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The Way Of Divine Love
by -Sr. Josefa Menendez

“Let yourself be led blindfold, for I am your Father, and My eyes are open to lead and guide you.”
(Our Lord to Josefa, September 18th, 1923)

SUFFERING so characteristic of the whole of Josefa’s life now first made its appearance in the home where hitherto it had been unknown. It was accepted peacefully as the friends of God are wont to accept it. Josefa learned to suffer as she had learned to love, and her heart opened wide to sorrow and sacrifice. It was going to do its work in making her will more flexible, teaching her to overcome her nature, while contact with the cross strengthened her love, maturing it without destroying its intensity.

In 1907 death came to the happy little home. Carmen, one of the little sisters, was carried off by sudden illness, and the children’s grandmother followed soon after. The loss of Carmencita was like a death knell to her parents. They fought against it, but is was more than they could bear. Both father and mother were laid low, the one by typhoid fever, the other by congestion of the lungs. Josefa’s true worth was at once revealed; she gave up her work and divided her attention between the two invalids, the care of her sisters, and the manifold home duties that pressed on her young shoulders. Medical advice was costly, and soon ran away with all their savings. Poverty was now added to sickness, yet not for a moment did Josefa’s courage flinch, and for a period of well-nigh seven weeks she bore unaided the full responsibility of anxiety and privation.

“We three children all slept together on a mattress on the floor,” she said. “Our kind doctor wanted father and mother to be taken to hospital, but I did not consent, for I was certain Providence would not forsake us, and it came to our help through the nuns of the Sacred Heart. Oh, I shall never forget how good they were to us!”

A novena to Saint Madeleine Sophie was begun, and in the course of it the mother, whose life was now despaired of, called the family to her bedside. “Do not cry any more,” she said. “Mother Barat has just been here to visit me. She told me that I am not going to die, because you still need me.”

“We never heard the particulars,” Josefa said afterwards, “but the next day she was out of danger, and father got well too, but his strength was gone and he never was able to work again.”

The nuns of the Sacred Heart watched discreetly over this interesting family. Josefa had no sewing-machine, and her slender resources did not allow her to purchase one. The Superior sent for her and asked her to buy her one, and to use it for a time to try it, and gave her an order for literally thousands of scapulars of the Sacred Heart for the soldiers of Melilla. When Josefa wanted to return the machine to Leganitos the Reverend Mother refused, saying that the making of the scapulars had more than paid for it; Pepa was profoundly touched by this kindness; she felt that such generosity was drawn from the Sacred Heart, and she henceforth became so attached to the Society that her one desire was to enter there.

Work came to her from various quarters. She already had a reputation for clever dressmaking, and before long had more orders than she was able to attend to, which spelled for her days of uninterrupted labor prolonged far into the night, but her energy and self-denial were equal to the occasion. She organized a workroom and there trained a number of young girls. She rose at six in the morning, and after hearing Mass at the Sacred Heart, returned to her labors till midday. After the meal, which was always followed by a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, the apprentices returned, and all the afternoon was spent in work. They were a happy little band, for Josefa’s good temper made all go smoothly, and her girls appreciated her thoughtful kindness, always alive to what could give them pleasure. But she was conscious of her responsibilities, and with gentle firmness insisted on good work and order. Every evening the Rosary was said in common, and Josefa’s devotion added many other prayers. On Saturday the two sisters went to Confession, and Father Rubio followed up Josefa with paternal interest.

“On Sundays,” this sister tells us, “the whole family rose early, in order to assist at several Masses. In the afternoon Pepa and I went to see the nuns of the Sacred Heart at all three houses in Madrid, and in the evening the whole family assisted at Benediction at Leganitos.”

When they were obliged to go out the two sisters accompanied each other; they exchanged thoughts, told each other of their fervent aspirations, and both spoke of vocation, a thing not possible at home, as their mother’s tears flowed freely whenever they alluded to the subject, so they resolved not to sadden her by speaking of it in her presence.

“One day,” wrote Mercedes, “Josefa told me she wanted to be a nun, but far from Spain, so that her sacrifice might be complete. As I did not agree with her in this, she answered me that nothing was too good to give God.”

