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The Way Of Divine Love
by -Sr. Josefa Menendez

“I want you to be all Mine.”
(Our Lord to Josefa, March 17th, 1901)

SPAIN gave Our Lord the soul He was to consecrate to His Love, though it was in France that He revealed Himself to her.

Josefa Menéndez, a native of Madrid, was born on the 4th of February 1890, and was baptized in the church of San Lorenzo on the 9th of the same month, being given the names of Josefa Maria.

Her father, Leonardo Menéndez, also a native of the same capital, had had a sad youth, for his father died when he was very young, and his mother marrying again, the unwanted boy was sent to school. When only seventeen years of age he lost the mother, whom he dearly loved, and to drown this sorrow and his loneliness, he enlisted in the army. His superior officer was not long in appreciating his marked artistic talents, and he was appointed decorator of the Artillery Museum, where he did so well that ever after he was in constant demand whenever military decorations had to be designed, either in the local cathedral of St. Isidore or at the Royal Palace.

In 1888 he married Lucia del Moral, a devout and conscientious girl who made him an excellent wife and devoted herself to the upbringing of their little family of four girls and two boys, though both the latter died as infants, leaving as the eldest of the family Josefa, who took her responsibilities very seriously.

The father, being energetic and intelligent, was able to provide them with a comfortable home, and the atmosphere of Josefa’s childhood was joyous and carefree, and her childish piety developed early. She was only five when she was confirmed and the Holy Spirit took possession of a singularly docile and innocent mind which later on was to be so choice an instrument in God’s Hands.

The little girl’s confessor, R. F. Rubio, was a great enthusiast for devotion to the Sacred Heart, and he later entered the Society of Jesus. He cultivated her aptitude for prayer, for he was struck by the spirituality of his little penitent. He remained her confessor until her entrance into our Society. At seven she made her first Confession; in later years she used ingenuously to recall the date, a First Friday in October 1897, exclaiming regretfully: “If only I could now feel such contrition for my sins as I had on that day.”

Father Rubio gave her spiritual training suited to her age; he taught her how to meditate and use ejaculatory prayer, and Josefa gradually acquired the habit of constant awareness of the divine Presence. When she was able to read, she delighted in El Cuarto de Hora de Santa Teresa, a simple little meditation book which her confessor gave her, and she learned how, after reading a passage slowly, to reflect on it and end with a resolution. She was extraordinarily faithful to the habits thus early acquired.

“I delighted in my little book,” she said later, “especially when it spoke to me of the Child Jesus or of the Passion. I found plenty to say to Our Lord and already I planned to devote my life to Him who possessed all my love.”

Josefa was by nature both serious and vivacious. She freely asserted her authority over her three little sisters, and often the harassed mother would proudly trust her eldest to replace her. She was no less her father’s pet; he dubbed her his “little empress” and could refuse her nothing . . . a fact well known and exploited by the younger ones, who always had recourse to her intercession when some favor was hoped for. Every Sunday the whole family went to High Mass, and the father never failed to give each child a few coppers, to teach them generosity in almsgiving; they were known and loved by all the poor of the neighborhood. If the weather was fine, the Sunday afternoons were spent in country walks; if cloudy and wet, they all stayed at home, and father and children enjoyed themselves together till it was time to say the Rosary in common.

Leonardo taught his eldest little daughter himself, and so elated was he with her progress that he fondly hoped to have her trained for the teaching profession. This, however, was not to be, as we shall see; Our Lord had His own and very special designs for her future.

When she was eleven years old the all-important preparation for First Communion began. The very idea of it was an enthralling delight to the thoughtful and spiritual-minded child, who began to attend the instructions given at the Reparatrice Convent. The great day was preceded by a short retreat, and we still possess the “notes” of what she afterwards called the first appeal made to her by the Lover of her soul.

“In my first meditation I reflected on the words ‘Jesus wants to give Himself to me, that I may be wholly His.’ What joy! I thought, He is the one object of my desires. Yet how is it to be done? I consulted one of the nuns, and she explained to me that I must be very, very good, and that thus I should always belong entirely to Our Lord.

