On December 29th, 1923, Sister Josefa Menendez, when thirty-three years old, died a holy death at the Convent of Les Feuillants, Poitiers. She lived as a Sister in the Society of the Sacred Heart only four years, and in so hidden a way that the world ought never to have heard of her, and even in her own community she should soon have been forgotten.
Yet, only twenty years after her death, she is known all over the world. In America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania people are praying to her and are
listening attentively to the Message which the Heart of Jesus has given her for men.
In 1938 the substance of the Message, under the title of Un Appel a lAmour, was published in Toulouse by the Apostleship of Prayer. Cardinal Pacelli, now gloriously reigning as Pope Pius XII, wrote a foreword of recommendation in the form of a letter. Five years later a complete biography was asked for with insistence, since readers were anxious for all the details of a life so rich yet so hidden and in which the very poverty of the human background threw into relief the splendor of Christ's divine action.
This second and complete edition is the answer to that demand. It is drawn from Sister Josefa's notes, written day by day, under obedience, its accuracy confirmed by the very exact reminiscences of the witnesses of her life, namely the Superior and Mother Assistant of the Convent of "Les Feuillants," Poitiers, and her director, Father Boyer, O.P.
The reader will feel a certain curiosity in opening these pages, but their contents will fill him with wonder and admiration, and he will finish the book determined to lead a better life and to love a God who has manifested so intense a love for His creatures.
For every page tells of the wonderful providence of God's love for man. Holy Scripture represents Him in the Psalms as following the sons of men with ever-watchful care, attentive to their every action and answering their least efforts to pray. Turning with love towards His rebel sons, from the beginning He lets His voice be heard through marvels and through His prophets, until the day when He Himself, taking flesh in the womb of the Virgin, tells men in human language of the love that fills His Heart.
Jesus, the Word Incarnate, has transmitted in all its completeness the Message He Himself received from the Father: "Omnia quaecumque audivi a Patre Meo, nota feci vobis" (John 15:15). There is nothing to add to Our Lord's words, and at the death of St. John, the last Apostle, the divine revelation was closed and sealed. Later ages could do no more than draw out its meaning. But its riches are unfathomable, and most men are too inattentive and superficial to sound the depths of the Gospel teaching; consequently, just as under the Old Law Prophets were sent by God to revive the faith and hope of His people, so in the New Dispensation Christ has from time to time given certain chosen souls the mission of interpreting His authentic words, and of revealing their depths and hidden meaning.
Long ago, on Easter morning, He charged Saint Mary Magdalen with announcing His glorious Resurrection to the Apostles.
In succeeding ages likewise poor and humble women have been chosen out to transmit His most important desires to mankind.
To recall only the chief instances: Through Saint Juliana of Montcornillon He revived devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and obtained the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi; through Saint Margaret Mary a new stimulus was given to devotion to the Sacred Heart; through Saint Therese of the Child Jesus He told a world which seemed to have forgotten it the merit and value of spiritual Childhood, and now, He has given a Message to Josefa Menendez.
The three above mentioned have been canonized by the Church, and so have received, as it were, an official recognition of their mission. Sister Josefa has not had this honor bestowed on her, but while she is not yet called their Sister in glory, she is indeed their Sister in grace, and God has been pleased to seal her testimony. He who treats His creatures with such reverence, "Cum magna reverentia disponisnos" (Wis. 12:18), owed it to Himself to impress a stamp marking His messenger clearly as the bearer of His words.
"His ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts," and that there may be no doubt that the communications come from Him and no other, He chooses weak instruments, humanly speaking unfitted for the task in view; so His strength shines forth in their infirmity.
He did not choose the learned and the great in the world's eyes to found His Church, Saint Paul expressly tells us, otherwise the rapid spread of Christianity could have been attributed to their talents and prestige; but He chose the poor and the ignorant, and of these He made vessels of election.
And that the greatness of their mission might not dazzle them and lead to vainglory, He again and again reminded them of their nothingness, their innate misery and their weakness. His gifts are only secure when bestowed on the truly humble of heart. His Providence has always worked in this way. His glory is manifest in man's nothingness. "If I had been able to find a creature more miserable than you," He said to Saint Margaret Mary, "I should have chosen her... ."And Sister Josefa repeatedly heard the same declaration: "If I could have found a more wretched creature, I should have chosen her for my special love, and through her revealed the longings of My Heart. But I have not found one, and so I have chosen you." (June 7th, 1923).
Soon after we hear Him say: "I have selected you as one utterly useless and destitute, that none may attribute to any but Myself, what I say, ask and do." (June 12th, 1923).
