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The Way Of Divine Love
by -Sr. Josefa Menendez

FROM now on Josefa would wait in darkness . . . a few more days of peace, and then the formidable powers of Hell would gather in a last supreme effort against her. But the audacity of Satan would serve only to bring into greater relief God’s victory, and her last sufferings set the seal on her union with her Master for all eternity. When the hour marked by God had struck, Jesus in the sovereign liberty of His love would break the last bonds: “Arise, My dove, My love, and come,” He would say, and in the deep and silent solitude of her last oblation, Josefa would die; the work of Love on earth was done. . . . But this was to be at the same time the dawning of a new day.

All Sunday morning, December 16th, Josefa suffered much, but the pain diminished in the course of the afternoon and she slowly regained her sight. At nightfall she grew worse and became unconscious, and it was thus, that the Bishop, who kindly called, found her. For a long while he remained in prayer at her bedside which seemed to be the altar of sacrifice on which a pure victim was being immolated.

That night and the following days were spent in alternations of relative calm and acute distress, so that both Josefa and those about her remained in the uncertainty of abandonment which the Heart of Jesus so loves.

She was devoured by thirst, yet every drop of water she managed to swallow seemed to burn and scorch her, instead of relieving her.

“It feels,” she said, “as if that little drop of water fell where a fire was raging and everything falling to pieces.” So painful and distressing was the impression it left on her. Jesus was associating her with His thirst and with the bitter vinegar and gall which was given Him on the Cross. She had lost all strength, and the slightest movement, even when two or three nuns together changed her position with the utmost care, made her pant for breath. At times she was seized with a sort of general torpor but without the relief of sleep, while at other times she was tortured in every member of her body.

However, though in the throes of such terrible physical agony, she had lost none of her self-forgetfulness and childlike joyousness, nor her delicate thoughtfulness for others and expansive abandonment. No sooner did she find comparative relief from pain than she resumed her inspiring colloquies in radiant peace.

“I am so happy to know that Jesus is making me ready, for I have done nothing, I owe everything to His merits and merciful love. . . . I no longer have the strength to pray, but I just tell Him over and over again how glad I am to be going to Him.”

A letter from Spain, just at this time, reawakened thoughts of her mother and sisters.

“There was a time,” she said, “when news from home moved me deeply, but I am happy about them, I feel sure that all will be well, for Jesus is so good; He loves them and will care for them and console them . . . I know His Heart so well. Yet I do love them with all my heart—Mama, Mercedes and Angela. They hardly realize how much I love them. . . . It is this that makes me understand what the Heart of Jesus feels when He sees that souls do not realize how much He loves them.”

The same thought ran through her head on Wednesday, December 19th.

“Souls do not understand how much Jesus loves them,” she murmured, as if talking to herself. “The more they have lived in the obscurity of faith,” she said at another time, “the more Jesus will help them and reward them at the hour of death.

“I have never been so happy, I am in such peace, my joy is perfect . . . there is not the smallest shadow on it. I am absolutely certain of His forgiveness and tenderness. . . . I have no desires. . . . I leave it all to Him. I cannot speak to Him anymore with my lips, but my heart repeats how good He is, and how I love Him.”

The thought of the children always delighted her, and as the sound of their merry voices reached her, she would exclaim: “How I love them!”

The ardent tone of her voice betrayed her zeal, she was so little occupied about herself, so interested in souls.

His Lordship the Bishop paid her another visit on Thursday, December 20th. After a long talk of which he said nothing, and some time spent in praying out loud with her, he went away much moved.

Nothing but peace and tranquil calm was felt at that bedside, for in spite of the suffering there was so much love. Josefa was waiting; complete submission to God’s Will was no doubt paying the price of souls whom she would go on helping from Heaven, winning souls for the Heart of Jesus, usque ad finem!

The testimony of the Sister Infirmarian who nursed her in these last days of her life is worth quoting:

“I had to guess what could relieve her pain or give her pleasure; she had only one desire: Heaven and the accomplishment of God’s will. She was so grateful for the smallest attentions and was most anxious that no one should be late for any community exercise on her account.”

Another writes: “I cannot say what her example meant to me during those three weeks. She must have been very mortified and very close to Our Lord, to have remained so tranquil, happy and abandoned to God’s good pleasure. She never alluded to her sufferings, never asked for water, though her thirst was very great, for she seemed on fire interiorly; if anything was offered to her, she accepted it, but never complained.

