Mercedarian legends


On a night of tiredness and insomnia, Nolasco glimpsed the new Jerusalem of shared joy. And understood. We are eternal pilgrims going to heavenly Jerusalem, restless travellers to the longed-for homeland. We are making the way while we walk, as Machado stated, although someone –Christ- has manifested himself as the way. But there are different paths that sometimes go away, and then later return to the real way. Nolasco was indecisive when he had to choose his own vocational path. The sacred writers placed his insecurities at various times in his life. Which man does not have these? Is active life or contemplative life better? To get involved in the conflicts of society or retire to sweet solitude? To be a monk or redeemer? And once the path has been chosen, always the outcome of a personal decision, the exercise of our freedom, a selective and risky choice, changes of direction are possible. Nolasco, the redeemer, lover of others’ freedom, suffered seeing to what extent his liberating action did not always remove the root of evil. It pained him to verify how, after unprecedented efforts –his and his fellow Mercedarians’- the ignominious scourge of captivity did not vanish. When these thoughts tortured his conscience, another visionary image comes to illuminate his horizon: the vision of heavenly Jerusalem, which has been the subject of several artists, among them prominently by Zubarán. Nolasco understands that, as long as the choice is centred on the joyful city, any path is valid. The light projected by the vision of heavenly Jerusalem dispels dark clouds on the vocational path. Here also the legend is instructive.


The legend says that Nolasco had spent a worried night, with hardly any sleep, considering how captivity extends its claws over the innocence of people and makes our gestures impotent. Captivity was too great to stop it with the ingenuity of a few friars and alms collected on the sidewalks of the villages. He was having these thoughts when sleep overcame him, dawn was barely touching the cheek of the horizon with its fingers. Dawn seemed like a haven of peace and no one rang the bell that summoned all the redeeming friars to morning prayer. Suddenly, like a sigh, Pedro Nolasco woke up caressed by a ray of sunlight that penetrated the window of his cell in that old hospital and convent of St. Eulalia, that King Jaime I had given the Order as a sign of his affection and unconditional support. He thought that the friars would be in the chancel, praying the matins, while he had fallen asleep. He got up quickly, barely washing his face, and bolted to the chancel with the hope of arriving in time for the end of prayer. To his surprise when he entered the chancel he saw the Virgin Mary reading the book of hours, praying the divine office surrounded by angels. Nolasco would never forget that vision, or that dream? From that instant Maria de la Merced became “The Commander” of the community and since then her image has presided the choir and prayer of her Mercedarian children. She is, next to her Son on the cross, the centre of our life, the encouragement of our best hopes, the tender voice that says “Do what He tells you to do”. Our family bears her name and professes immense love for the one who is the founder and protector of our history. Without her our Order will lose its name, its consolation and its expectation. She is and always will be “The Commander” of our brotherhood.


Nolasco and his work are identified with the olive. In the midst of the surrounding aridity, the olive maintains the permanent green of hope and the desired fruit which –after being crushed in the press of pain –is transformed into the oil of consecration, in the oil of mild fragrance and permanent relief. It was a blue and sad sunset. The redeemer arrived with his fatigue in tow after spending all his savings for the exchange of captives and visiting dungeons day and night. Fatigue overcame him, and after finishing his prayers in the narrow enclosure of his dwelling, he had the following dream: he was in an inner courtyard under a huge olive tree, an enormous olive tree which covered him maternally with the perennial green of its branches. He felt immersed in this pleasant place under the shelter of the thriving and multiform life. But suddenly some sinister men come with axes who want to chop down the olive tree from its root and destroy it. Others appear by his side to save its life from this ecological crime. Nolasco –in his dream vision – feels handcuffed, powerless and without the strength to act. He is enraptured in his contemplative vision. He listens to the heavy blows of the axe, on the trunk and branches. He sees the cruel wounds caused by destructive impulses. He suffers at every blow as if it were striking his own flesh, He feels defenceless before such a terrible action. It is then that the good men prevent it from being destroyed, by their good deed. And they all contemplate in amazement how the prodigy is accomplished: with each torn branch, each blow to the root, new shoots sprout and roots multiply. The olive was stronger than the forces of evil. Life was stronger than death. The sprouting olive had nothing to fear from the ruthless and destructive cruelty. The wounds inflicted on its old branches produced youthful shoots, renewed energy, more life and a more leafy variety of vigorous shoots. Pedro Nolasco always kept the impression of this image on his mind. He endeavoured to decipher this emblem visualizing it in dreams and recording it in his fine sensitivity. He verified throughout his redemptive actions that the forces of evil would never be able to fight against the Church of Christ. From this luminous dream onwards, Nolasco overcame any temptation to pessimism or despair. He overcame from that moment the temptation of sadness: yes, a sad saint is an unhappy saint!


The baby Nolasco was born and he was given the name of Pedro (Peter). Although he was stone, he soon tasted of honey and melodious whispers. The legend goes that when he was still a baby, a swarm of emigrant bees –in search of a beehive- landed on the palm of his hands, which opened joyfully to welcome them. Nolasco was always the one with open hands, not with a closed fist. And in his open hands the bees made pure honeycombs. The child was ecstatic contemplating the hasty flight of the sweet bees and sometimes he would take his finger with honey to his lips, smearing his face with nectar of this “drinkable gold”, that he later would offer to the enslaved captive to alleviate his bitter condition. When he got older, those who saw him say how he continued to open his hands, doors and heart to welcome and comfort all. Was the swarm in his hands a premonition of his vocation? Was the legend created to illustrate his redemptive life that relieved so much bitterness? Today we can see a tasty golden honeycomb in his hands. And these hands of a child are the hands of everyone else, of each child who comes to this hardened, hostile world, recreating caresses and announcing tenderness. The hands of a child are one of the wonders of creation. In them the incarnated spirit is alive, and intelligence is still in action. Closed, like a tiny heart, or open like a flower with five petals, they are always begging for tenderness, treasuring new sensations. Caressing, pleading hands stubbornly clinging to any nearby object, to seize the life that is beginning, to acquire certainty that you are not alone, that there is always something or someone friendly nearby. We begin to glimpse the beauty of the Mercedarian legend of the swarm of bees which makes a golden honeycomb of the sweetest honey in the hands of the child, Pedro Nolasco. As a premonition, as an omen, as an early prophecy of his admirable vocation of shared sweetness, of love generously offered to achieve the freedom of the captive, that unparalleled sweetness of the human being. Look at your hands, so empty, but loaded with possibilities, until they become a whisper of creative bees, honey for your brother!