As far as appearances went, nothing signalized Josefa as in any way fitted for so high a mission. If we remember her repeated delays in entering religion, we might be justified in doubting the constancy of her will; then,
too, her humble rank in the community, her status as a mere novice, her great love of retirement, and the very real obstacle of her ignorance of the language of the country, all these hindrances combined would at first sight appear insurmountable.In reality they were tokens of God's choice. Though but a lowly little novice, so tender-hearted as to be frequently on the point of yielding to her sensitiveness, she would show later an unconquerable strength of will. In the blinding light of divine revelations, she only crept deeper into her littleness, and the closer God drew to her the more she humbled herself. In spite of the evidence of God's action, she was ever fearful of being deceived herself and of deceiving her Superiors. As a matter of fact, they had rarely met with a more obedient and docile subject, or one more deferential, more eager to submit to control, more ready to sacrifice herself. In her devotions, as in everything else, there was no exaggeration; she was perfectly straightforward and simple. She was mentally healthy and had a well-developed sense of order and proportion. The supernatural, whose weight was often crushing, never disturbed her interior poise, though this equilibrium was kept only at the cost of almost superhuman endurance. All this was in reality the best guarantee to Superiors that her communications were divine in origin.
To Sister Josefa Our Lord said: "You yourself shall be My sign."
Though at first suspicious and reserved in their judgments, both her Director and her Superiors were forced by the evidence of her life to believe that her mission was divine.
Only very gradually did Our Lord unfold it to her; several times He had told her that He meant to make use of her to "carry out His plans" (February 9th, 1921) for the saving of many souls that had cost Him so dear (October 15th, 1920). On the night of February 24th, 1921 He gave her a yet more explicit call during her Holy Hour. "The world does not know the mercy of My Heart," He said to her. "I intend to enlighten them through you... . I want you to be the apostle of My love and mercy. I will teach you what that means; forget yourself." And in answer to the fears she expressed: "Love and fear nothing. I want what you do not want, but I can do what you cannot." "It is not for you to choose, you have only to resign yourself into My Hands."
A few months later, on Monday, June 11th, 1921, a few days after the Feast of the Sacred Heart, when she had received many graces, He said: "Remember My words and believe them. My Heart has but one desire, which is to enclose you in It, to possess you in My love, then to make of your frailty and littleness a channel to convey mercy to many souls who will be saved by your means. Later on, I will reveal to you the burning secrets of My Heart and many souls will profit by them. I want you to write down and keep all I tell you. It will be read when you are in Heaven. Do not think that I make use of you because of your merits, but I want souls to realize how My Power makes use of poor and miserable instruments." And as Josefa asked if she was to tell Reverend Mother even that, He answered: "Write it; it will be read after your death."
So by degrees Our Lord unfolded His plan: Josefa was chosen by Him, not only to be a victim for souls, especially for consecrated ones, but that through her Christ's Message of love and mercy might reach the world. A twofold mission - Victim and Messenger - and between the two missions there is a close connection. If Victim then Messenger, and because Messenger, necessarily Victim.
JOSEFA AS VICTIM
To be a victim necessarily implies immolation, and as a rule atonement for another. Although strictly speaking one can offer oneself as a victim to give God joy and glory by voluntary sacrifice, yet for the most part God leads souls by that path only when He intends them to act as mediators: they have to suffer and expiate for those for whom their immolation will be profitable, either by drawing down graces of forgiveness on them, or by acting as a cloak to cover their sins in the face of divine justice. It stands to reason that no one will on his own initiative take such a role on himself. Divine consent is required before a soul dares to intervene between God and His creature. There would be no value in such an offering if God refused to hear the prayer.
Already in the Old Testament victims of a certain sort only could be offered to God. To be acceptable they must have special, clearly defined qualities: they were to be spotless, without blemish, males of one year, and above all the offering had to be made by a priest according to a prescribed rite which was to be adhered to rigorously, and which symbolized not only the dispositions of the officiating priest, but also those of the donor of the victim.
In the New Testament a new sacrifice takes the place of the old; Jesus Christ is the sole Mediator, sole Priest, sole Victim, and His sacrifice is no longer symbolic, but real and infinite.
If, then, Jesus Christ wishes to associate other victims with Himself, they must be closely united to Him, and share His feelings, in order to enter fully into His sacrifice; hence they can only be human beings, endowed with intelligence and will.
He Himself chooses these persons, and because they are free He asks them for their voluntary cooperation. Those who accept put themselves at His mercy, and He then makes use of them as by sovereign right.
Assimilated and transformed into Christ, the victim-soul expresses the sentiments of Christ Jesus to God the Father;
and to Christ Himself her attitude is one of humiliation, penance, and expiation, sentiments which ought to animate the souls she represents.
And because of this identification with Christ, the victim-soul shares in His dolorous Passion and undergoes,
to a greater or lesser degree, and in various but generally superhuman ways, the torments and agonies that were His.
When the suffering is borne for one specially chosen sinner the victim endures the just retribution due to this sinner for his crimes. Every kind of trial is endured, be it illness,
or even persecution by the spirits of darkness of which the victim becomes the sport.
With Sister Josefa this was the case to an extraordinary degree. Victim at the express desire of her Lord, not only was her whole being immolated, but the manner of the immolation itself varied according to the particular attributes of God to which she had sacrificed herself.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus offered herself as a victim of merciful love; Marie des Vallees, as a victim of God's Justice; Saint Margaret Mary, of both Justice and Mercy, and so it was with Sister Josefa. Christ told her His wishes in even more explicit terms than He had used with Saint Margaret Mary.
