- The Little Office
- 1 Mirror of Justice
- 2 The Saviour
- 3 The First Years
- 4 In The Temple
- 5 Nazareth
- 6 The Annunciation
- 7 The Visitation
- 8 The Magnificat
- 9 The Benedictus
- 10 Christmas
- 11 The Magi
- 12 At The Manger
- 13 Nunc Dimittis
- 14 The Presentation
- 15 Flight into Egypt
- 16 The Holy Innocents
- 17 Life at Nazareth
- 18 Jesus in the Temple
- 19 Jesus at labour
- 20 Death of St. Joseph
- 21 Baptism Of Jesus
- 22 Jesus In The Desert
- 23 Calling The Apostles
- 24 Marriage at Cana
- 25 Silence Of The Gospel
- 26 Start Of The Passion
- 27 Foot Of The Cross
- 28 Jesus Laid In The Tomb
- 29 Resurrection
- 30 Ascension, Pentecost
- 31 The Assumption
When Mary Walked The Earth, part 4, by Daniel A. Lord, S.J
Only the last glimmer of twilight crept in through the opening in the roof; yet even in the shadows his statue gleamed with a whiteness of ivory against the purple of its silken hangings.
From the wall he caught a torch, lighted it from the tiny spark that his slave kept burning near the door, and held it close to his goddess.
Could this statue really be his? His lip curled contemptuously as he regarded it. The coarse voluptuousness of those arms and legs! And he had thought them beautiful! He almost laughed aloud as he measured the lustful curve of those too full lips, the fleshy heaviness that made his goddess seem rooted to the very earth. He held the torch close to her face and the flame lit up the sensuous fullness of her chin and the full, shameless lines of her figure.
THE GODDESS DIES
“I have sworn,” he said bitterly, and thrust back the torch into its holder, where it sputtered and threw uncertain beams around the goddess.
Philander, his hand upon his heart, bowed in a ironical reverence.
“Farewell, my goddess,” he said. “The unkind Fates have decreed that no one shall bend before thee, no priestly cult pronounce thee immortal; for thou hast lost thy right to life, and I who made thee now destroy thee. Today, my goddess, in the streets of Jerusalem I saw Mary the mother of Jesus smile upon her Son.”“
And the mallet, with crashing force, fell upon the cold, soulless head.
Her Infant Dies for Christ
They called her Mad Suzanna; and though they dreaded her and avoided her, no one but felt that she had reason for her madness. From village to village she went, from her native Bethlehem out into the hill countries, up to Galilee and back to Jerusalem, and everywhere she told her story to anyone who would listen.
“Oh,” she cried, in pathetic monotony, “he was the sweetest babe that ever a mother bore. Still against my breast I feel the warm touch of his baby fingers. When I sat beneath the fig tree and rocked him in my arms, the queen upon her throne was not as rich as I nor half so happy-I whose husband had died without seeing his own child.
THE CRASH OF SOLDIERY
“And then,” she would hurry on, in quickly growing emotion, “one night as I stood by his crib, not daring to loosen his fingers clinging to mine, for fear I would waked him, came the terrible beat of sword hilts against my door, the curses of soldiers, and the roar of their savage laughter.
I caught my baby from his crib as Herod’s men flung down the door and stood there, the lamplight striking lightning from their swords. And though I fought them madly, they snatched my child and buried their swords in his little heart.”
And then her eyes would grow shrewdly vindictive.
“And why? Did Herod hate my child? Not mine. He slew my child to be sure he would kill the new-born Christ. Yet they say he missed the Christ, that somewhere in this world the Christ still lives. Not one snap do I care for Him, this Christ. But when I find His mother, I will make her suffer as I have suffered. And I will search until I find her.”
One day, as she wandered in Galilee, she heard of Jesus and His mother Mary and how He preached in Jerusalem, and how Mary often followed Him from afar, and of a chamber above the city streets where sometimes He dwelt and Mary came to visit Him.
She almost flew down the road. After days and nights of tireless walking she came to a strangely quiet, terror silenced Jerusalem over which cracked great whips of lightning. But neither the fear in the eyes of the citizens nor the startled air with which they crept about in the shadows, nor the fierceness of the storm meant anything to Mad Suzanna. She was proceeding straight to the little room over the street where perhaps she could find thy mother of Him for whose sake her child had been slain.