In spite of her thoughtful character, she was always gay, and whilst this disposition of hers sweetened all contact with her, her efficiency and self-denial were equal to every occasion. Little by little comfort once more returned to the home-circle, but it was of short duration, and in the beginning of 1910 their father was carried off by a heart attack. During his last illness his wife never left him day or night, and spared nothing to give him relief. One day when she had gone out to procure a medicament for him, she saw a statue of the Sacred Heart in a shop window among a quantity of antiques. She was much moved and would have liked to buy it, thinking what pleasure it would give them all at home, and of the love with which they would pray around it. She went in and timidly asked the price, but alas, it far exceeded the small contents of her purse, for she had only enough to pay for the medicine her husband required. She thanked, left the shop, and had already gone some way along the road, when she heard herself called back. “Pay what you can, and take the statue,” said the man. Touched and delighted, Lucia gave the money she had with her, carried off her treasure, and returning to Leonardo—“Instead of the medicine,” she said, “I have brought you the Sacred Heart.” The sick man was pleased beyond measure, for his faith was very great. The statue was placed at the foot of his bed, and he never tired of looking at it. He died, with eyes fixed on it, on the 7th of April 1910, leaving it to his family as a pledge of assured protection. Father Rubio, who had assisted him in his last moments, now constituted himself the friend and adviser of the sorrowing household, while Josefa became the sole support of her mother, and her earnings alone kept the wolf from the door. Her soul lived ever on her one love, and her offering was daily repeated and remained the strength and horizon of her life in the difficult days that followed. Before her father’s death she had already made known her secret aspirations and begged leave to enter the Society of the Sacred Heart. For the first time in his life he was angry with Pepa. She dried her tears, but kept her treasured vocation unchanged in her heart.

Later on, a Carmelite Father offered to obtain her admission into his Order. That was not her vocation, and she gratefully refused, but took occasion to tell her mother once more where God called her. She met with no other opposition than tearful appeals not to abandon her, and for the second time she deferred her entrance. Great, however, was her grief when her younger sister obtained their mother’s leave and left for the Noviceship at Chamartin (Madrid). Josefa who had trained her with a view to passing on to her the support of the family was deeply disillusioned. Her faith in God was her only support, and her mature virtue once more helped her to forget herself. Her sister wrote on this subject:

“We were inseparable till the day of my entrance into the Noviceship. My departure gave her keen sorrow, but in my youthful thoughtlessness and desire to consecrate my life to Jesus Christ, I hardly realized it. It was only later that I became aware of the sacrifice I had imposed on my beloved sister; then the thought that God had so arranged it alone consoled me.”

Josefa continued her devoted life of hard work and made light of her fatigue; she turned her hopes towards the youngest of her sisters, but she, too, in time, was to have a vocation, and three years after Josefa’s death entered the Carmelite Convent at Loeches, where she took the name of Madeleine Sophie of the Sacred Heart. She was later sent to Portugal, where the Order was to be restored at Coimbra.

God who was leading Josefa by hidden though sure ways, was more than once to allow her to take the wrong path, thereby teaching her the science of abandonment and the perfection of sacrifice.

Father Rubio, who had followed her up for the last twelve years, did not abandon her, and in February 1912, when she was twenty-two, he thought the moment opportune. The Order of Marie Réparatrice seemed to him one that would suit Josefa; he knew the nuns intimately, and began to direct her vocation towards them. Though her attraction lay in a different direction, Josefa stifled her feelings and asked to be admitted at the Réparatrice Convent. Here she was happy; she appreciated the spirit, and generously embraced her new religious life. The thought of making reparation for the sins of men through the Heart of Mary appealed to her, and no sort of temptation or trouble came to mar the happy months that followed. Gradually, however, and almost in spite of herself, there stole over her soul’s consciousness the reawakening of another love—that of the Sacred Heart—her first attraction, and every time she heard the convent bells ringing (for they were close to her convent) the inward struggle was renewed. Our Lady herself intervened and showed her that she had not found her true home.

Josefa had charge of a large room which contained a big statue of the Blessed Virgin, under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows; in accordance with Spanish custom, it was adorned with rich vesture, and in her hand Our Lady held a crown of real thorns. Josefa was surprised one day to see the crown lit up by a shaft of light coming from she knew not where. She did not venture to speak of the marvel, but as the light continued for three or four days, she resolved to investigate its origin. She found that it proceeded from one of the thorns, and at the same time she heard a penetrating voice saying: “Take this thorn, my child; Jesus will give you others as time goes on.” Josefa detached the thorn as she was bid, and the response she gave to her Mother’s gift was a fresh offering of herself which was before long to receive its seal in suffering.

Her six months’ postulantship was over and the day of her clothing fixed, when her mother, who had missed her sorely, came and claimed her again. Father Rubio seconded the mother’s request, and so it came about that Josefa’s return home was decided, and she left the Novitiate with the feelings we can imagine. She took with her the thorn, whose light, like that in her own heart, was quenched. Its reality, however, had sunk deeply into her inmost being, and this reality was suffering.

Courageously she faced the upward path to God, and resumed the old tasks. This time she was employed very largely by the nuns of the Sacred Heart in making the children’s uniforms. Simple, modest, and conscientious in her work, her life was illumined by her constant prayer. She went every fortnight to see her sister, now a novice at Chamartin, and they talked together of what filled her soul. She loved to talk of the life of a Sister in the Society of the Sacred Heart, which she felt fulfilled every aspiration she had.

The nun who was over her in the school linen-room was struck by her devotedness, her love of duty, and the sweetness of disposition that made light of every difficulty and never caused the smallest embarrassment to others. Her tact, her dexterity and judgment, her silent activity all greatly impressed her; she was always on the watch to render service and every spare minute was spent before the Blessed Sacrament. “I feel thoroughly in my element when I am here,” she used to say in speaking of Chamartin.