"I have chosen you to be a victim of My Heart" (December 19th, 1920). "You are the victim of My love" (October 2nd, 1920 and November 23rd, 1920). "You are the victim of My love and mercy" (June 30th, 1921). "I want you to be the victim of divine justice and the comfort of My Heart" (November 9th, 1920).
For all these reasons Josefa must suffer. "You suffer in your soul and body,
because you are the victim of My Soul and Body. How could you not suffer in your heart, since I have chosen you as the victim of My Heart?" (December 19th, 1920).
As victim of the Heart of Jesus she suffered in order to console the Heart that has been so wounded by the ingratitude of men. As victim of love and mercy she suffered that the merciful love of Jesus might overwhelm with graces the sinner He so loved. As victim of the divine justice she carried the intolerable burden of the divine reproaches, and expiated for guilty souls, who would owe their salvation to her. Her mission exacted perpetual immolation on her part, and Our Lord did not hide it from her. "Love, suffer, and obey," He said to her, "so that I may realize My plans in you" (January 9th, 1921).
On June 12th, 1923 He corroborated the whole of this plan as it affected her. "As for you, you will live in the most complete and profound obscurity, and as you are My chosen victim, you will suffer, and overwhelmed by suffering you will die. Seek neither rest nor alleviation; you will find none, for such is My will. But My love will sustain you, and never shall I fail you."
But before making her endure such piercing and keen agony, He had asked and obtained her consent; for though He is Sovereign Lord and Master, He nevertheless respects the liberty of the creature.
"Are you willing? ... "He said to Josefa, and as she shrank at the prospect before her, He left her. She was heartbroken at His departure, but Our Lady came, and suggested to her child: "Do not forget that your love is free." Several times Josefa tried to escape from the path before her, then Jesus left her, and it was only after she had called Him again and again that He came back to receive from her a willing offering of that which He had suggested only as a possibility. Usually she accepted most generously.
"I offered myself to serve Him in any way He might choose." God knew
Himself free to act in any way He chose, and He said once again: "I am your God, you belong to Me; of your own free will,
you have handed yourself over. From now on you cannot refuse Me anything" (July 23rd, 1922). "If you do not deliver yourself up to My will, what can I do?" (April 21st, 1922).
She surrendered; like her Master she would be a willing victim: "Oblatus est quia Ipse voluit." Like Him, too, she would be a pure victim. For how can one expiate another's sins, when one has to expiate one's own? From her birth God had enveloped her in purity, for there cannot be found in her life any fault to which she voluntarily consented. Her greatest infidelities, as she herself owned, were a certain reluctance to respond to the call of grace and indecision in the face of a disconcerting mission; nothing therefore that was a stain on her heart and soul. Jealously Our Lord guarded her: "I want you to forget yourself so entirely and to be so completely given up to My Will that I will not tolerate the slightest imperfection in you without warning you of it" (February 21st, 1921).
Many times when He wanted her to re-state that she was His victim He opened the question by conferring on her a grace of still greater purification. "I want you to suffer for Me, Josefa, but I will begin by letting the arrow of love which is to purify your soul fall on you, for as My victim, you must be all-pure" (June 17th, 1923).
In her pure conscience on which suffering was about to descend there was found no taint of sin, and consequently there was no work of expiation to be done, and that was why the fruits of salvation could be transferred to other souls. Her sufferings bore a twofold character, as is indeed the case with all true victims. As a victim chosen by Christ Himself to continue and complete His redemptive work, she must be very closely united with Christ the Redeemer, and share His Passion by enduring the self-same sufferings as His own; as an expiatory victim for the sins of others, her pains would be proportionate to the sins of the offender for whom she was atoning.
Participation in the Sufferings of Christ
The Passion of Christ being our sole salvation, if we are to be purified and saved, we must of necessity come into contact with the Blood shed by the Lamb. The great cry of the dying Christ is a pressing invitation to the whole human race to hasten to the Saviour's fountains from which all graces flow.
This contact with Christ's Blood is immediately secured by souls that answer His appeal. Others, and alas! they are many, voluntarily keep aloof. It is these that Christ will seek to reach through other souls whom He makes use of as channels of His mercies. They are the most fruitful of all the branches of the mystic vine. Loaded with the sap flowing from Christ Himself, and completely one with Him, by their solidarity with the sinner they stand liable for his sins; so being one with him and one with Christ, in them and by them, grace is communicated. They are victim-souls.
How intimate must be their identification with the Crucified if they are to
carry out their part of the contract fully! Full union with Him is implied, whilst He on His part imprints on their souls, hearts, and bodies the living image of His sorrowful Passion.
All His sufferings are renewed in them: they will be contradicted, persecuted, humbled, scourged, and crucified; and what man fails to inflict, that God Himself will supply by mysterious pains, agonies, stigmata, which will make of them living crucifixes.
How great must be the power of mediation of such souls! How efficacious their intercession, when they implore divine mercy, pardon and salvation for their brethren; when in them and through them, the Precious Blood of Christ, infinitely more powerful than that of Abel, cries to the Father!
There is this, however, to notice with regard to some saints, notably Saint Francis of Assisi, that the Passion, as it were, abides in them, God's ultimate plan apparently being to shape them into finished copies of the Crucified. It is God's response to their adoring love of His Passion, and He makes them share both physically and morally in the torments of His Beloved Son.
