Catholic Activity: On how our Work is Love, and how we can work with Christ to save Souls with our Love
From the life and writings of Sr. Josefa Menéndez we can extract some lessons to teach our children, particularly on how all our work is Love and how to save souls with love.
The childhood of Josefa Menéndez was strikingly like the childhood of the Little Flower. She was born in Madrid in 1890, of an upright and pious father and a devout and conscientious mother. The family was reasonably well off. Josefa was the oldest girl, with three sisters and two brothers, both of whom died in infancy. At five she was confirmed, at seven she made her first confession and at eleven she made her First Communion. The family confessor, a Father Rubio, watched over her spiritual life, giving her training suited to her age, teaching her how to meditate and to pray, and cultivating in her a love for spiritual reading. Like little Thérèse Martin she was her father's pet, the likeness between the two extending even to the pet names used by their respective indulgent fathers. As Thérèse was called "my little Queen" by hers, Josefa was called "my little Empress" by hers. Indeed, the likeness between the two families was quite astonishing.
Every Sunday the Menéndez took their children to High Mass, as did the Martins, and the father gave his little ones a few coppers apiece to give as alms to the poor, a practice he cultivated very carefully in them, as did M. Martin in his daughters. Sunday afternoons when the weather was fair they too went for walks together, and when it was not fair they stayed at home and enjoyed each other's company, ending the day with family rosary. Like little Thérèse, Josefa longed to serve God from a very early age and after her First Communion, made in writing an offering of her virginity. Father Rubio thought this a bit rash for one so young and advised she tear up the paper and limit herself merely to the promise to be good, but she stubbornly clung to her resolve and kept the paper till she died — and the resolve.
She was taught at home by her father for a number of years until her family decided she should attend a school to learn the art of fine sewing. Home again at thirteen, she became a pupil at the free school conducted by the Society of the Sacred Heart and there, daily in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the young heart grew in love. At this time one of the great treats for the little Menéndez girls was a visit to the Carmel where their aunt was stationed. There they were treated like princesses and indulged by the chaplain who gave them the freedom of his quarters. There they also found a copy of the Carmelite rule and returning home played at being Carmelites, at chanting an office and performing penances, just as the Little Flower and her cousin Marie played at being hermits. Like Thérèse, Josefa was quite serious about the whole thing.
In order to garnish her accomplishments as a dressmaker with an equally good training in millinery, her parents now had her apprenticed in a millinery establishment and the hours spent in the workroom with girls far more worldly than herself often tried Josefa to the point of tears. The talk was sometimes far from edifying, and the dangers to purity of heart frightened her. Daily Communion was her protection. Sundays they often spent with a gracious lady, the daughter of their landlord, and Josefa's talents for little dramas, games and entertainments contributed to many delightful afternoons. She also shared with the older woman her love for the poor and the sick, noticing that the lady not only distributed alms generously but considered no task too humble for her to undertake for the love of God. This greatly attracted Josefa, as it will any child given the opportunity to observe it, and when the woman asked her if she would like to visit the poorest and most wretched of her clients, an old woman half-eaten with leprosy, Josefa was delighted. Their visits were made in secret so the heroism of such service should not be exhibited. Then Josefa made the mistake of asking one of her younger sisters if she would like to share this joy of a visit with old Trinidad; the child did, and was so horrified afterward that her manner betrayed it at home.
Their father discovered what Josefa had been doing and forebade her to go again. One finds in this still another likeness to the Little Flower. Had little Thérèse kept her "cure" a secret from the Sisters at Carmel, she too might have enjoyed a different effect, she wrote. All of which recalls St. Syncletica and her wise sayings about keeping such treasures hidden; once exposed to view, she says, they will be stolen away.