VENGEANCE AT LAST
Mad Suzanna found the little tortuous street, found the house, and with bare fists pounded savagely upon the door. With difficulty she controlled her laughter. Now she could face the mother of this Christ and tell her, with all the carefully planned fury of her revenge, what she suffered when her innocent child had died to save Mary’s guilty one!
Down the stair she heard the sound of slow, cautious feet, and the door was opened timidly. A flash of lightning illuminated the grief-torn face of a young man.
“Whom do you seek?” he whispered.
“Mary, the mother of Jesus,” she said, controlling her voice as well as she could.
The young man swung open the door, allowed her to enter, fastened it again with a heavy iron bar, and then preceded Mad Suzanna up the stairs.
A low light burned in the upper room, a light that was hardly needed because of the blinding flashes of lightning that followed in such quick succession. Near a rough table sat a woman, her head bowed, her hands clasped against her knees so that the skin was white over her knuckles.
“Mary?” Mad Suzanna asked the youth. “Yes,” he said.
Then Suzanna, circling about like a wild beast bearing down upon its prey, moved round the table and stood before Mary. Mary lifted her head slightly and pushed back her veil. But the woman was too keen upon her revenge to note that grief had ravaged Mary’s face and torn it with fierce claws. Out of the long years of waiting swept the fury of the woman’s words. Mary sat regarding her with patient, hurt eyes, while over her poured the wild abuse the railing, the curses of Mad Suzanna. Once the young man moved forward protesting, but Mary’s hand, slightly raised, stayed him halfway.
“And,” screamed Mad Suzanna, in a fierce climax, “my child, my son, my innocent one died, was slain- do you hear me?-to save your son. My son for yours!”
Quietly Mary rose from the table and put her hand upon the trembling, exhausted shoulder of Mad Suzanna; gently she guided her to the window, and the woman, awed by Mary’s quiet power, moved without protest. A sudden succession of terrifying flashes filled the sky. Mary lifted her arms and pointed off toward a distant hill.
Against the sky stood three crosses, one tall and upright, the others bent and swaying. Mary’s hand tightened on the shoulder of Mad Suzanna as with tearless voice she said: “Then tonight, Suzanna, we are quits. For look-my son, my boy, my innocent one, today has been slain for you and yours.”
And the madness dying from her eyes, Suzanna sank upon her knees and kissed the robe of Mary.
THE EMPTY HOUSE
“Some Day My Son Will Come Home”
The house was so lonely and empty and almost terrifying. The old mother walked about her little home touching each dear, familiar object with fingers that seemed to caress them. Her son had sat at that table, precisely there, where the evening light fell over his shoulder as he ate. He had hung his cloak there on the wooden peg near the door. On that couch he had reclined when he returned from his work, kicking off his sandals and luxuriating in the delicious smells that came from the hearth, where she bent over the pots steaming with his favourite foods.
And now her son was gone. Miles of ocean separated them -long, treacherous miles marked by a thousand unknown dangers. Why had he, a Jew of Galilee, felt the call of the sea and left her thus? If he must sail, there was the Lake of Tiberias, not the terrible, stormy ocean which battered even the stoutest Roman ships to broken splinters. Some remote Phoenician strain had sent him thus away from her, some strain that clamoured for the wild, whipping winds and the fierce surge of mid-ocean.
THE TALE OF DESOLATION
She sank desolate on the couch, silent in the midst of her silent house. It might be years, she felt, before again she heard his cheerful whistle from the dusty road or felt his strong arms about her aging shoulders.
“Good God! Why must mothers bear sons and then see them snatched away to leave the mother’s heart and the mother’s home so empty?”
The woman rose and stood in the open doorway. Across the road was the tiny house of Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom some had thought the Christ. The old lady watched a dim figure moving about in the twilight, scarcely visible as the deep oriental night fell over the village. Then a flicker of light in the casement and the figure of Mary bent to mend the flame.
Moved by that uncontrollable desire to talk to someone, the old mother threw her scarf about her head and, leaving her door ajar, ran across the road, knocked, and pushed past the quiet gray-haired Mary, who welcomed her with silent understanding.
