Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Shepherds of the Nativity were Twelve.

The Shepherds who visited Baby Jesus were twelve, according to Maria Valtorta. They were the first to come and adore the Incarnate Word. And we know their names! After the Lord began His public ministry, he sought out the shepherds, many of whom were still living.



Mary and Joseph are nearing Bethlehem when they meet a shepherd, who cuts across the road with his herd […]. Joseph bends down to say something to him. The shepherd nods in assent. Joseph takes the donkey and leads it behind the herd into the grazing ground. The shepherd pulls a coarse bowl out of his knapsack, he milks a big sheep with swollen udders and hands the bowl to Joseph who offers it to Mary.


« May God bless you both » exclaims Mary. « You for your love, and you for your kindness. I will pray for you. »


« Are you coming from far? » asks the shepherd.

« From Nazareth » replies Joseph.

« And where are you going? »

« To Bethlehem. »

« A Long journey for a woman in Her state. Is She your wife? »

« Yes, She is. »

« Have you got a place where to go? »

« No, we haven't. » 

« That's bad! Bethlehem is overcrowded with people who have come from all over to register there, or are on their way to register elsewhere. I don't know whether you will find lodgings. Are you familiar with the place? »


« Not very. »


« Well... I will explain it to you... for Her... (and he points to Mary). Find the hotel, but it will be full. But I will tell you just the same, to guide you. It's in the square, in the largest one. This main road will take you to it. You can't miss it. There is a fountain in front of it, it is a long and low building with a very big door. It will be full. But if you do not find room in the hotel, or in any of the houses, go round to the back of the hotel, towards the country. 


There are some stables in the mountain, which are used sometimes by merchants to keep their animals there, on their way to Jerusalem, when they don't find room in the hotel. They are stables […], they are damp and cold and there are no doors. But they are always a shelter, because your wife can't be left on the road. Perhaps you will find room there and some hay to sleep on and for the donkey. And may God guide you. »


« And may God give you joy » answers Mary. Joseph instead replies: « Peace be with you. »


They take to the road again. 


That night the Savior is born, and Maria Valtorta is graced with a vision of the announcement of His birth to the shepherds. 


She writes: […] I see a very wide country. The moon is at its zenith and she is sailing smoothly in a sky crowded with stars [...], the moon is smiling in the middle of them with her big white face, from which streams of light descend and make the earth white […].


On my right I see a place enclosed by a thorn-bush hedge on two sides and by a low rugged wall on the other two. The wall supports a kind of low wide shed, which inside the enclosure is built in masonry and part in wood […]. From the enclosure intermittent short bleatings can be heard now and again. 


It must be the little sheep which dream or perhaps sense that it is almost daybreak because of the very bright moonlight. The brightness is intense to an excessive degree and it is increasing more and more […]. 


A shepherd looks out of the door, and lifting one arm to his forehead to shield his eyes, he looks up. It seems improbable that one should protect one's eyes from moonlight. But the moonlight in this case is so bright that it blinds people, particularly those who come out from a dark enclosure. Everything is calm. But the bright moonlight is surprising. The shepherd calls his companions. They all come to the door: a group of hairy men of various ages. Some are just teenagers, some are already white haired, They comment on the strange event and the younger ones are afraid. One in particular, a boy about twelve years old, starts crying, and the older shepherds jeer at him.


« What are you afraid of, you fool? » the oldest man says to him. « Can't you see that the air is very quiet? Have you never seen clear moonlight? You have always been tied to your mother's apron strings, haven't you? But there are many things for you to see! [...] Oh! Many things you will see, if you live long enough. »


But the little shepherd is no longer listening to him. He looks as if he is no longer frightened, because he leaves the threshold and steals from behind the shoulders of a brawny herdsman, behind whom he had previously sought shelter, and goes out on to the grassy fold in front of the shed. He looks up and walks about like a sleep-walker or one hypnotized by something that compellingly attracts him.


At a certain moment he shouts: « Oh! » and remains petrified with his arms slightly stretched out. His mates look at one another dumbfounded.


« But what is the matter with the fool? » says one.


« I will send him back to his mother tomorrow. I don't want mad people as guardians of the sheep » says another.


And the old man who had spoken earlier says: « Let us go and see before we judge him. Call also the others who are sleeping and bring your sticks. It might be a wild animal or some robber... »


They go in, they call the other shepherds and they come out with torches and clubs. They join the boy.


« There, there » he whispers smiling. « Above the tree, look at the light that is coming. It seems to be coming on the ray of the moon. There it is, it is coming near. How beautiful it is! »


« I can only see a rather brighter light. »

« So can I. »

« So can I » say the others.

« No. I see something like a body » says one whom I recognize to be the shepherd who gave the milk to Mary. 