There is a further purpose with regard to expiatory victims: He seems to dispossess them in favor of other souls, for the Passion of Christ, after marking them with its sign, passes through them, in order to bring about in the sinner for whom they suffer the graces of the sacrifice of Calvary.
They are thus co-redeemers in the full sense of the word; love for their neighbor urges them on, their mission is different from that of others. For whereas God is pleased to allow those other souls of whom we spoke to remain in contemplation of Him, giving glory to His infinite perfections by their love, it is otherwise with victim-souls: when they contemplate Him, He unveils the immensity of His love for souls and the grief with which the loss of sinners fills Him. The sight of this breaks their hearts, and their longing to console Christ is not satisfied with mere words of love; it stirs up their zeal. At whatever price, they will win souls to Him, and He kindles this zeal still more. It is the love of the Sacred Heart Itself, communicated to them, with which they love sinners; love which gives them a superhuman endurance well described by Josefa's own words:
"For the last two or three weeks, I have felt an immense desire for suffering. There was a time when the thought of it frightened me. When Jesus told me that He had chosen me as His victim my whole being trembled; but it is different now. There are days when I endure such agony that if He did not uphold me, I should die, for no part of me is free from pain! ... In spite of this, my soul longs to bear more grievous afflictions for Him, though not without repugnance in the lower part of my consciousness. When these pains attack me I shake with fear and instinctively draw back, but there is granted to my will a strength that accepts, that desires and wants to suffer yet more, so that if the choice between continued pain and Heaven were offered me, I should infinitely prefer to remain in the throes of pain, if by so doing I might console His Heart, though God knows how I long to be forever with Him. I know that this change has been wrought in me by Jesus" (June 30th, 1921).
She was right indeed; the change had come not from herself, but from Jesus, or rather may we not say that it was His strength, His feelings, His desires and sufferings that He had passed on to her?l
"As you are ready to suffer, let us suffer together" (December 19th, 1920), and He gave her His Cross: "Jesus came with His Cross, which He placed on my shoulders" (July 18th, 1920). "I come to bring you My Cross, thus unburdening Myself on you" (July 26th, 1921). "I want you to be My Cyrenean; you will help Me to bear My Cross" (February 23rd, 1922). "Let My Cross be your Cross" (March 30th, 1923).
Innumerable are the times He placed it on her willing shoulders for hours on end, even for whole days and nights. He entrusted her with His Crown of Thorns, which He left in her keeping for long periods, so that like Him she knew not where to rest her aching head. "I will leave you My Crown ... do not complain of the pain ... for by it you share in My pain" (November 26th, 1920). "My Crown ... with it I will Myself encircle your head" (June 17th, 1923). He made her feel the pain of His pierced Side. Our Lady said to her: "This pain is a spark from the Heart of My Son; when it is at its worst, know that it is a sign that some soul is wounding Him deeply" (June 20th, 1921).
He wished her to feel the pain of the nails in both hands and feet: "I am about to give you a new sign of My love. Today you will share with Me the pain of the nails" (March 16th, 1923).
Again He associated her intimately with the agony of His Heart and Soul: "Every Friday, and especially on the First Friday of the month, I will cause you to share in the bitterness of My Heart's agony, and you will experience the torments of My Passion in a very particular manner" (February 4th, 1921).
On March 1st, 1922, He appeared to her, His Face all bloodstained. "Draw near," He said, "come and rest in My Heart; and take part in Its grievous pain."
"He then drew me close to His Heart, and my soul was filled with such anguish and bitterness of sorrow that I cannot describe it."
Like Him, she suffered for others: "I want your whole being to suffer, that you may gain souls" (December 21st, 1920). "There is a soul that is grievously wounding Me ... be not afraid if you feel yourself totally abandoned, for I shall make you share the anguish of My Heart" (September 13th, 1921). "Keep My Cross, until that soul recognizes the truth" (March 24th, 1923). "Take My Cross, My Nails and Crown. I go in search of souls" (June 17th, 1923).
These few examples will suffice; they abound throughout the book. As an atoning victim, Josefa shared in all the torments of Jesus, and her whole person, so to speak, was saturated with unutterable anguish. United with Jesus on the Cross, she was tortured by His sufferings, consumed by His desires; His burning thirst for the salvation of souls urged her to attempt every kind of reparation and expiation within her power.
And God allowed trials of every kind to rain down upon her. If illness was not one of them (yet who knows, for she never complained), nor persecution from men (for unlike a Margaret Mary, both her religious and family life appear to have been exempt from these), yet on the other hand, more than many another, she was given over to the fury of Satan. And this is not surprising.
There are few saints in whose lives his rage is not apparent. Christ in the glory of Heaven is beyond the reach of Satan, who as His personal enemy spares no pains to thwart the spread of God's kingdom on earth. The more he knows a soul to be beloved of Christ, the fiercer are his attacks; this, no doubt, in the hope of increasing the number of his unfortunate dupes, but above all, in the perverse hope of snatching from Christ the souls He loves and for whom He has paid so high a price in the shedding of His Precious Blood. Satan, therefore, chooses saints and consecrated souls whom he longs to besmirch, seduce, and dishonor, and flings himself on them. Above all, he abhors victim-souls, so Josefa was particularly hateful to him.