The nun who helped her so long in the care of the little oratory wrote: “I was granted the grace of a visit to her once during her illness. She received me with such a smile of welcome, for the sight of me recalled to her mind the memory of our dear little chapel.

“ ‘How well one understands,’ she said, ‘when the end comes, how God is everything and all the rest nothing . . . how quickly these four years of religious life have passed, it seems as if I arrived only yesterday as a postulant . . . then there was my noviceship . . . I had much to bear at that time, oh! how I suffered, and I almost feared I should be forced to leave, yet I loved the Society so much.’

“I remember then how, on the day of her vows, she looked triumphantly at her crucifix. The look she gave me, and the expressive gesture that accompanied it, seemed to speak of a victory won. I have never forgotten them.

“Then she came back naturally to thoughts of her childhood:

“ ‘When I was small,’ she said, ‘I wanted to love Jesus very much. . . . There seemed to be something urging me to love and give myself to Him. On the day of my First Communion, when they gave us an instruction on “Jesus Sponsus Virginum . . . though I did not quite understand, I was simply carried away . . . the call was growing stronger and stronger.’

“On the evening of her anointing and Profession, she recognized my voice and calling me to her: ‘In Heaven I will pray for your intentions . . .

“Then again and again she repeated: ‘Our Lord is so good, so kind when we do all we can, which of course is really nothing, He takes charge of the rest; it matters so little whether we feel we are getting better or not.’ ”

The Mistress General of the school at Les Feuillants, who died shortly after Josefa, left the following notes about her:

“Her cell was less of a sickroom than an oratory, and lying there on a bed of pain, she seemed radiant with heavenly peace. Without understanding why, one felt something great and supernatural in the atmosphere of that infirmary cell. I saw her several times on the following days, and asked her to pray for the children’s retreat which was about to take place.

“ ‘I love them so much,’ she said. ‘I am so happy when I hear them at their games but more especially when I see them at Holy Communion and know that Our Lord is in each one’s heart. O! yes, indeed, I shall pray for them and I shall go on praying for them when I get to Heaven. . . . God has given me,’ she continued, as if speaking to herself, ‘a heart that loves very much. . . . I love the Society and all the Mothers and Sisters . . . and the children; I do love them so!’

“One cannot reproduce the tone of sincere and deep love in her words. Another day she said:

“ ‘The Novices must be very fervent and energetic in their vocation. I myself had to fight so hard that sometimes I felt as if I could not go on. When this happened, I used to go to the Mother Assistant, and then I felt strengthened. It cost me much to leave Spain, but what was that in comparison to my vocation? Yes, I did it with all my heart. What we have to learn above all else in the Noviceship and never forget is obedience. If we only really valued obedience in a spirit of faith . . . ’ and this she repeated several times, recollecting herself, as it were, and seeing in her own soul the safety of this way of obedience.

“Another day when she seemed to be in great pain, she said: ‘Our Lord wants us to suffer in many ways. . . .

“She was silent for a few minutes, and then went on: ‘I have suffered much, but’—and here her voice took on a firmness that was quite unforgettable—‘but one forgets it, one forgets the suffering . . . and now Our Lord is about to . . . ’ For a moment she stopped, as if ashamed of what she had almost said. ‘O! no, not reward me, for I have done nothing. . . . He is going to make me happy forever.’ She was silent in the contemplation of such bliss. Then, ‘How good God is, O! how good,’ and she seemed to relish the words which she repeated again and again.”

This tranquil calm in happiness was to be brusquely interrupted. The powers of Hell were allowed to seize Josefa and crush her as the grape in the winepress. For a time Satan would even imagine that he had at long last vanquished her and ruined God’s plan for the world.

This last assault, the most redoubtable of all, was made both on her soul and on her body, which became possessed and dominated by an unyielding force.

On Friday evening, December 21st, the shadow began to fall. A sudden weariness of suffering seized upon Josefa. She longed to die, but regained sufficient self-possession to cling blindly to the Will of God, which in any case was the habitual attitude of her soul. On Saturday, the 22nd, the letter promised by Our Lord arrived from Rome, and the blessing of her Mother General braced her, as the dark tunnel opened before her.

That evening a terrible attack brought her to death’s door and deprived her of consciousness for a long time. What passed during the mysterious dark night into which her soul had passed?

Josefa would say later that during this night the devil was given a strange power. A realization whose origin was not from within herself, suddenly imposed itself upon her mind so clearly, that she could not reject it:

. . . Death was the result of the extraordinary life she was leading. Who was forcing it on her? She could be faithful without agreeing to be led in such a way. . . . If she refused she would get well. . . .”