The torrent of her mother’s loneliness poured forth the tale of lonely meals once shared by a vigorous son; of a clean, warm bed no longer mussed by tossing limbs but orderly as the covering of a bier; of a home that used to echo to manly laughter and hearty jest, now the abode of unbroken, terrifying silence; of a house that had seemed so small when he was in it and now seemed so vast when he was gone; of the frightening evening hours when she waited for the homecoming step that she knew she would not hear.
THE PLACE AT TABLE
Mary smiled at her gently, understanding the depth of her loneliness.
The mother ended her tale and looked up with tear-misted eyes at Mary. Mary rose, lifted the flickering lamp from the table and, taking the mother by the hand, walked quietly with her through the little house of Nazareth.
Just for a moment she paused at the dining table. Here, I though now she lived alone, for John was gone on the work of the apostolate, were two places set, one with its well- used metal plate, its heavy drinking cup, its strong masculine knife and spoon-the place where once Jesus had sat, who now had left her for His Father’s side.
Reverently she lifted the curtains of the little alcove behind which was a cot spread with fresh, clean linen and warm with handmade rugs tucked in so carefully. Mary’s hand touched caressingly the pillow where His head had rested and would never rest again.
There in the corner near the door hung a cloak, old now and faded with the passing years, but as carefully brushed as if it might again be snatched up and worn by Him as it had been on that memorable day when He left her to start His ministry; and beneath it stood the sandals that had once encased His tireless, eager feet.
AS HE LEFT THEM
Hand in hand the mothers walked to the door at the rear of the house and across the courtyard into the little shop that had been Joseph’s before it became Jesus”. No shavings nor bits of clean wood nor fresh debris of a busy shop now lay about the floor; but on the tables lay His tools, as polished as though they had been used just that afternoon, waiting, hammer and saw, awl and plane, for the hands that had once gripped them so efficiently and now would never touch them again.
Then, as they entered the living room, Mary went to the window and once more trimmed her flickering lamp, as if it were a welcome light to lead His feet out of the darkness into the light, warmth, and love that filled her home.
And in the silence of that empty house, which once had been filled with the sound of His beloved voice, the mothers looked at each other and understood.
It was the mother of the sailor who spoke.
“I was unkind and selfish,” she said. “At least some day my son will come home.”
THE JOY OF DEATH
Joel the Merchant Seeks the Meaning of Death.
“When a man is as rich as you are, he can afford to gratify whims of this sort,” said one of the strange assembly in the luxurious Judean reception hall.
“Perhaps it is because I am rich that I do not consider it a whim to bring together wise men who can tell me the meaning of death.”
Joel the Merchant looked around at the men who had come, at the bidding of his riches, to give him counsel.
“You have done well,” he said, bowing approvingly to his secretary. That faithful servant, remembering the struggle it had been to gather the world’s wisest men for his rich patron, breathed a relieved sigh.
HOW CAN I CEASE TO FEAR?
“You represent, I am told,” continued Joel, “the greatest wisdom of the world. I know that it has been hard for you to come from your distant lands to talk with me on death, but I shall make it worth your while.”
A black slave placed upon the table two significantly heavy bags of gold. “You see,” Joel went on, “I have everything that man could ask. Yet I fear death, fear it with a craven dread. So I ask you, out of your great wisdom, to tell me if death has some meaning that I could understand and be in fear no longer. Tell me, What is death?”
The venerable men stirred uneasily.
Finally the dapper little Roman leaned forward and Joel, turned to him expectantly.
“To us Romans,” he began, “death is the terrible shadow, in contrast with which the colour and brightness of the world grow more beautiful. It is the ghost that drives us into the perfumed arms of living loves. Death is the thief who takes everything from all of us, and, because he reaches out for every living man, makes us all cherish life, love life, enjoy life, more completely.”
Joel bowed. “I am not fond of shadows,” he said. “Nor do I love ghosts or willingly consort with thieves.”
“Death,” said the Hindoo, in a curiously sing-song voice, “is the flight of stairs upward from landing to landing if you be noble; downward into the depths if you be vile. Then, at length, after long centuries of climbing or descending, you step from the ladder into the great well that is the All-Spirit and you are so absorbed so that you cease to be yourself and you become part of one divine.”
“My thanks,” Joel said. “I do not think I care either to climb or descend, nor do I think that your All-Spirit would be any recompense for the loss of my beloved self.”
WHAT”S DEATH TO A JEW?