She had joyfully made the sacrifice of the three things she held dearest in the world: her mother, her sister, and her country; she had offered herself for the salvation of sinners, and was, in the event, to snatch a great number from hell-fire. Satan therefore made wanton sport of her. He is permitted by God to have a greater power over victim-souls. Surely this follows from their vocation, 1 for as they take on themselves the sins of others, they also assume the consequences which they know will follow. When a man consents to sin, whether he is conscious of it or not, he gives the devil great power over him, the power of seduction and possession. This is not very noticeable, as a rule, for the evil one excels in dissimulation and avoids disturbing those he believes he has in his net. He strengthens what is evil in his prey, multiplies occasions of sin and benumbs the soul, till it sinks into a state of torpor which is absolutely fatal.
When, however, the devil is met by the resolute resistance of the victim-soul who has taken the place of the sinner,
unable to make her sin he takes fearful vengeance, using the very powers he has gained over the evildoer in order to torment his substitute.
And this is permitted by God to manifest to all the reality of both the devil and Hell which so many try to forget and to bury in silence and oblivion.
The devil is a reality, and in his dealings with God's saints he shows himself in the undisguised perversity of his vicious and corrupt nature. What must his cruelty be to those souls that are damned and are his forever, if he is so pitiless with those over whom, after all, he has but limited sway? Who would dare affirm that such a lesson is without its use, especially in our days?
God also confounds the pride of the spirit of darkness, who in spite of all his power and rage makes no headway, but meets with constant defeat, which greatly enhances God's glory.
So it was with Sister Josefa.
The devil tried by every possible means to delude and beguile her, disguising himself as an "angel of light," even going so far as to assume the very features of Jesus Christ Himself. Most often however, he tried to turn her from her chosen path by inflicting on her grievous bodily harm.
When Satan, in all his strength, and a frail human being meet in mortal combat, God interposes His power in the conflict and invests the soul with superhuman endurance. He bestows on it unconquerable energy and makes it overcome all temptations and every suffering. The devil's power broke on the frailty of Josefa's resistance, who (though "nothing and misery," as Our Lord called her) with divine help triumphed over the "strong man armed." But God alone knew what it cost her.
Even as a postulant, showers of blows, administered by an invisible fist, fell upon her day and night, especially when she was in prayer and reiterating her determination always to be faithful. At other times she was violently snatched away from the chapel, or prevented from entering it. Again and again the devil appeared to her in the guise of a terrifying dog, snake, or worse still, in human form.
Soon the forcible abductions became more frequent, in spite of the supervision exercised by Superiors. Under their very eyes she suddenly disappeared, and after long search would be found thrown into some loft, or beneath heavy furniture, or in some unfrequented spot. In their presence she was burnt, and without seeing the devil, they saw her clothes consumed and on her body unmistakable traces of fire, which caused wounds that took long to heal.
Lastly, there occurred a phenomenonl very rare in the lives of the Saints: God permitted the devil to take her down to Hell. There she spent long hours, sometimes a whole night, in unspeakable agony. Though she was dragged down into the bottomless pit more than a hundred times, each sojourn seemed to her to be the first, and appeared to last countless ages. She endured all the tortures of Hell, with the one exception of hatred of God. Not the least of these torments was to hear the sterile confessions of the damned, their cries of hatred, of pain and of despair.
Nevertheless, when at long last she came back to life, shattered and spent, her body agonized with pain, she looked on no suffering, however severe, as too much to bear, if by it she could save a soul from that dreaded abode of torment. As gradually she began to breathe more freely, her heart bounded with joy at the thought that still she could love her Lord.
It was this great love that sustained her, but at times the trial weighed heavily on her. Like Jesus in the Garden of Olives, she spent long hours in anguish and dejection. She realized the vast number of the lost, and was often perplexed as to the use of her descents into Hell and all the tortures that she had endured. But quickly she regained her hold on herself, and her amazing courage did not falter. Then, too, Our Lady helped her: "While you suffer, the devil has less power over that soul" (July 22nd, 1921). "You suffer to relieve Him; is this not enough to give you courage?" (July 12th, 1921).
Then Our Lord showed her the treasures of reparation and expiation she had gained by her repeated ordeals (October 6th, 1922 and November 5th, 1922), and allowed her to witness in Hell the devil's bursts of fury, when there escaped him souls of whom he thought he had a firm hold, but for whom she was offering expiation. The thought that she could console and rest Our Lord and gain souls for Him kept up her heroic spirit and excited her zeal.
Although she instinctively shrank from contact with the devil, for his power and vindictiveness were well known to her by personal experience, yet never did she allow this fear to make her neglect a duty. At one time he carried her off almost daily as she went to her employment; she knew this would happen and the thought of it made her tremble with apprehension, but undaunted she went forward, and on the morrow was still as determined as ever that she would not yield to terror.
In all her heroic fidelity, perhaps the most admirable feature was her conviction that,
owing to her fear and occasional repugnances, she was (and this she sincerely believed) ungrateful and unfaithful, and had done absolutely nothing for God.