Suffering entered the Menéndez' life with the death of one of the little sisters, then the death of a grandmother, followed by the collapse of both the father and mother, one with typhoid, the other with pneumonia. The doctor's bills and the expenses of sickness ate away all their savings and the family soon arrived at a state of complete poverty. Begging the doctor to leave her parents at home, Josefa put her entire trust in God, took over the managing of the household, and the family began a novena to the foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart, Madeline Sophie Barat. At the end of the days of prayer, the mother called them about her bed. Everything would be all right, she assured them. Mother Barat had been at her bedside and promised her recovery. And recover she did.
Now Josefa was forced to sew to support her family. Her talent as a dressmaker was so outstanding that, after paying for the sewing machine by making thousands of Sacred Heart badges for the Sisters to distribute to soldiers, she soon had a clientele large enough to require the help of six girls in a workroom. Life had become almost "normal" again when her father died, followed by the departure of her younger sister for the convent. When the other sister also entered the convent, poor Josefa was left at home with her mother who had no desire to part from this third and last daughter. But Father Rubio thought it time she entered somewhere, so although she had had her heart set on the Society of the Sacred Heart, at his suggestion she applied to and was received by the Order of Mary Reparatrix. Shortly before the day of her clothing, Josefa's disconsolate mother appeared and, appealing to her with tears and lamentations, persuaded her to return home. Poor Josefa.
Once again she supported herself and her mother with her sewing. Another attempt to enter the convent, this time the Society of the Sacred Heart, ended in the same way. Her mother's consent was given, the day of entry arrived and, alas, another flood of tears from her mother and another surrender to them by Josefa. Two years passed and Josefa applied again, but this time the superiors said no; her repeated hesitations were hardly a good sign of vocation. Josefa had reached an impasse; there seemed nothing for her to do, nowhere for her to go. She begged Our Lord either to permit her to be one of His religious or to let her die; to live in the world any longer was unbearable. Understanding suddenly that nothing should seem unbearable to her for love of whom He had borne so much, she begged him to pity her weakness and began again the unending imploring that she be allowed to enter the convent of the Sacred Heart. The circumstance of her acceptance at long last into the Society was the reopening of the religious houses in France and the requisitioning of vocations by the Sacred Heart convent at Poitiers, the foundress' original novitiate.
This time Josefa left not only her mother and her sisters but her homeland, her very tongue. Long before, day-dreaming with her sister over their desire to be religious, she had said that when she gave herself to God, she wanted to give everything, even to going far from Spain. Her sister could not agree and Josefa answered her objection by saying that "nothing was too good to give to God."
But the devil tracks down such souls; he does not let the giving be easy. The first months of Josefa's postulancy, beyond a few peaceful weeks, saw the beginning of diabolical torments which would not end until her death. Following terrible attacks of homesickness and loneliness, she was set upon by invisible fists, wildly beaten, saw hideous faces around her in chapel, heard choruses of yells, was struck furiously and forced to leave. Only when the mother assistant would make a little sign of the Cross on her forehead, or when she reached the haven of her cell, determined to tell her everything, would the devil cease. She was almost ready to take the habit when, exhausted by these attacks, she at last told Our Lord she could not stay. She was in chapel one evening and said five times to Him: "I am going home . . ." but she could not go on. Suddenly she was "wrapped in a sweet slumber" and awoke to find herself in the wound of the Sacred Heart. There in the radiance that surrounded her she saw the sins of the entire world, and she was filled with the desire to unite herself to Him and offer her life to comfort His wounded heart. This was the beginning of her unique relationship with the Sacred Heart of Christ, the object of which was to communicate to the world that message of His mercy and love. "The world does not know the mercy of My Heart," He told her. "I intend to enlighten them through you. . . . I want you to be the apostle of my love and mercy."
From His message to Sister Josefa we have selected excerpts that are extremely appealing to children as well as to parents, and are most helpful in forming in them an understanding of their part in the work of the Mystical Body. Here is something about work and love.
One evening Sister Josefa was on her way to the third floor of the convent to close some windows, and as she walked along she whispered to Jesus of her love. Suddenly as she reached the corridor on the top floor she saw Him coming to meet her from the other end. He was surrounded by light so radiant that it lit the dark passage. He hurried to her and asked: "Where do you come from?"