Instantly all her pain left her and she felt physical ease. But this time under this diabolic obsession, the evil spirit walled her up in so absolute a silence that she could not break through it except to say that she was cured and free to walk no more in those ways. Never before had Josefa suffered so grievously in this way, yet at the very summit of her soul she never ceased loving Him who allowed so terrible a trial to befall her.

For a short space on Christmas Day she recovered enough liberty to explain to Father Boyer what had happened and was happening in her. These were but a few moments of painful relief in which she realized the truth, and the Father comforted her as best he could. . . . But the flash of light soon passed and the evil spirit would not give way. One could feel the interior struggle that must be going on, and that made her silence more painful still. What prayers and supplications arose to Heaven for her enlightenment and deliverance! Nothing counted in that terrible trial, but suffering.

Christmas Day passed, and Wednesday, December 26th, dragged on slowly, with no change. Father Boyer was following the course of this diabolic attack closely, and said the prayers prescribed for exorcisms several times, but in vain.

Faith in Him whose love is faithful and strong, confidence in the intercession of Mary, His Mother, were the very sure support of all during these tragic hours. How could one doubt the ultimate accomplishments of God’s great work . . . or the power of Him who directs all things . . . or the love of the Sacred Heart, incapable of abandoning His frail instrument on the brink of Hell?

It was when the Mother of Sorrows was invoked that in His own time He intervened. That Wednesday evening, kneeling near Josefa’s bed, the Mothers were invoking the Dolours of the most pure heart of Mary, and repeating Aves in a low voice. No sound was to be heard but the low murmur of prayers—God knows how intense—rising up to the Mother of Sorrows, whom none ever invoke in vain.

Suddenly Josefa’s body began to relax . . . she lowered her eyes . . . crossed her hands . . . her lips parted . . . and gradually she joined in the prayers which rose so insistently to Heaven. A quarter of an hour charged with feeling went by. After the Aves came a Pater . . .”Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. . . .”

Josefa’s tears flowed silently and with her whole soul she repeated the words of a much-loved prayer by Saint Madeleine-Sophie:

“O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I hasten, I come to Thee, throwing myself into the arms of Thy tender mercy! Thou art my sure refuge, my unfailing and only hope. Thou hast a remedy for all my evils, relief for all my miseries, reparation for all my faults. Thou canst supply for what is wanting to me in order to obtain fully the graces that I ask for myself and others. Thou art for me the infallible, inexhaustible Source of light, of strength, of perseverance, peace and consolation. I am certain, too, that Thou wilt never cease to aid, to protect, to love me, because Thy love for me, O Divine Heart, is infinite. Have mercy on me then, O Heart of Jesus, and on all that I recommend to Thee, according to Thine own mercy; and do with me, in me and for me, whatsoever Thou wilt, for I abandon myself to Thee with the full, entire confidence and conviction that Thou wilt never abandon me either in time or eternity. Amen.”

As these last words were said, affirming total and entire surrender to Our Lord, the evil spirit fled away forever. . . . The Virgin had once more crushed his head, and his power over Josefa was at an end.

In a moment, suffering returned to every member of Josefa’s body and she was stretched once more upon the Cross of her Saviour. . . . Who could doubt that it was Mary’s intervention and the all-powerful fidelity of her Son’s Sacred Heart that in one moment had effected so tangible and sudden a deliverance?

The night was spent in acts of intense thanksgiving. Josefa’s body was racked and broken, but her spirit had regained contact with the graces of that blessed pain. . . . with the Mothers, too, who never left her for a moment, and to whom only with her eyes as yet she could express the humility, thanksgiving and abandonment reawakened in her, as gradually the remembrance of these terrible days faded away.

On Thursday, the 27th, she received Holy Communion, in a peace that nothing could again impair.

It was the Feast of Saint John, the friend of virgin souls, who had often come to her as Messenger of the Heart of Jesus. She could not forget it. Father Boyer saw and spoke at length with her after her thanksgiving. . . . Clearly, and with remarkable lucidity, Josefa gave him an account of the mysterious state in which she had been conscious of her will-power. Her soul seemed to have touched the very depths of distress and also of humiliation, and annihilation, which were, in very truth, the depths of love. . . .

But these things were passed and gone . . . and the Magnificat best expressed the feelings uppermost in every heart. It was recited again and again by her bedside, while she lay radiant on her cross. All the old suffering had come back, the fictitious cure of the last days was gone, and the day passed in the joy of suffering and surrender reconquered.

