! how even threads, which become flowers, animals, stars on our looms and on the cloth, are useful to direct souls to the Truth, if one so wishes. As I know several languages I can speak Greek to Greeks, Latin to Romans, Hebrew to Hebrews. With John's assistance I am improving my knowledge of the last language.
Mary's ointment is another means of penetration. I have made a large fresh lot of it, with the essences we have here, and I added a particle of the original ointment, to sanctify it. Ulcers and sores, wounds and chest trouble simply disappear. It is true, however, that while I rub and bandage sore parts, I continuously mention the two holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Nay, playing on the Greek name of Christ, I have called the balm: 'Anointed Myrrh'. Is it not so? Is the healthy essence of the Myrrh of God, Whose begotten Son You are, not in it, o precious Oil, which makes us kings? I very often have to stay up to prepare more fresh ointment and I would ask our Holy Mother to make some more and send it to me for the Feast of the Tabernacles, so that I can mix it with what the humble servant of God has made. But if I am wrong in doing so, tell me, Lord and I will stop doing it.
Dear John praises me a great deal. And what should I say about him? He endures bitter pain, but his strength is wonderful. If I did not know his secret, I would be amazed. But since that night, when coming back from a sick person, I found him in ecstasy and transfigured, and I heard his words, and I prostrated myself as I realised that You were present with Your servant, I can no longer be surprised. Perhaps some of my brothers will be amazed on hearing that I do not regret that I did not see, too. Why should I? Everything You give is good and sufficient. And each of us receives what we deserve and what we need. It is therefore right that John has You visibly, while I have You in my soul only. Am I happy? As a woman I regret the time I spent with You and Mary. But as a soul, I am very happy, because now only I serve You, my Lord. I consider that time is nothing. I consider that obedience is money to enter Your Kingdom. I consider that to help You is a grace that exceeds even what the poor slave could have dreamed in an hour of rapture and that You have granted me to help You. I consider that although I am parted from You now, I will finally have You for all eternity. And I sing John's song as wood-larks do in springtime in the golden fields of Hellas. My girls sing it because they say that it is beautiful. I let them sing on the rhythm of the loom, which is so like the rhythm of the oar on that remote day, because I think that the mention of Your name, Mother, predisposes one to Grace.
John is asking me to add the information that he sent You a very good citizen from Antioch. His name is Nicolaus. He is his first conquest for Your flock. We sincerely hope that Nicolaus will not disappoint the high reputation we hold him in our hearts.
Bless Your servant, Lord. Bless her, Mother; bless me all, you saints, and you, too, blessed child, who are growing in wisdom near the Lord.”
That is what Syntyche wrote. And she added a foot-note, unknown to John. She says: “John excels and becomes stronger only in his soul. The rest is declining notwithstanding cures. He relies much on early summer. I do not think that he will be able to do what he says. I am afraid that winter will chill his feeble life... But he is in peace. And he is sanctified by his deeds and his suffering. Support his strength with Your presence, my Lord! I ask You to subject me to every kind of pain in exchange for this gift for Your disciple. As we are sending these letters by Ptolmai, to Lazarus, I beg You to tell him and his sisters that we remember their kindness to us and that we pray constantly and ardently for them.”"
Once again they all exchange their impressions. Andrew bends to ask Mary something and he is amazed at seeing tears on Her face. "Are You weeping?" he asks Her.
"Why are You weeping, Mother" many of them ask.
"I know why She is weeping" says Marjiam.
"Because John has mentioned the Lord's death."
"Of course! Is that true? And how does he know, when he no longer was with us, when You predicted it?"
"Because I told him to comfort him."
"Yes, comfort. The promise that he will not have to wait long to enter the Kingdom. He deserves it because he excelled you in will and obedience. Let us go back to the house. We will prepare our replies to be given to Ptolmai and you will add your rolls, Marjiam."
"Ah! I see! He was writing for them!..."
"Yes. Let us go. Tomorrow we will go to the Temple..."