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The Way Of Divine Love
by -Sr. Josefa Menendez

Remember, daughter, that nothing happens, unless it be in God’s plan.
(Saint Madeleine Sophie to Josefa, March 14th, 1922)

THIS new phase of Josefa’s life was perhaps the most mysterious one of all. At first sight, it looked as if chastisement was being meted out to her as a result of her resistance to Christ’s appeal; but it soon became apparent that the design that was being woven on the obscure loom of her destiny was a very different one, unveiling to our eyes Our Lord’s divine predilection for Josefa, and disclosing how He took advantage of a momentary weakening of her will to further His great work by giant strides, still in and by her.

Greater power over her was being given to Satan, who opened before her the bottomless depths of Hell itself. She was steeped in agonies never before experienced, and knew by sharp physical pain what the loss of a soul really meant, and how total was the immolation demanded of her for its redemption.

Whilst Our Lord allowed her to be thus crushed by sorrow, He sank her deep in humility and in a faith and abandonment that she could never have acquired by her own personal efforts. Our Lord kept the carrying out of this work in His own hands, and it was accomplished when and how He pleased, by means that defied human foresight.

In an admirable page of her autobiography, Saint Teresa describes the indelible impression left on her soul by a passage through Hell. We have many notes written by Josefa under obedience, describing her long sojourns in the abyss of pain and despair. These records, striking in their very simplicity, take us back after four centuries to the classical narration of Saint Teresa. They sound the same note, one of pain and contrition, of redemptive love and burning zeal. The dogma of Hell, often disputed, and oftener ignored in incomplete spirituality, to the great detriment of souls, and even with danger to their salvation, is brought out with a clarity that admits of no doubt. Who, when reading these pages of what Josefa saw, heard and suffered, can question the existence of an infernal power attacking Christ and His Kingdom with desperate fury? Who can gauge the value of the long hours spent in that prison of fire? . . . Josefa, who believed herself shut up in it forever, witnessed the fierce efforts of Satan to snatch souls from Jesus Christ, and felt the excruciating torment of no longer being able to love.

Some extracts from her writings will be useful to souls. They act as a cry of warning to those who have a rough path to re-climb, if they are to recover their friendship with God. Above all, are they not a call from Love to those who make up their minds that they will spare nothing in order to save souls who are in danger of eternal perdition?

It was in the night of Wednesday to Thursday, March 16th, that Josefa made her mysterious descent into Hell for the first time.

From the 6th of March, soon after Our Lord’s disappearance, infernal voices had several times caused her great fear and disturbance of mind. Damned souls, invisible to her eyes, came from the lowest depths, reproaching her for her want of generosity. She was greatly perturbed. . . . She heard cries of despair like these: “I am there where love is banished . . . forever . . . how brief was the enjoyment . . . and the punishment is eternal. . . . What have I gained? . . . hate, and that forever . . . eternal hatred!”

“O!” she wrote, “to know that one soul is lost and to be able to do nothing for it! To know that for all eternity a soul will curse Our Lord and that there is no cure . . . even if I could suffer every torment in the world . . . what terrible sorrow. . . . It would be better to die a thousand times than be responsible for the loss of one soul.”

On Sunday, March 12th, she wrote to her Superior, who was absent from Poitiers on a journey to Rome:

“If you knew, Reverend Mother, with what grief I write. I no longer have any of my jewels [as she calls the Crown of Thorns and the Cross], for I have once more wounded Jesus, who is so good to me. . . . I still hope that He will have compassion on me, but for the moment I am paying dearly for it, for since the night of the First Friday the greatest of sufferings has taken the place of His visits . . . when you return, Reverend Mother, you will know the full extent of my weakness.”

And in order not to sadden her Superior, she added with the tact that never forsook her:

“How glad I am of the happy days you are having at the Mother-House; except for me, everybody here is, I think, trying to console Our Lord, and His Heart is receiving what He expects from ‘His garden of delights,’ as He calls this house. With me things go on as before: my efforts are directed to being kind and faithful, and telling everything to the Mother Assistant, and the rest you know.

“Pray, Reverend Mother, that Our Lady may lay her motherly hands on me and obtain my forgiveness.”

This time Our Lord sent Saint Madeleine Sophie as His messenger.

On Tuesday, March 14th, she appeared to Josefa in her cell. After listening to her humble avowals, she gave her fresh courage, and heartened her with the words: “Remember, daughter, that nothing happens unless it is in God’s designs.”