After nights of unspeakable torment, crushed, yet ever gallant, she rose at the hour of Rule and resumed her ordinary labors, asking no exceptions from common life. She burnt, indeed, with the very fire of the Heart of Jesus, for after all the agonies of Hell and her share in Christ's sufferings, she was neither discouraged nor cast down, but her readiness to suffer only increased.
Like Saint Margaret Mary, she offered herself in sacrifice for religious souls, for priests, for sinners of every description. Docile and abandoned to the divine Will, she asked but one thing, to be able to console Him. She was ready to suffer a thousand martyrdoms to help those who for the most part were utterly unknown to her, but whom she loved in and through Him.
As we pointed out in the beginning, she had to be a victim in order that the Message might be delivered and be listened to by mankind for whom she endured so much.
She who knew the Heart of Jesus and His love for souls, was better qualified than any other to transmit this Message to the world.
It is one of love and mercy. Nowhere is it fully stated,
but it is found in fragmentary form all through the book. Its chief points were often reiterated, and with little verbal change.
Here is a short summary of them:
(a) In the first place, the Sacred Heart and the overwhelming charity of Jesus Christ for mankind are brought out in a striking way. It might almost be called a new revelation of the Sacred Heart, confirming and in certain matters completing and perfecting that previously given to Saint Margaret Mary.
More than two centuries and a half have elapsed since 1675, and new currents of devotion have arisen in the Church. At present, the mystical Christ is passionately (and very rightly) cherished by those souls who in their inmost being are conscious of Its reality and Its implications.
The devotion to the Sacred Heart would appear to have grown less, if anything, and to be less well understood; 1 to some the devotion appears a mutilation of the worship of the whole Christ, or perhaps feminine with too much sentiment or even sentimentality in it.
Our Lord reacts strongly against this false impression. He reaffirms that there is no mistake, that it is indeed His Heart of flesh, pierced by the lance that He offers mankind; His Heart so full of love and so little loved in return, and of which the gaping Wound cries out how immense is His tender affection for men.
Like all true love, His is consumed by desire for a return in kind, all the more, that only so can man attain happiness here below, and everlasting beatitude hereafter. Let those who reject His love realize the horror of Hell to which they will be condemning themselves... . This was the appeal that, through Josefa, Jesus Christ sent out to the whole world.
(b) That men may be attracted (and herein lie the novelty and force of the Message) ... the Sacred Heart manifests through her His infinite mercy. He loves them every one, just as they are, even the most despicable, even the greatest sinners, one can almost say, especially the most miserable and sinful. He does not ask for their good qualities or virtues, but only for their wretchedness and sins. Far from being an obstacle, their very faults are thus an encouragement to draw near Him.
Such is the gift God asks of His beloved sinners, on the one condition of a true repentance, and a readiness to turn away from their evil ways out of love for Him.
His Heart is there waiting for His erring sons with all the impatience of true love. He assures them beforehand of a free pardon. "It is not sin that most grievously wounds My Heart," He said, "but what rends and lacerates It is that after sin men do not take refuge in It once more" (August 29th, 1922).
What He wants and ardently desires is their trust in His infinite goodness and mercy.
(c) To consecrated and therefore specially loved souls, Jesus offers a share of His redemptive life. He would like them to act as intermediaries for the saving of souls, and that is why He asks of all the spirit of sacrifice in love. As a rule, no great sufferings are to be borne, but He inculcates the importance of ordinary actions however insignificant, if done in union with Him, in a spirit of sacrifice and love (November 30th, 1922 and December 2nd, 1922). He lays stress on the value of the tiniest offerings, which not only can lead them far on in sanctity, but will effect the salvation of many souls (October 20th, 1922). On the other hand, He reminds them of the danger of slackening in their efforts in little ways, which may lead to greater infidelity and finally expose them to hell-fire, where their sufferings will greatly exceed those of less-favored souls
(August 3rd, 1921; December 12th, 1922; March 14th, 15th, 20th, 24th, 1923; September 4th, 1922).
Let consecrated souls therefore re-animate their trust in the Heart of Jesus. "I easily condone their weakness; what I want them to know is that if after their faults and falls they humbly cast themselves into My Heart, I love them always, and pardon them all." He adds: "Do you not know that the more wretched a soul is, the more I love her?" "The fact that I have chosen a soul does not mean that her faults and miseries are wiped out. But if in all humility that soul acknowledges her failings and atones by little acts of generosity and love, above all, if she trusts Me, if she throws herself into My Heart, she gives Me more glory and does more good to souls than if she had not fallen. What does her wretchedness matter to Me, if she gives Me the love that I want?" (October 20th, 1922).
So what the Heart of Jesus demands of His own is humility, trust, and love.
(d) Finally, He repeatedly offers to all the thought of His Passion, for it is the sign of His immense love for mankind and the sole hope of salvation.
