CHAPTER XXVIII. ST. JOHN IS BEHEADED BY COMMAND OF HEROD
"And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (St. John i, 5.)
In truth, it is not the miracles performed by the Son of God which confound the intelligence. That the dead should be raised to life by His voice; that the waves should be stilled; that the elements should obey Him; that He who made them should command them—all these are facts that may cast terror into the heart of man, but will not surprise him.
Rather, that which astonishes us is that the Divinity has been able to inhabit the earth without changing or replacing its order by a divine order. But evil resisted—passively, 'tis true, yet effectively* And the Lord did not destroy its power. So inviolable is human liberty.
The holy Virgin saw lepers cured and restored to the society which had excluded them. She saw tongues loosened. She saw Jesus enter the synagogue of Capharnaum, and exorcise there the devil which possessed the youth. She saw miracle after miracle performed, and yet men doubted Him, and Spoke evil of Him.
And then came the report of the death of St. John the Baptist. Mary heard it, and trembled, for she knew that in death, as in life, John was to precede her Son. Everything was being accomplished!
Herod had cast John into prison for having reproached him with his dissolute intimacies with Herodias, the wife of his brother, and from the consequences of these reproaches nothing had been able to save him; neither the sanctity of his pure life, nor his exalted virtues, nor his serious teachings, nor his admirable doctrines—no, not even the involuntary respect which Herod entertained for him. Bitterly offended by the Baptist, Herodias sought every means to compass his death.
An occasion soon favored her. At a feast her daughter Salome danced with such grace before Herod, that, intoxicated with the abandon of the moment, he cried out: "Ask what you will! If it be even to the half of my kingdom I swear to grant it!"
And the frivolous maiden, wishing to please her mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist, the holy Precursor, in return for a graceful dance—as she might have demanded a crown of flowers! Herod, though he experienced some remorse in granting it, nevertheless acceded to her request. What matters the price that is paid to the god of pleasure?
This odious murder gave a craving for blood to those who revolted against the chaste and severe morals of the Saviour. Alas! Since the time of Abel the good have always been odious to the wicked. The good will ever be odious to the wicked until the end of the world. Let him die! breathed Cain, the first murderer. Let Him die! now murmured the Doctors of the Law. He must die! whispered the Pharisees, whose unyielding sect could neither admit nor understand the merciful doctrine of Jesus Christ! He shall die! cried the fierce Sadducees, and all those whose conduct He had condemned or whose pride He had crushed.
But now Mary was to see her Beloved on Mount Thabor. She observed the divinity of Christ absorbing His humanity. That infirm and perishable body in which man had been shut up since the Fall, and with which the Saviour had clothed Himself to suffer, appeared to her transfigured into that glorious, impalpable and luminous body which He was to carry to heaven after His resurrection.
"His face did shine as the sun, and His garments became white as snow; and behold, there approached Moses and Elias talking with Him." (St Matthew xvii, 2, 3.)
Often, before this, had Mary gazed upon divine t visions, but now she was compelled to lower her eyes in the presence of such splendor. Then she perceived the disciples. They had fallen on their faces to the earth, their senses too feeble to sustain such a sublime spectacle.
But the Virgin, fortified, it may be, by a ray of her Son's glory, again fixed her gaze upon Him, becoming inebriated with the happiness of thus contemplating the divine Word in all His glory. And, as He shone with a brightness far more dazzling than that of the sun, the harmony of the spheres rolling in space struck upon her senses with majestic music, accompanying a voice—the mighty voice of the all-powerful God, which said: 44 This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (St Matthew xvii, 5)
Then everything became silent, and the Saviour again permitted man's nature to weigh upon Him, like the garment of a slavfe. Approaching His disciples, who were filled with dread and admiration, Mary heard Him reassure them, in His mild voice.
After that the Mother felt that her Son's goodness and beauty seemed even more wonderful to the Apostles. They saw Him, as it were, in a halo of light. His miracles acquired a rarer dignity; even as they reached the foot of Mount Thabor our blessed Lord cured the lunatic child, and later the ten lepers were made whole; He gave sight to the man born blind, and healed, on the Sabbath day, the man afflicted with dropsy.
Our Lady saw Lazarus emerge from his tomb. She felt the great joy of his sisters, Martha and Mary, and that sweeter joy which Lazarus himself experienced when he observed upon the cheek of his beloved friend and Master, the sparkling tear which sanctified their holy affection.
And in the Virgin's heart was a great tenderness toward him over whom her Son had wept, and toward the sisters who had had such faith: "Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died!" (St. John xi, 21.)
But alas I His divinity was only visible to the ones who loved Him. The blind and ignorant hatred of those who found in the conduct and teaching of Jesus the condemnation of their licentious and depraved lives increased from day to day, and at last became diabolical.
One morning, the Angel Gabriel, that bright spirit who had brought to Mary the sweetest, holiest message ever delivered upon this earth, approached her humble dwelling.
"It is time," he said. "Arise, O Mother! Come to assist at His last triumphs, ere following Him in His last sorrows!"
And the glorious wings of the angel trembled as the pinions of a bird tremble before the coming of the tempest.
"The moment of expiation is near," he added. "The chaff is separated from the grain; the wicked are uniting as one man. The prophecies are to be accomplished."
Oh, heart of the Mother! How it shook within her when she heard these words! Her cheeks paled, her form trembled. She suffered, suffered as the Mother of the Saviour . . . ah, but more wonderful to relate, she suffered as the Mother of the human race.
"There exist, then, upon this earth," she exclaimed, "creatures wicked enough to put to death the One who has come to redeem them! Who is more innocent than Jesus? The best, the most patient, the most merciful of men! What favors He has bestowed upon those who surround Him, those who follow Him! And yet these men, these, the creatures of God, will deliver their God to death!"
So lamented the Mother of sorrows, gazing at the angel as if beseeching that heavenly spirit to tell her that her Son was not to perish by the hand of man.
But the Angel hid his face.
"He Himself wishes to die . . . that His blood may wash away the stain of sin!"
And then the Angel and the Mother knelt, humbling themselves before the mystery of love—Mary comprehending, by the power of God, the depth of the malice of fallen man, and the extent of his degradation, which, in her wondrous and unique innocence, she had never yet been able to understand.