On Friday, the 28th, an early visit from Father Boyer brought her the grace of another absolution. Duty took him away from Poitiers that day, but he left reassured, as Josefa had regained peace and unclouded joy. At about one o’clock in the afternoon a long attack of intense suffering seemed to bring her close to death. Until three o’clock she was so overcome by pain that she remained unconscious of those around her. Towards evening, however, she gradually revived, and in pity for her poor emaciated body, they did all that could be done for her, which was to moisten her lips with water and try to ease her breathing, by lifting her very gently into another position. But as always, she was quite forgetful of self and only anxious to spare trouble to others, and words of thanks were constantly on her lips.

The night, her last on earth, was spent in these vicissitudes, and on the morning of Saturday, the 29th, the Blessed Sacrament was brought to her for the last time. What must have been the love-meeting which so closely preceded that of eternity? Josefa, no doubt, had a presentiment of her approaching end, but her thoughtfulness for others which had grown so delicate through her union and conformity with the Heart of Jesus did not allow her to dwell on the separation which would cast such a gloom around her. So in deep recollection and silence she suffered on, more intensely as the hours passed, a warning perhaps, yet no clear indication, that death was drawing near, since she was praying, too, in perfect peace today as yesterday. She kept looking lovingly at a tiny statue of the Infant Jesus asleep in the crib. The beads of her rosary slipped through her fingers as her eyes expressed what she no longer had the power to say.

In the afternoon, propped up in bed, she read her favorite Chapter of the Imitation (Bk. iii, X), and was able to say a few words of grateful affection to the Mothers. One felt that she was thinking solely of Jesus and of souls; her face alone showed how severe was the pain she was enduring.

The day was beginning to darken; it was the fall of the evening, and the deepest silence reigned in her room. . . . It was so like many other evenings, that even the Mothers who watched her carefully did not suspect that the end was near. Jesus allowed this that He might keep for Himself the secret of the last preparation, completion, and supreme consummation.

It was half-past seven, and the Sister Infirmarian asked if she could do anything for her. Night had now fallen. “I am all right,” she said; “you can leave me alone,” for the Angelus was ringing and she knew it was time for community supper.

O mystery of God’s adorable will! By a chain of unforeseen circumstances, Josefa, who had never once been alone, either day or night, since December 9th, now remained alone!

And it was in this solitude, this abandonment willed by God, that the Master came swiftly and fetched His privileged little victim home; allowing her to die, like Himself in dereliction, forsaken by all. . . .

When a few minutes later the Sister Infirmarian returned, Josefa was dead. . . . She was lying with her head slightly tilted back, her eyes half closed and an expression of intense pain on her face, reminding one of Him who had died on the Cross, abandoned by His Father.

“Let Me choose the day and the hour,” He had said to her.

Our Lady and Saint Madeleine-Sophie had told her: “We two together will be there to lead you to Heaven.” Was not this the hundredfold of the hour, when in loneliness, solitude, perhaps distress, Our Lord’s words found their realization?

“You will suffer and in the depths of suffering, you will die.” This journey to Paradise from her lonely cell Our Lord deigned to signalize by a sign, an unmistakable testimony of His incomparable love. . . .

When at about eleven o’clock that night the Mothers went to clothe the little Sister in the religious habit, what was their astonishment to find that “Someone” had forestalled them! Under the blankets, which were tucked in to the very top, and better than any human hands could have done, Josefa was lying, her arms by her sides, clothed in her grey petticoat which was carefully tied at the waist and covered her down to her feet. When? How? Who had done it? No one had entered the room since her death, as her next-door neighbor in the infirmary testified, and the little Sister, who had been incapable of the slightest movement, could not have done it, nor did she even know where the petticoat had been put away.

The fact, however, could not be denied and is moreover quite in harmony with Josefa’s known modesty; she always dreaded being handled after death. Perhaps we may surmise that Our Lady and Saint Madeleine Sophie, who had both promised to come and take her soul to Paradise, had themselves wished to give this proof of their maternal presence, a proof which was absolutely convincing to the witnesses.

The little grey petticoat was therefore left untouched just as it had been arranged and Josefa carried it with her to the tomb. Thus ends the story of a very faithful love, Saturday, December 29th, 1923.

Almost at once the expression of Josefa’s countenance changed to one of peace and serenity, and the whole house was filled with a sense of the supernatural and much grace.

On the morning of Sunday, December 30th, the community heard with indescribable emotion the divine secret of the last four years, of which not one had so much as suspected the existence. A letter from the Mother General said: “It is only just that they should be the first to receive the tidings of this grace.”