“The subject of meditation on the second day was ‘Jesus, Spouse of Virgins, takes delight in the pure and innocent.’ This was a great light to me, the solution of yesterday’s puzzle; of course I must become His little Spouse, then indeed I should belong entirely to Him, just as Mummy belonged to Daddy. So there and then I promised Our Lord ever to remain a virgin (I did not understand what it meant) that I might always be entirely His. All day long I renewed this promise, and in the evening during Benediction I made a consecration of myself to the Child Jesus, asking with great fervor that I might be wholly and entirely His. That I was soon to receive Him in my heart by Holy Communion filled me with a strange joy, and while I was silently reveling in the happy thought, I heard a voice, that I can never forget, saying to me: ‘Yes, little one, I want you to be all Mine.’ What happened then it is impossible for me to put into words, but when I left the chapel my mind was quite made up: I would be very, very good.

“Of vocation I had never heard, and I thought nuns were unearthly beings quite apart, but from that time onward something seemed to set me, too, apart, and this feeling remained. It was only long afterwards that I knew it had been a vocation to religious life.

“On the third day of the retreat I renewed my resolution, and on St. Joseph’s day, the happy day of my First Communion, I made this offering, and it came from my very inmost being:

“ ‘On this day, March 19th, 1901, before all Heaven and earth, taking as my witness my Heavenly Mother Mary, and St. Joseph, my advocate and father, I promise Jesus that I will ever safeguard in me the precious virtue of virginity, my only desire being to please Him, and my only fear that of offending Him by sin. Show me, O my God, how to belong wholly to Thee in the most perfect manner possible, that I may ever love Thee more and more and never displease Thee in anything. This is the desire of my heart, on this my First Communion day. Holy Mary, I beg you on this the Feast of your Holy Spouse, St. Joseph, to obtain my petition.

“ ‘Your loving Child,

“I duly wrote and signed it, and at every subsequent Communion I renewed this offering. When afterwards I told Father Rubio what I had done he explained to me that little girls should not make promises beyond that of being very good, and he wanted me to tear up the paper. I could not, and I continued to repeat: ‘Lord, I am Thine forever.’ ”

This witness of her first oblation was kept by Josefa till her dying day, and the little faded paper, covered with her large childish script, still bears witness to her faithful love.

This first meeting with her Eucharistic Lord initiated Josefa into the divine intimacy which was afterwards to become so powerful and so free. Holy Communion was her greatest happiness and all noticed how solid virtue began to develop in her.

“After Josefa’s First Communion,” wrote her sister, “one may say that she ceased to be a child. I don’t remember seeing her take any part in the amusements she prepared for us with so much zest. Her charity was very great, too, outside the home. If a child she knew fell ill, she never failed to visit her. Her piety and spirit of sacrifice, the result of the good example given us by our parents, joined to her natural qualities, made her the soul of the little family. ‘Pepa’ as we called her, was a sort of second mother to us, and we never hesitated to confide to her our hopes, our troubles and our childish fears. One day when I was quite small, I was sent to buy something. I did so, but forgot to pay. Great was my apprehension when I became aware of my omission. I dared neither go back, nor bring the money home. I wrapped it in paper and left it beside a doorway in the street. Then I ran to Pepa and told her in secret what had happened. Very sweetly she comforted me, kissed me, soothed me, and herself went and paid for me. We always ran to her in our troubles, for she managed to arrange things so that we were not scolded.

“Thanks to her influence over our parents, Josefa obtained for this same little sister the grace to make her First Communion two years before the time that was then usual.

“Thus Pepa’s childhood passed in great simplicity, as was customary in Christian families of our station in life, but already what our eldest sister was to become was foreshadowed.”

At about this time her parents apprenticed her to a school of Arts and Crafts (Fomente del Arte),

Institute for the development of the arts.

where her intelligence and readiness in learning soon attracted attention. Her clever fingers turned out marvels of needlecraft, and she was very successful, securing the diplomas year after year.