Josefa told her of her overwhelming grief, and of the sorrow that weighed her down when she realized the consequences of her frailty, which she was convinced were beyond repair.

“But, my child, you can repair your fault,” was the quick reply, “if from your fall you draw great humility and generosity.”

“I asked her whether Jesus would ever again return. I call on Him, I want Him, for I cannot believe that through my fault I shall never see Him again . . .”

Then interrupting her with motherly impetuosity, our Holy Mother said: “But you must expect His return, my child; the longing and expectation of the bride are the glory of the Bridegroom.”

This heavenly visit testified to a love that was unchanged and to forgiveness that never tired. Evidently Jesus meant Josefa, now at the beginning of the great trial she was to undergo, to feel that He was still there, and quite unchanged.

“In the night of March 16th towards ten o’clock,” wrote Josefa, “I became aware, as on the preceding days, of a confused noise of cries and chains. I rose quickly and dressed, and trembling with fright, knelt down near my bed. The uproar was approaching, and not knowing what to do, I left the dormitory, and went to our Holy Mother’s cell; then I came back to the dormitory. The same terrifying sounds were all round me; then all of a sudden I saw in front of me the devil himself.

“ ‘Tie her feet and bind her hands,’ he cried. . . .

“Instantly I lost sight of where I was, and felt myself tightly bound and being dragged away. Other voices screamed: ‘No good to bind her feet; it is her heart that you must bind.’

“ ‘It does not belong to me,’ came the answer from the devil.

“Then I was dragged along a very dark and lengthy passage, and on all sides resounded terrible cries. On opposite sides of the walls of this narrow corridor were niches out of which poured smoke, though with very little flame, and which emitted an intolerable stench. From these recesses came blaspheming voices, uttering impure words. Some cursed their bodies, others their parents. Others, again reproached themselves with having refused grace, and not avoided what they knew to be sinful. It was a medley of confused screams of rage and despair. I was dragged through that kind of corridor, which seemed endless. Then I received a violent punch which doubled me in two, and forced me into one of the niches. I felt as if I were being pressed between two burning planks and pierced through and through with scorching needle points. Opposite and beside me souls were blaspheming and cursing me. What caused me most suffering . . . and with which no torture can be compared, was the anguish of my soul to find myself separated from God. . . .

“It seemed to me that I spent long years in that Hell, yet it lasted only six or seven hours. . . . Suddenly I was violently pulled out of the niche, and I found myself in a dark place; after striking me, the devil disappeared and left me free. . . . How can I describe my feelings on realizing that I was still alive, and could still love God!

“I do not know what I am not ready to endure to avoid Hell, in spite of my fear of pain. I see clearly that all the sufferings of earth are nothing in comparison with the horror of no longer being able to love, for in that place all breathes hatred and thirst to damn other souls.”

From that day on Josefa frequently endured this mysterious martyrdom. All was mystery in those long, dark, and gloomy sessions beyond the pale. Each time she was warned of the oncoming of the fiends by the noise of chains and distant yells, but they came nearer and nearer and finally surrounded and overwhelmed her. She tried to fly, to distract her mind by work, to escape the hail of blows which in the end overcame and threw her to the ground. She had just time to take refuge in her little cell before losing all consciousness of her surroundings. She began by finding herself in what she described as a dark hole, faced by the demon who appeared to think that she was definitely in his power forever. He boisterously commanded her to be thrust into her fiery niche; and Josefa, tightly bound, would fall into the chaos of fire, the dolorous abode of rage and despair.

Her notes were written objectively, and in the simplest terms she told things just as she saw, heard, and experienced them.

To those watching only a slight tremor made known her mysterious abduction. Her body instantly became entirely soft and supple, like one whose soul had just departed. Head and members were no longer under her control, though her heart beat normally; she was as one alive, yet dead.

This state was prolonged more or less according to God’s Will, who thus delivered her over to the powers of darkness, but held her still in His very sure and strong hand.

At the moment decreed by Him there was a slight, almost imperceptible, tremor once more and her body came back to life.

She was not thereby wholly freed from infernal influence in that dark place where he overwhelmed her with threats.