Very different was the story when she was obliged to work for clients outside. Her delicate conscience was many a time outraged by the absence of modesty in dress of those she worked for, and who as Catholics should have known better; it was then more than at any other time that she felt her “banishment” from Convent walls, and she would exclaim: “Since childhood my one prayer has been that ‘I might dwell in the House of the Lord,’ and the more I see of life outside, the greater is my longing to die, if this wish of my heart cannot be granted.”

She lived on her burning hopes, and her daily Communion was fuel to the fire. This was the source of her serenity and of her courage; to others the secret of her cross and of her thorn was never told.

She had few friends, but her example and her counsels had made her the center of a group of working girls on whom her influence was remarkable. She would head a pilgrimage to Avila or to the Cerre de los Angeles,

This is a hill situated in the geographical center of Spain, and on it the National Monument of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was erected.

where the memorial to the Sacred Heart had been erected in accomplishment of the national vow, and on these and other rare outings her bright cheerfulness and fervor made a deep impression on them.

The months dragged on, and all the time Josefa was watching her opportunity. In 1917 she thought the moment had come, and when she begged her admission at Chamartin she was kindly received and her mother’s consent obtained. Her departure was fixed for the 24th of September, Feast of Our Lady of Mercy. Alas, when the long-desired day dawned her mother’s tears shook her resolution, and again prevailed . . . tender-hearted Josefa yielded at the sight of her distress; her place in the Noviceship remained empty, and she was left to weep over the frailty that had prevented her from keeping her tryst. But He who “works in obscurity, and who nevertheless is light” pursued His purpose and in His own good time brought her out of darkness into light.

The French houses of the Sacred Heart which had been suppressed by iniquitous laws were just at this time taking on a new lease of life, and many were reopening after the expulsions that had marked the beginning of the century. The old monastery of Les Feuillants at Poitiers had been preserved for the Society, and here a Noviceship for Sisters was opened, in the house that had been the first General Noviceship of the Society and was still redolent with memories of Saint Madeleine Sophie. It was here that God called Josefa, and He Himself guided her through the final storms of her vocation.

In 1919 she was already twenty-nine years of age and she felt that she had forfeited her chance of success by her former act. What was she to do? An interior voice urged her to try and try again, but an irrevocable denial met her advances; Superiors mistrusted her long and repeated hesitations.

“On the 16th of September, I felt my courage at an end, and kneeling before my crucifix, I begged Our Lord either to take me out of this life or to admit me into the Society of His Sacred Heart, for I could bear no more. Then it seemed to me that He showed me His Sacred Hands and Feet and said to me ‘Kiss these Wounds. Can you indeed bear no more for Me? Have I not chosen you for My Sacred Heart?’ I am unable to put into words what then took place in me. I promised—oh, I promised Him to live henceforth only for Him and to suffer . . . and begged Him to pity my weakness and wavering.”

Two months passed in fervent supplications, till there dawned a memorable day for Josefa; it was the 19th of November.

“That day in my Communion I implored Our Lord by His Wounds and Precious Blood to open to me the doors of the Sacred Heart, which I knew I had closed by my own act.”

That morning Josefa went as usual to fetch work at the convent at Chamartin; on her arrival she was told that the Superior wished to see her: a letter had just arrived from Les Feuillants (Poitiers) asking for one or two good vocations to begin the projected Noviceship. Did they know of any, and could they send anyone? The Superior asked Josefa if she felt equal to entering in a French house of the Society. This time there was no hesitation; at once she wrote to offer herself, and kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, she begged that grace and strength might be given her to triumph over her weakness. This prayer was answered, and she was able to say afterwards: “I felt endued with a power I had never before experienced.”

Her brokenhearted mother this time offered no opposition, and in order to avoid painful scenes, Josefa left home without saying good-bye and carrying nothing with her. The Mothers at Chamartin gave her her fare and provided her with all she needed. She reached San Sebastian, the first stage of her journey, and there found a warm welcome in the Sacred Heart.

“Jesus took me,” she said, “I still do not know how, but I arrived at San Sebastian without money or strength—with nothing but love, I think . . . but I was at the end of my pilgrimage . . . I, the same as ever, so weak, but He sustained me.”

The nuns at San Sebastian who had received her with so much affection prolonged her stay there for a whole month. Full of gratitude, she devoted herself to helping in the household. All noted how silently and deftly she worked, always in deep recollection. However, sad letters from her mother and sister and the realization of the difficulty the French language was going to be to her caused her some misgivings, still she kept her will firmly fixed on her goal, and when asked how she would manage in a country whose tongue she did not know, “God is leading me,” she answered simply, and on February 4th she left for Poitiers.

It was a final departure, for she never saw Spain again. But what of that? Was she not obeying the call of One whose sovereign love can never ask too much?

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