The most absolute discretion was imposed on all, since no one outside Les Feuillants was for the moment to know the favors or the mission given to the humble little Sister.

But what graces of fervor, of thanksgiving and generosity were poured out on the house. . . . The cell where Josefa’s body lay among lilies became a sanctuary. Heaven seemed close, and all came to pray and venerate her. There was a majesty about the beautiful countenance that reflected something of the serene tranquility of eternity.

“It seemed that I was not kneeling by a deathbed,” wrote one of the nuns who watched by her the next night, “but before a spotless white altar, and that around her the triumph of her oblation was being chanted by the very palms and lilies. I tried to make my prayer an echo of hers. She embraced the whole world in hers . . . souls, sinners, our dear Society, and deep gratitude mingled with my prayer during those silent hours of the night.”

So it seemed as if already Our Lord was pleased to lift the veil that had shrouded so completely the little instrument of His love and to discover to souls the burning appeals of that love.

“The night she died, not knowing that she was worse,” wrote the Sister in charge of the kitchen, “I saw her in a dream. She was most lovely, and lay on a bed adorned with flowers. She made me a sign to come near and said to me: ‘Oh! Sister, do not be afraid of suffering, and do not lose the smallest particle that God may send you. If you could but understand what a privilege it is to suffer for Him . . . you must make a prayer of your work. Say to Him as each occasion arises: “For Thee, dear Jesus, I offer it to Thee”—so that He may see that you want to be with Him and to love Him. Oh! if you only knew how much He wants to be loved!’ She spoke impressively, so that I was very much moved, all the more, that on coming down to Mass that Sunday morning I heard that she had died in the night.”

That same Sunday evening the Bishop of Poitiers came to pray beside her remains. He stayed in deep silence for a long while, then blessed the little Sister who had been confided to his care by Our Lord Himself, and went away with evident reluctance, unable to restrain his tears. After signing the Act of Profession, he declared that he would himself perform the last rites after the Requiem Mass which was to take place on the following Tuesday, January 1st, 1924.

So the year 1923 ended in an outpouring of graces from Josefa’s little cell. It acted as a magnet to the household and there went up to Heaven from it thanksgiving, offerings, and desires that must have consoled and glorified the Heart of Our Lord. Already the work of His love had begun.

At about half-past four that evening Josefa’s body was enclosed in the plain wood coffin that was to hide her from every eye. The restful face still bore the expression of a gentleness and peace that one could not tire of gazing on. She was taken along the cloister to the very place in the chapel where eighteen months before Jesus had said to her: “See how faithful I have been to you.”

These two faithful loves met here for the last time.

Whilst the Community spent the night before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the oratory of Saint Stanislaus, so to close a year of singular graces, Josefa’s body alone kept guard before the Tabernacle where she had made her first vows.

On Tuesday, January 1st, the funeral took place. In a letter to the Mother General written by the Superior of Les Feuillants who knew how closely she was united by thought and prayer to all that was happening, we read: “I had feared that the Chapel would be very empty, considering the day and the absence of the School away for their holidays, but it was not so: His Lordship and six priests filled the sanctuary, nuns of various Orders, the little girls from the Good Shepherd Convent, the children of the day-school, Children of Mary and friends made a gallant escort to our humble little Sister after the long file of her Mothers and Sisters.

“The Requiem was sung with great devotion, and about it all was a sense of recollection which the circumstances made very moving. The Bishop gave the solemn absolution, and the procession started, while the In Paradisum led us in thought to where our dear little Sister now rejoices.

“It was raining, and the gloomy sky on that January 1st formed a contrast to the serene peace of our souls. We crossed the garden and passed the oratory of St. Joseph and our Mother Foundress’ ‘solitude’ where she used to make her retreat. Here the hearse was stopped unexpectedly beneath the Crucifix that dominates the place where the paths cross, and it was as if Saint Madeleine Sophie was giving a last blessing to her child.

“Then we reached the great gates at the entrance. Josefa was leaving Les Feuillants. . . . How deep was our emotion as the hearse disappeared.”

The nuns’ burying-place is a reserved part of the public cemetery at the end of the town, and here numerous graves are grouped round a Cross. Facing the entrance, in a vault which had been prepared with care a few weeks before Josefa’s death her precious body was laid to rest. There is nothing to distinguish her grave from that of the other nuns, but it is close to the statue of Our Blessed Lady.

There rests the humble and privileged Messenger of the Sacred Heart.

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