When at last he relinquished his hold on her she slowly returned to herself. The hours spent in Hell seemed long ages to her, and only by degrees was she able to resume contact with the places and people that surrounded her. “Where am I? . . . Who are you? . . . Am I still alive?” she asked; her poor eyes once again sought to make contact with a life which at the moment was so distant and remote. At times tears silently ran down her cheeks, and her face bore the impress of a sorrow difficult to describe. At last, and very gradually, she succeeded in realizing the actuality of sensible objects and persons; how could one depict the feelings of intense emotion that overwhelmed her when she suddenly became aware that she could still love God!

Josefa herself described this moment of transport in words of passionate fervor:

“On Sunday, March 19th, 1922, which was the third Sunday of Lent, I once more went down into the abyss, and it seemed to me that I remained there for long years. I suffered much, but the greatest of my torments was in believing that I could no longer love Our Lord. When I come back to life I am simply mad with joy. I think my love has increased tenfold and I feel ready to endure for love of Him whatever He wishes. As to my vocation, I esteem and love it to folly!”

A few lines further on she said:

“What I have seen gives me great courage to suffer, and makes me understand the value of the smallest sacrifices; Jesus gathers them up and uses them to save souls. It is blindness to avoid pain even in very small things, for not only is it of great worth to ourselves, but it serves to guard many from the torments of Hell.”

Josefa tried her best, under obedience, to recount the history of the descents into the bottomless pit, so frequently made at this time. Not everything can be printed, but a few pages which contain valuable lessons may act as a stimulus to those whose good will urges them to sacrifice self for the salvation of the unfortunate beings, who every day and at every hour stand on the brink of the chasm, and who run such terrible risks in the tragic fight between love and hatred, despair and mercy.

On Sunday, March 26th, she wrote again, “On reaching that abode of horror, I hear yells of rage and devilish exultation because another soul has fallen into everlasting torments. . . .

“At the moment I am not conscious of having previously gone down into Hell; it always seems to me to be the first time. It seems, too, to be forever, and what an agony that is, for I remember that I once knew and loved Our Lord . . . that I was a religious, that He conferred great graces on me, and many means by which to save my soul. What was it, then, that I did? How did I come to lose so many good things? . . . How could I have been so blind? . . . And now all hope is gone. . . . My Communions, too, come back to my mind, and my noviceship. But the most crushing and overwhelming grief of all is the torturing memory that I once loved the Heart of Jesus so dearly. I knew Him and He was everything to me. . . . I lived for Him . . . and how can I now exist without Him . . . loveless and with blasphemies and deadly malice on every side?

“It is impossible to put into words the poignant distress to which my broken and oppressed soul is reduced. . . .”

Not infrequently she witnessed the efforts of the devil and his fierce satellites to snatch from divine mercy the souls that were on the point of becoming his prey. The agony endured by Josefa in those cruel moments seems to have been the ransom of those poor souls, who would owe the final victory to her pangs.

She wrote on Thursday, March 30th:

“The devil is more enraged than ever, for he is after three souls to drag them down to Hell. In strident tones he yells furiously to the others: ‘Don’t let them escape . . . they are getting away . . . stand your ground . . . steady, hold hard.’

“And from a long way off I heard vociferations and unspeakable clamor.”

She was witness of the fight for these souls for two or three days in succession.

“I begged Our Lord to do with me whatever He willed, if only these three could be spared,” she wrote on her return from the abyss, Saturday April 1st. “I appealed to Our Lady and she gave me great peace, for she left me determined to endure anything, if only they could be saved, and I do not think that she will allow the devil to get the upper hand.”

On Sunday, April 2nd, she again wrote:

“I could hear Satan’s yells: ‘Don’t let go of them; be on your guard . . . plague them in any way you can . . . they must not escape . . . induce them to despair! . . .

“It was a ferment of agitation, vociferation, blasphemies, when suddenly with a howl of passionate frenzy he cried: ‘No matter . . . we shall get the other two . . . they must be made to despair.’

“By this I understood that one of them was safe forever.

“ ‘Hurry . . . press on . . . ’ he roared. ‘Those two must not escape . . . hold them, seize them . . . bring them to despair . . . they are escaping us. . . .