« It is... it is an angel! » shouts the boy. « Here he is, he is coming down, he is coming near... Down! On your knees before the angel of God! »


A long and venerable « Oh! » comes from the group of shepherds, who fall down face to the ground and the older they are, the more they appear to be crushed by the refulgent apparition. The young ones are on their knees, looking at the angel who is coming nearer and nearer, and then he stops mid-air above the enclosure wall, waving his large wings, a pearly brightness in the white moonlight surrounding him.


« Do not fear. I am not bringing you misfortune. I announce you a great joy for the people of Israel and for all the people of the world. » The angelic voice is the harmony of a harp and of singing nightingales.


« Today, in the City of David, the Savior has been born! » In saying so, the angel spreads out his wings wider and wider, moving them as a sign of overwhelming joy, and a stream of golden sparks and precious stones seem to fall from them: a real rainbow describing a triumphal arch above the poor shed.


« ... the Savior, Who is Christ. » The angel shines with a brighter light. His two wings, now motionless, pointed upright towards the sky like two still sails on the sapphire of the sea, seem two bright flames ascending to Heaven.


« ... Christ, the Lord! » The angel gathers his sparkling wings and covers himself with them as if they were a coat of diamonds on a dress of pearls, he bows down in adoration, with his arms crossed over his heart, while his head bent down as it is, disappears in the shade of the tops of the folded wings […].


But now he stirs. He spreads out his wings, lifts his head, bright with a heavenly smile, and says: « You will recognize Him from the following signs: in a poor stable, behind Bethlehem, you will find a baby in swaddling clothes, in a manger for animals, because no roof was found for the Messiah in the city of David. » The angel becomes grave, almost sad, in saying that.


But from the Heavens many angels – oh! how many! – come down, all like him – a ladder of angels descending and rejoicing and dimming the moonlight with their heavenly brightness. They all gather round the announcing angel, fluttering their wings, exhaling perfumes, playing notes in which the most beautiful voices of creation find a recollection, but elevated to uniform perfection [...]. To hear this melody is to know Paradise, where everything is harmony of love which emanates from God to make the blessed souls happy, and then from them returns to God to say to Him: « We love You! »


The angelical « Glory » spreads throughout the quiet country in wider and wider circles and the bright light with it. And the birds join their singing to greet the early light, and the sheep add their bleatings for the early sun. […] I love to believe that the animals are greeting their Creator, Who has come down among them to love them both as a Man and as God.


They set out in the moonlight aided by their torches, after closing the shed and the enclosure […]. They go round Bethlehem. They reach the stable not the way Mary came, but from the opposite direction, so that they do not pass in front of the better stables, instead they find this one first. They go near the hole.


« Go in! »

« I wouldn't dare! »

« You go in! »

« No. »

« At least have a look. » 


« You, Levi, who saw the angel first, obviously because you are better than we are, look in. » Before they said he was mad... but now it suits them if he dare what they do not.


The boy hesitates, but then he makes up his mind. He goes near the hole, pulls the mantle a little to one side, looks... and remains enraptured. [St. Joseph had hung his mantle in front of the opening to the stable.]


« What can you see? » they ask him anxiously in low voices. 


« I can see a beautiful young woman and a man bending over a manger and I can hear... I can hear a little baby crying, and the woman is speaking to Him in a voice...oh! what a voice! »


« What is She saying? »


« She is saying: “Jesus, little one! Jesus, love of Your Mummy! Don't cry, little Son..”.. She is saying: “Oh! If I could only say to You: 'Take some milk, little one'. But I have not got any yet..”.. She says: “You are so cold, My love! And the hay is stinging You! How painful it is for Your Mummy to hear You crying so, without being able to help You!.”.. She says: “Sleep, soul of Mine! Because it breaks My heart to hear You crying and see Your tears!” and She kisses Him, and She must be warming His little feet with Her hands, because She is bent with Her arms in the manger. »


« Call Her! Let them hear you. »


The shepherd opens his mouth, but he only utters a faint moaning noise.


Joseph turns round and comes to the door. « Who are you? »


« Shepherds. We brought you some food and some wool. We have come to worship the Savior. »


« Come in. »


They go in, and the stable becomes brighter because of the light of the torches. The older men push the young ones in front of them. Mary turns round and smiles. « Come » She says. « Come!», and She invites them with Her hand and Her smile, and She takes the boy who saw the angel and She draws him to Herself, against the manger. And the boy looks, and is happy.


The others, invited also by Joseph, move forward with their gifts and they place them at Mary's feet with few deep-felt words. They then look at the Baby Who is weeping a little and they smile moved and happy.


And one of them […] says: «Mother, take this wool. It's soft and clean. I prepared it for my child who is about to be born. But I offer it to You. Lay your Son in this wool. It will be soft and warm. » And he offers the sheep hide, a beautiful hide, well covered with white soft wool.