When she was thirteen Josefa returned home, for the time had come to see to the education of her little sisters, but an accident had occurred at that time to their father, which determined their admission into the Free School of the Sacred Heart.

The Boarding School and Free School of the Sacré Coeur were both situated in the street called Leganitos. It was destroyed by the Reds during the civil war of 1936.

It was the year that Catholic Spain was to choose Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception as Patron of her Infantry Regiments. An open-air Mass was to be celebrated on that occasion in the Park of the Royal Palace. Leonardo, watched by the young King Alphonsus XIII, was working at the decoration of the altar. Suddenly he dropped a tool which might have wounded the Prince in its fall, and the abrupt movement he made to avoid this caused him to lose his balance. He fell from the scaffolding and broke his arm. The King, touched by this act which had preserved him, wished to take charge of the education of the children. He offered to place them with the “Dames Anglaises,” which was a Royal Institution. But though Leonardo was deeply touched, he would not part with his family and preferred to send them as day-scholars to the Sacred Heart Free School, which was not far from his home. The two little girls were delighted, whilst Josefa was to benefit by the familiar intimacy with the Blessed Sacrament accorded by the Leganitos Chapel. The Blessed Sacrament henceforth became a daily attraction, Our Lord already directing this simple child so dear to His Heart to the Tabernacle where He forever dwells.

Family life continued happy and peaceful. The “little empress” kept her place as the most devoted of daughters and the best of sisters. Everything in the family was simple and joyous, but faith above all reigned supreme.

The great treat of those days was a visit to the Carmel of Loeches, where the children had an aunt. They were received like little princesses and had the run of the Chaplain’s quarters, where they discovered a copy of the Carmelite Rule, which they eagerly read. On their return home the great game was to play at being Carmelites. Office was chanted, penances performed, in all of which Josefa was the leading spirit, but it was for her a good deal more than a mere game.

Her parents were proud of her aptitude for dressmaking and held to her completing her training in a millinery establishment. The conversation of the workgirls was not always edifying, but in her daily Communion Josefa drew strength to retain her purity of heart; she wrote in her reminiscences of that time:

“I went through many perils, but God always protected me amid the dangers of evil talk, so common in our workroom. It often made my tears flow to hear things that troubled me, but I never doubted that God meant me to be His own, and this was my comfort and my strength. Nothing and nobody could have altered my resolve or made me doubt its truth.”

“On Sunday,” her sister tells us, “she often went to a Patronage, of which the president was the daughter of the owner of our house. This lady was wholly given to good works and very charitable. On Sunday, therefore, we spent the afternoon in useful and merry surroundings, and many children found there a shelter which preserved them from sin. Josefa was the life of the little party, and brought all her self-forgetfulness and intelligence into play, and our benefactress, who appreciated her virtue, used to assign her those parts in our little plays that no one else wanted, and these she acted with ready grace and simplicity.

She often accompanied the Senora X in the visits she paid to the poor. Pepa saw how she not only distributed alms, but was glad to render the most humble services to her clients. This greatly attracted her own generous nature. One day Maria secretly confided to Josefa that she had discovered a poor leprous old woman and that she was trying to find among her friends one who would join her in seeing that the poor patient wanted for nothing and was loved. Her name was Trinidad and she suffered very much. Her left side was paralyzed and her face and hands ravaged by the disease; she lived alone and was able to do nothing for herself. Pepa was delighted at this appeal to her generosity, and it was its hidden heroism that she most appreciated. For many weeks she went to feed Trinidad. Once she took her sister with her, thinking she could count on her discretion, but . . .

“The impression made on me by the poor leper was such that on my return home it was noticed, and I was questioned. I had to tell. Our mother forbade Pepa ever to go back to the poor invalid; a prohibition which cost her very much.”

So her time passed between family life, her work, and the exercise of charity. But Divine Love’s austere law was soon to be fulfilled in the sufferings which would try and strengthen her young soul.

“Never doubt the love of My Heart,” the divine Friend was to say to her later. “What matter if the wind of adversity blow, I have planted the root of your littleness in the soil of My Heart.”

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