“Then Hell resounded with the grinding and gnashing of teeth, and in indescribable fury the devil howled: ‘O! power and omnipotence of that God. . . . He is stronger than I. There is only one left and she shall not escape . . . ’ but by the medley of groans and blasphemous words I understood that all three were safe in the Heart of Jesus. How I rejoiced, though unable to make a single act of love in spite of the longing I felt to do so . . . but none of the feelings of hatred manifested by the unhappy souls around me affect me, and when I hear their curses and blasphemies, I feel ready to suffer anything rather than hear Him so outraged and offended. Shall I in time, I wonder, become as they are? What suffering such a thought occasions, for can I ever forget how I once loved Him and how good He was to me?

“I have endured much,” she continued, “these last days. It is as if a stream of fire were being poured down my throat, passing right through my body, while at the same time I am pressed between the fiery planks, as I said before. The pain is intolerable, and beyond description; my eyes seem to be starting out of their sockets, wrenched out, my nerves strained, my body wracked and doubled in two, incapable of stirring, and over and around the nauseating and offensive stench, infecting the air.

This intolerable odor enveloped Josefa on her return from the bottomless pit and it was the same, at the moment of her abductions and persecutions by the arch-enemy. It was of mingled sulfur and burning putrid flesh, and it clung to her, say the witnesses, for a quarter of an hour or so, even half an hour, but she herself was painfully aware of it for a much longer time.

Yet, what is all this in comparison with a soul who knows God’s goodness and is forced to hate and revile Him? This suffering is all the greater in proportion to the love she formerly had for Him.”

There were other mysteries beyond the pale that were revealed to Josefa during this period of Lent 1922.

Whilst day and night she bore the burden of these terrible persecutions, God put her in touch with another abyss of woe, that of Purgatory. Many souls came to solicit her suffrages and sacrifices in terms of very great humility. At first she was frightened, but by degrees she became accustomed to their confidences. She listened to them, asked them their names, encouraged them, and very humbly recommended herself to their intercession. The lessons they inculcated are worth remembering.

One of them came to announce her deliverance and said: “The important thing is not entrance into religion, but entrance into the next world.” “If religious souls but realized the heavy price to be paid for concessions to the body . . .” said another, while asking for prayers. “My exile is at an end and I am going to my eternal home. . . .”

A priest-soul said to her: “How great is the mercy of God, when He deigns to make use of the sufferings of other souls to repair our infidelities; what a degree of glory I might have acquired had my life been different.”

It was a nun who, on her entrance into Heaven, confided to Josefa: “How different the things of earth appear when one passes into eternity. What are charges and offices in the sight of God? All He counts is the purity of our intention when exercising them, even in the smallest acts. How little is the earth and all it contains, and yet, how loved. . . . Ah, what comparison is there between life, however prolonged, and eternity! If only it were realized how in Purgatory the soul is wearied and consumed with desire to see God.”

There were also some poor souls, who having escaped through God’s mercy from a still greater peril, came to beg Josefa to hasten their deliverance.

“I am here by God’s great mercy,” one of them said, “for my excessive pride had brought me to the gates of Hell. I influenced a great number of other people, and now I would gladly throw myself at the feet of the most abject pauper.

“Have compassion on me and do acts of humility to make reparation for my pride, thus you will be able to deliver me from this abyss.”

“I spent seven years in mortal sin,” another confessed, “and three years ill in bed, and I always refused to go to Confession. I was ripe for hell-fire and would have fallen into it if by your present sufferings you had not obtained for me the grace of repentance. I am now in Purgatory, and I entreat you, since you were able to save me . . . draw me out of this dreary prison.”

“I am in Purgatory because of my infidelity, for I would not correspond with God’s call,” said another. “For twelve years I held out against my vocation and was in the greatest peril of damnation, because in order to stifle my conscience I gave myself up to a life of sin. Thanks to the divine goodness, which deigned to make use of your sufferings, I took courage to come back to God . . . and now, of your charity, get me out of this gloomy prison.”

“Offer the blood of Christ for us,” said another who was just about to leave Purgatory. “What would become of us, if there were no one to help us?”

The names of these holy souls, who were personally unknown to Josefa, having been carefully noted down with the date and place of their decease, were more than once verified. The assurance thereby gained of the truth of the facts she related remains as a precious testimony of her intercourse with Purgatory.

Lent was drawing to a close while these successive alternations of pain and austere graces continued. Without the special intervention of God Josefa could not have endured such contacts with the world invisible and at the same time lead her even life of devotedness and labor. Such, however, was the spectacle of heroic love she daily gave to the Heart of Him who sees in secret, whereas those about her could not but mistake the value of those externally monotonous days, spent in the plain accomplishment of duty.