His sad and suffering Heart is again and again presented to us; He exhorts and entreats us in virtue of His immeasurable pains to return to Him. How great must have been the love that could bear such agony for us, and at the same time how terrible is the misfortune of those who through their own fault let such a Redemption pass them by! Man has put his sin between himself and God - a chasm impossible to bridge - yet our Jesus comes with His suffering Passion, and oversteps our sinfulness, even veils our crimes with His Blood. The road to salvation is once more opened, but it must and can only be through the Passion. This is the only way to establish contact with God again. The choice lies between the Passion and Hell!
So the work of consecrated souls is to enter into the Passion of Christ and, by personal sacrifices, to pass on its fruits to other souls for whom they pray and immolate themselves.
THE OPPORTUNENESS OF THE MESSAGE
How striking is its actuality today!
Everywhere sin is increasing to an appalling degree. The pride of man leads him to discard his God and attempt to make a paradise of earth. He has so far succeeded only in making it a vestibule of Hell, where impiety, immorality, and the worst passions have free scope; wars rage that are more terrible than any yet heard of, the majority of mankind suffers poverty and slavery, and all without the comfort which faith alone can impart.
The Heart of God inclines in pity towards His forlorn children, and He points out to them the way of happiness, peace, and salvation.
This Message is not only transmitted by Josefa, but reproduced in her life through Christ's operations in her soul, for facts are more calculated to move than are mere words.
If anyone wants to realize the love of the Heart of Jesus for souls, let him read the pages in which Josefa notes down how she listens to the Heartbeats of her Master. "Every heartbeat is an appeal to a soul," He told her (September 25th, 1920).
Surely we cannot doubt the reality of His love, when the flames issuing from His Heart are seen to kindle Josefa's with a love so valiant and intrepid that she braves the sufferings of hell-fire to save the souls He loves. Nor can we doubt the immensity of His love, when for the same purpose she accepts unutterable tortures, and she who knew tells us that her love, "her poor love," is as nothing beside that of her Master, just as the torments she undergoes are but a shadow of those of the Passion (October 28th, 1920). The grief of Jesus at the loss of souls and His joy at their return, which are so plainly shown in Josefa's life, make it impossible for us to doubt the goodness of His love! (August 25th, 1920; December 26th, 1920; August 3rd-4th, 1921; July 29th, 1921; September 3rd, 12th, 25th, 1922). "Help Me," He would say, "help Me to make My love for men known, for I come to tell them that in vain will they seek happiness apart from Me, for they will not find it. Suffer, Josefa, and love, for we two must win these souls" (June 13th, 1923).
We get an inkling of the intense love of the Sacred Heart from that of Josefa for these same souls; it was so real and true that it could have been inspired only by Him.
Infinite Mercy, too, is manifested by Josefa's life. "I will love you," He told her on June 8th, 1923, Feast of the Sacred Heart, "and by the love I have for you souls will realize how much I love them." "Since I forgive you so often, they will recognize My mercy." He even said to her one day: "I love souls even to folly" (September 27th, 1922).
Such a statement surprises us, yet in Scripture do we not read (and Scripture is inerrant): "Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? and if she should forget, yet will not I. Behold, I have graven thee in my hands" (Isa. 49:15, 16). "He will put away our iniquities and he will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea" (Mich. 7:19). "Thou hast delivered my soul that it should not perish, thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back" (Isa. 38:17). "He loved me and delivered himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
We may well call these statements divine folly!
As to the reality of Hell, again we see the Message lived by Josefa. The sufferings of the Passion which continue uninterruptedly in her, all the demoniacal persecutions and descents into Hell have only one end: to snatch souls from perdition and bring them back to salvation from which they have strayed. We see here exemplified the dogma of the Redemption and of the communion of saints. How, then, would it be possible to deny on the one hand the existence of the devil, of Hell and of Purgatory, and on the other the adequate power of Redemption which suffering has when borne for others? These great supernatural realities we read in the moving pages in which Josefa has them graven in her very flesh and soul.
The Message itself cannot be called a new revelation, but it unveils in a most striking manner what faith has already taught us. Our Lord Himself told this to Josefa: "I repeat to you again that what I have said is not new, but souls need a new impetus to make them advance, just as a flame needs fuel, if it is not to burn itself out."
How great is the force of the appeal which the humble little Sister transmits to us from her Lord!
THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE MESSAGE
We have been enabled to realize how the Message consists not only in the words entrusted to Josefa,
but in her whole life. By her very existence, this soul, so beloved of Jesus, speaks to all who will listen, and her life stands as evidence of the divine action upon her.
She alone heard the words of Our Lord, and so is the sole witness; but her life testifies to the truth of the Message, and, moreover, she was closely followed up by qualified observers, who testify to the undeniable virtue of the obscure little messenger of infinite love, and to the reality of her supernatural states, of which tangible proofs were not wanting. All who had to do with her attested her very real virtue; not that she shone in a striking manner, for she was ever more imitable than admirable, but all felt the unconscious influence she exercised around her. No self-seeking, but rather self-denial in everything, unquestioning obedience, gentleness, and patience: all the result of true humility.
"You are the echo of My voice," said Our Lord to her (December 10th, 1922), and, in fact, everything in her was an echo of the divine. Her unaffected virtue led one to a conviction that God was acting on this soul, and this by itself could have provided clear evidence that her supernatural communications came from God. Nevertheless, Superiors and her Director remained for a certain length of time deliberately hesitant and uncertain, and they deserve our thanks for their reserve and wary misgivings, which insisted on proofs.