Mary lifts Jesus, and puts it round Him. And She shows Him to the shepherds, who, kneeling on the hay on the ground, look at Him ecstatically!


They become bolder, and one suggests: « He should be given a mouthful of milk, better still, some water and honey. But we have no honey. We give it to little babies. I have seven children, and I know... »


« There is some milk here. Take it, Woman. »


« But it is cold. It should be warm. Where is Elias? He has the sheep. »


Elias must be the shepherd who gave the milk. But he is not there. He remained outside and is looking from the hole, but he cannot be seen in the dark night.


« Who led you here? »


« An angel told us to come, and Elias showed us the way. But where is he now? » The sheep declares his presence with a bleat.


« Come in. You are wanted. » He enters with his sheep, embarrassed because they all look at him.


« It's you! » says Joseph, who recognizes him, and Mary smiles at him saying: « You are good. »


They milk the sheep and with the hem of a piece of linen dipped into the warm creamy milk, Mary moistens the lips of the Baby Who sucks the sweet cream. They all smile, and even more so, when Jesus falls asleep in the warmth of the wool, with the little bit of linen still between His lips.


« But You can't stay here. It's cold and damp. And... there is too strong a smell of animals. It's not good... it's not good for the Savior. »


« I know » replies Mary with a deep sigh. « But there is no room for us in Bethlehem. »


« Take heart, Woman. We will look for a house for You. »


« I will tell my mistress » says Elias. « She is good. She will receive You, even if she had to give You her own room. As soon as it is daylight, I will tell her. Her house is full of people. But she will find room for You. »


« For My Child, at least. Joseph and I can lie also on the floor. But for the Little One... »


« Don't worry, Woman. I will see to it. And we will tell many people what we were told. You will lack nothing. For the time being, take what our poverty can give You. We are shepherds... »


« We are poor, too. And we cannot reward you » says Joseph.


« Oh! We don't want it. Even if You could afford it, we would not want it. The Lord has already rewarded us. He promised peace to everybody. The angels said: “Peace to men of good will.” But He has already given it to us, because the angel said that this Child is the Savior, Who is Christ, the Lord. We are poor and ignorant, but we know that the Prophets say that the Savior will be the Prince of Peace. And he told us to come and adore Him. That is why He gave us His peace. Glory be to God in the Most High Heaven and glory to His Christ here, and You are blessed, Woman, Who gave birth to Him: You are holy, because You deserved to bear Him! Give us orders as our Queen, because we will be happy to serve You. What can we do for You? »


« You can love My Son, and always cherish the same thoughts as you have now. »


« But what about You? Is there anything You wish? Have You no relatives whom You would like to inform that He has been born? »


« Yes, I have them. But they are far away. They are at Hebron... »


« I will go » says Elias. « Who are they? »


« Zacharias, the priest, and My cousin Elizabeth. »


« Zacharias? Oh! I know him well. In summer I go up those mountains because the pastures are rich and beautiful, and I am a friend of his shepherd. When I know you are settled, I will go to Zacharias. »


« Thank you, Elias. »


« You need not thank me. It is a great honor for me, a poor shepherd, to go and speak to the priest and say to him: “The Savior has been born.” »


« No. You must say to him: “Your cousin, Mary of Nazareth, has said that Jesus has been born, and that you should come to Bethlehem.” »


« I will say that. »


« May God reward You. I will remember you, Elias, and every one of you. »


« Will You tell Your Baby about us? »


« I certainly will. »


« I am Elias. », « And I am Levi. », « And I am Samuel. », «And I Jonah. », « And I Isaac. », « And I Tobias. », « And I Jonathan. », « And I Daniel. », « And I Simeon. », « My name is John. », « I am Joseph and my brother Benjamin, we are twins. »


« I will remember your names. »


« We must go... But we will come back... And we will bring others to worship Him. »


« How can we go back to the sheep-fold, leaving the Child? »


« Glory be to God Who has shown Him to us! »


« Will You let us kiss His dress? » asks Levi, with an angelic smile.


And Mary lifts Jesus slowly, and sitting on the hay, envelops the tiny little feet in a linen, and offers them to be kissed. And the shepherds bow down to the ground and kiss the tiny feet, veiled by the linen. Those with a beard clean it first; almost everyone is crying, and when they have to go, they walk out backwards, leaving their hearts there...


The vision ends thus, with Mary sitting on the straw with the Child on Her lap and Joseph who, leaning with his elbow on the manger, looks and adores.

Based on chapter 28 and chapter 30 of Maria Valtorta’s The Gospel as Revealed to Me. 


Learn more about Maria Valtorta’s works HERE.


View my Catholic books HERE.



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