Two facts relating to the last days of Holy Week stand out.

In the afternoon on Holy Thursday, April 13th, 1922, she wrote:

“I was in the Chapel at about half-past three when I saw before me a personage clothed like Our Lord, rather taller, very beautiful and with a wonderful expression of peace on his face which was most attractive. His vesture was of a dark reddish purple. He held in his hand the Crown of Thorns just like the one Our Lord used to bring me long ago.

“ ‘I am the Disciple of the Lord,’ he said, ‘John the Evangelist, and I bring you one of the Master’s most precious jewels.’

“He gave me the Crown and himself placed it on my head.”

Josefa was at first rather startled at this unexpected apparition, but she gained assurance through the feeling of intense peace which took possession of her. She ventured to confide in the saintly visitor, telling him of the anguish the ill-treatment of the devil caused her.

“ ‘Have no fear,’ was the reply. ‘Your soul is a lily which is kept by Jesus in His Heart—I am sent to make you acquainted with some of the feelings that overwhelmed His Heart on this great day:

“ ‘Love was about to part Him from His disciples, after it had baptized Him in a baptism of blood. But love urged Him to remain with them, and it was love that made Him conceive the idea of the Blessed Sacrament.

“ ‘What a struggle then arose in His Heart. He thought of how He would rest in pure souls, but also how His Passion would be carried on in hearts sullied by sin.

“ ‘How His Heart thrilled at the thought of the moment, then approaching, when He would go to the Father, but it was crushed with sorrow at the sight of one of the Twelve, one specially chosen, who was to deliver Him up to death, and at the knowledge that for the first time His Blood was to prove useless to save a soul.

“ ‘How His Heart wore itself out in love! But the want of correspondence to grace of those so beloved plunged It into dire distress . . . and what of the indifference and coldness of so many chosen souls?’

“With these words he was gone.”

This heavenly visitation upheld her courage for a time, as it brought so forcibly before her mind the call to reparation by which the Holy Eucharist appeals to consecrated souls.

But this apparition of peace was but an interval in the storm. That very evening the Crown disappeared, leaving her in great perplexity. The enemy was at pains to sow anxiety and trouble in the soul of his victim.

The old anguished question returned: Was she not being played upon by illusion and deception? . . . All those things to do with the invisible world, were they not a mirage of her imagination, caused by an unbalanced mind or unconscious suggestion?

These questions were not confined to herself alone. Yet there was nothing in her that could morally or physically give support to this doubt. But the prudence with which she was surrounded was on the watch, and seeking for an authentic sign that what was taking place was due to the direct intervention of the devil. God was about to give that sign and so remove all hesitation and doubt.

On Holy Saturday, April 15th, Josefa, having spent the last two days in terrible contests, heard the sounds that usually were a premonition of the approach of the evil spirits. She was engaged in needlework; and supported by obedience she resisted with all her might the approach of Satan, but he ended by casting her to the ground. Then, as on former occasions, her body seemed to become lifeless.

Kneeling beside her, the Mothers prayed earnestly, begging Our Lord to remove all doubt concerning the mystery enacted under their eyes.

Presently the usual slight tremor which preceded Josefa’s return to life was noticed. The expression on her face betrayed the horrors she had witnessed and endured. Suddenly she clutched at her chest and cried: “Who is burning me?” There was no light or flame anywhere near, and her religious habit was apparently untouched. With a rapid movement she tore open the front of her dress, and at once the cell was filled with the acrid smell and fetid fumes of smoke, and her inner garment was seen to be on fire. An extensive burn remained “near the heart,” as she said, attesting the truth of this—the first attempt of the kind made by Satan. Josefa was terrified: “I prefer to go,” she wrote in that first moment of shock, “rather than continue to be the devil’s sport.”

God’s fidelity, in thus tangibly manifesting the power of the infernal agents, was hereafter of notable comfort and reassurance in the months that followed.

Ten times in all Josefa was thus set on fire. She saw the devil vomit on her flames of which visible traces were seen not on her clothes only, but on her person. Painful wounds which took long to heal left on her body scars which she carried to the grave. Many of those scorched garments have been kept, and are witnesses to the devil’s rage, and to the heroic courage of Josefa, who endured these assaults in order to be faithful to Love’s enterprise.

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