With her innate candor and honesty, she could never have practiced willful deception. Perhaps one is justified in asking whether she was led astray by her heart or imagination - a not infrequent trait in persons of sincere holiness. But (and this is a good sign) Josefa lived in perpetual fear that such might be the case, and was quite prepared, had Superiors deemed her to be in illusion, to consider all that had taken place as delusion. Such action was characteristic of her.
When she went to Rome to carry a message from Our Lord about the Society of the Sacred Heart to the Mother General, she was suddenly seized with a blinding fear (at the devil's instigation) that all was a dream and that she had no message from Heaven to deliver. Without hesitation or reflection on the harm it might do her cause in the eyes of her Superiors, she confessed her anguish of mind, and the certitude she now felt that all was a chimera of her imagination, and she humbly begged that no credence should be given to anything she might say. That she should have had this anxious concern at such a moment is another proof of the truth of her mission.
She could not have acted so had she not been profoundly humble and self-
forgetful; her writings bear the same impress of sincerity.
It was by the express command of Our Lord and of Our Lady that she kept her Superiors informed of all that passed: "You must write," said Our Blessed Lord to her. This, no doubt, was meant to secure that none of His words should be lost (August 6th, 1922), but also His divine purpose may have been that all Josefa's actions should be controlled and witnessed from start to finish. In all she wrote there never occurs a useless word, nor anything false or equivocal; nothing that could be regarded as self-praise nor that betrays a shadow of vanity. All is true, reasonable, moving, and holy.
The same control was exercised over her supernatural states. When she was carried off into Hell, or when she returned to consciousness after an ecstasy, her Superiors were present; they watched with solicitous and maternal eyes her gradual return to life's interests, noting carefully words that escaped her in those impressive moments.
When she had communications with souls in Purgatory who came to ask her prayers, the name, exact date, and place of their death, if given, were always found on investigation to be correct.
No possible doubt exists concerning the forcible abductions of Josefa by the devil; they took place under the very eyes of her Superiors, who were powerless to prevent them. Likewise the effects of fire which burned her were seen on her garments and flesh; fragments of scorched linen are still preserved.
The most convincing feature of these diabolic visitations (visions of Satan, descents into Hell), which to most people would have been terrifying, was that they seemed neither to have troubled her imagination, nor to have disturbed the calm equilibrium of her eminently sane temperament. So also the divinely supernatural, with those simple and homely proofs of affection she received from Our Lord and His Mother, 1 must surely have moved her feelings to an extraordinary degree, yet they left her peaceful, silent, and apparently without even the natural desire to talk over her wonderful experience with anyone. The Mothers noticed how very discreet she was, never speaking of the favors she received, except to the two witnesses already mentioned. Finally, all the sufferings (nights spent in Hell, or in bearing the Cross, or in wearing the Crown of Thorns) which might have made her beg for relief, only gave her a greater desire to suffer for love of Our Lord and of souls.
So her writings and her life confirm each other as evidence that all that took place in her was divine in origin. Even the most extraordinary happenings have an aim and significance. There are no useless details, no record of revelations that do not bring out in clearer light and force some dogmatic truth, giving us deeper insight into the Heart of Our Lord, His love, the value of souls, the happiness of Heaven, the irreparable loss of the damned.
Everything in Josefa's life is grace-giving and profoundly moving. The writings of this unassuming Sister, regarded as ignorant in the world's eyes, will, no doubt, be scrutinized and pondered over by theologians and
masters of the spiritual life, and as in the case of Saint Therese of the Child of Jesus, numerous books will be written to develop the profound doctrine contained in these writings, and to make known the mysteries of love. But better still, the mere reading will bring numberless graces and lead many to conversion and holiness. The world may be astonished at the great things that come from a life so simple; but it is precisely in her nothingness that the overwhelming proof of the authenticity of her Message lies.
In very truth it was countersigned by a Hand that was nothing less than divine.
THE MESSENGER OF THE HEART OF JESUS
THE HEAVENLY CHOICE
A SOUL’S AWAKENING 1890–1907
LES FEUILLANTS THE OLD MONASTERY OF THE SACRED HEART AT POITIERS
IN THE OPEN HEART OF JESUS February 4th–July 16th 1920
VOCATION OF REPARATION July 17th–August 25th, 1920
JOSEFA UNDER TRIAL August 26th–October 8th, 1920
TAUGHT BY THE HEART OF JESUS
FIRST STEPS October 9th–28th, 1920
DAILY PRECEPTS AND FORGIVENESS October 22nd–December 18th, 1920
INVITATION TO SOULS December 19th, 1920–January 26th, 1921
HIDDEN LIFE IN FERVOR January 27th–February 21st, 1921
LOVE’S DESIGNS February 22nd–March 26th, 1921
OPPOSITION FROM THE DEVIL March 27th–May 31st, 1921
THE HEAVENLY CHOICE
Diigitus Dei est hie
(Signed) H. Monier Vinard S.J.
A Soul's Awakening (1890-1907)
"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 Menendez, 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 Menendez, 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.