“Death,” said the Greek, “was called by the ancients the river flowing to the Elysian Fields.” “And are souls contented in the Elysian Fields?” asked Joel sceptically.
““I had rather be a slave of some miserable farmer”, said the ghost of Achilles, walking in the Elysian Fields, “than the ruler of all the Lands of the Dead,”” answered the Greek.
Joel turned with a shrug from the Greek and fixed his eyes upon the great Pharisee standing disdainfully aloof, feeling himself sullied by the presence of the pagans.
“And what is death to a Jew?” asked Joel.
“What concern is it of yours,” answered the Pharisee insolently, “what death may mean to a Jewish believer? For you it will be the moment when you face a vengeful Jehovah who will smite you with a terrible blow of His angry hand.”
Joel lifted his hands in a gesture of dismissal.
“You have been kind,” he said to them. Then, with a disrespectful shrug, he motioned to his slave. “But I fear you have made your journeys in vain. My treasurer will strive to reward you.”
And he turned from the room.
After him, in pattering sandals, came his secretary.
“Master,” he said, “there was to have been one more, John, a disciple of this Jesus whom the Jews crucified, but for some reason he did not come.”
Joel looked interested.
“In that case,” he said, “take me to him.”
THE LITTLE DARKENED ROOM
There was about the little house where John dwelt an indefinable air of hushed solemnity, and the secretary, who had walked a step in advance of his master, hesitated before he knocked. There was a pause and the door was opened by John, who regarded the visitors questioningly.
“You failed of your appointment,” the secretary explained, “to tell my master, Joel the Merchant, what death means to one who follows Christ.”
“I have been too close to death,” John answered, “to talk of its meaning.” He opened the door wide. “Come,” he invited. “I shall let you see what death means to one who loved Christ.”
They followed him into the little darkened room and stopped abashed. A quick breath seemed to catch Joel’s throat as he leaned forward eagerly.
Upon a white couch lay the quiet figure of a woman, past middle age, and, though her hair was touched with grey, her skin was unwrinkled and unmarked by the fingers of time. Her white hands folded above a lily; under her feet and under her head were pillows of white roses; on her face was an expression such as Joel had never seen on any other face, living or dead. It was as if she had looked upon some joy too great to bear and had died of sheer happiness.
“Who is this?” he asked breathlessly.
“The mother of Christ.”
“And what did death mean to her?”
“What it means to all who love Christ-the end of waiting for the welcoming arms of God.”
All that night Joel paced the floor of his room. He could not forget that fixed smile of perfect happiness, that unfading expression of joy beyond the joys of earth that had come to her only with death. Then death must be a beautiful thing, a lovely thing, except for the fact—As he stood before the polished steel of his mirror and studied the familiar lines of his face, flexed the muscles of his arms, and strode to and fro on his strong, vigorous legs, Joel was conscious of that uncontrollable affection which binds a man to his body.
Before sundown, he pondered, they had lowered the lovely body of that woman into the grave. And though the spirit that had carved the beauty of that dead face would live, her flesh would rot into forgotten dust. Death was too terrible if it robbed her thus.
At his bidding his slave had followed the funeral procession of the dead Mary, to discover the place of her burial. Now, as the first rays of the sun struck fire from the domes of the Temple, one of the slaves came to lead him to the newly made grave. He felt that he must stand above that grave, morbidly knowing that her flesh was rotting and her loveliness turning to filth under the cruel alchemy of death.
He and his slave crossed the quiet city and came to the tombs outside the walls. Scattered white rose petals marked the path of her funeral procession and, shuddering as he always shuddered at the nearness of death, he came in the footsteps of his slave, to the fresh grave. But suddenly the slave stopped, screamed once in terror, and turning, ran headlong back by the path by which he had come.
Joel hesitated and then pushed forward and stood, not beside a mound of earth, but above an open grave filled with lilies that flung into the air a perfume unlike that of any lilies he had ever smelled.
Puzzled, Joel looked into the grave that was a garden, and then, at the sound of running feet, he turned and saw John at his side. John, too, looked into the grave.
“Death,” he cried, “is the prelude to resurrection.”
Joel knelt in the dewy grass. “I am content. Teach me to know and love Christ.”
FRANCISCUS MOYNIHAN Censor Deputatus:
March 20, 1947