"I have been closing the windows, Lord."
"And where are you going?"
"I am going to finish doing so, my Jesus."
"That is not the way to answer, Josefa."
She did not understand what He meant, so He went on: "I come from love, and I go to love. Whether you go up or down, you are ever in My heart, for it is an abyss of love. I am with you."
This story will help us teach our children how everything they do can be an act of love. Going about their work is a matter of going from love to love, from loving God at the kitchen sink where they help with the dishes, to loving God at the ironing board where they press their blouse for school; from loving God while mowing the lawn to loving God while cleaning the cellar. Only this knowledge of the worth of our duties can make some of them bearable, and this can make them not only bearable, but lovable.
He told her: "Many souls think that love consists in saying: My God I love Thee. No, love is sweet, and acts because it loves, and all that it does is done out of love. I want you to love me in that way, in work, in rest, in prayer and consolation as in distress and humiliation, constantly giving me proofs of your love by acts; that is true love. If souls understood this they would advance in perfection rapidly, and how greatly they would console My heart."
We may even give Him our sleep as an act of love — and thus be loving Him for the full twenty-four hours of every day!
One year on Spy Wednesday, she asked Jesus in her prayer what exactly He meant by "saving souls." He came and looked at her with great affection and said: "There are some Christian souls and even very pious ones that are held back from perfection by some attachment. But when another offers Me her actions united to My infinite merits, she obtains grace for them to free themselves and make a fresh start.
"Many others live in indifference and even in sin, but when helped in the same way, recover grace, and will eventually be saved.
"Others again, and these are very numerous, are obstinate in wrongdoing and blinded by error. They would be damned if some faithful soul did not make supplication for them, thus obtaining grace to touch their hearts, but their weakness is so great that they run the risk of relapse into their sinful life; these I take away into the next world without delay, and that is how I save them."
She asked Him how she could save a great many.
"Unite all you do to My actions, whether you work or whether you rest. Unite your breathing to the beating of My heart. How many souls you would be able to save that way!"
Since she longed to make amends for the sins committed against His love, one day at the laundry she asked Our Lord to "save as many souls as there were handkerchiefs to count. I offered my whole day for this object, uniting my sufferings to His heart and His merits." Towards nightfall she went into the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. Our Lord appeared to her, coming very close, and in the wound in His heart she saw a long line of souls prostrate in adoration. "I understood that all these were the souls I had begged of Him that morning. . . ."
He gave her these important counsels which she carefully wrote in her note book. They are important for everyone to know, but especially for parents striving to guide the spiritual formation of children:
"Never go to rest at night with the slightest shadow obscuring your soul. This I recommend to you with great insistence. When you commit a fault, repair it at once. I wish your soul to be as pure as crystal.
"Do not let your falls, however many, trouble you. It is trouble and worry that keep a soul from God. Beg pardon, and I say again, tell your Mother at once. . . ." (He is speaking of her Mother in religion.)
How careful we should be to see that the spats of the day are settled, the injured apologized to, the injuring forgiven.
"I want you to be very little and very humble and always gay. Yes, I want you to live in joy, while endeavoring all the time to be something of an executioner to self. Often choose what costs you, but without loss of joy and gladness, for by serving Me in peace and happiness you will give the most glory to My Heart."
And there is this from Josefa to Our Lord, which might very well have been phrased for us who have families and households:
"I begged Him to accept all the little acts done here, the sufferings of the house, and above all the very real desire we all have to comfort and please Him. I asked Him to purify and transform these very little things, and give them some value in His sight.
"He replied: 'I do not look at the act itself, I look at the intention. The smallest act, if done out of love, acquires such merit that it gives Me immense consolation . . . I want only love. I ask for nothing else.'"
Activity Source: Saints and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York; reprinted by TAN Publishers, 1958