A good teacher is one who has such mastery of the subject matter that his or her students feel complete assurance and satisfaction with the instruction given because, more than just using didactics, true educators live what they teach.
How much richer will be the lesson of a geography teacher who has visited many places and has experienced what he shares with his students in class, or that of a language teacher who communicates clearly, without grammatical errors, and discusses famous literary works with the same ease with which she would narrate events from her own life?
Well, exactly one hundred years ago, a soul entered eternity who had received an excellent supernatural education from the Divine Teacher, and now her life serves us as a genuine model for how to learn in the same school.
No one teaches what they do not know
Josefa Menéndez y del Moral was born in Madrid on February 4, 1890 and ended her earthly journey in Poitiers, France, on December 29, 1923, at the perfect age of thirty-three.
A few days before her First Communion in 1901, Josefa heard a voice saying to her: “I want you to be all Mine.”1 This first call became gradually clearer, until at last she joined the Society of the Sacred Heart in 1919. From then on, Our Lord made her a messenger of His love to mankind.
“In order for the world to know my goodness, I need apostles who point to my Heart; but above all, who know It… Because no one can teach what they do not know,” Jesus confided to her. This is why He first took her into His confidence, so that she would later be able to transmit His divine desire to pour out forgiveness and mercy upon humanity.
The condition for attracting Jesus
It must be said that Josefa was extremely weak. Despite the fire of her soul, she often allowed herself to be overwhelmed, and faltered on the path that had been assigned to her. This was the cross that Providence gave her: her own weakness. But it was this very frailty that attracted Jesus’ gaze: “I have planted the root of your littleness in the soil of my Heart,” He once told her.
On the other hand, the Lord also assured her: “I do not seek greatness or holiness.” Of course! Since He is the source of virtue, He does not look for it, but gives it! His predilection for the weakest ones is explained in these words to the seer: “I do not love you for what you are, but for what you are not, because then I have somewhere to place my greatness and my goodness.”
And here we find the first point of the spiritual formation received by Sister Josefa: the need for awareness of one’s nothingness. “Small is still something, and you are nothing,” the Saviour told her in August 1922. This peculiar requirement allowed her to receive very lofty graces, such as the one she received the following day: “Since you are nothing, come… Come into my Heart… It is easy for nothingness to enter this abyss of love.”
Never did Josefa hear a sigh of impatience from Christ. On the contrary, when she lamented her insufficiency and her fear of being unfaithful, she heard answers like this: “Do not be afraid! For you already know that the more misery I find in you, the more love you will find in Me.”
In the early days of her religious life, Josefa was sad about having left home and family. When she thought of her mother2 and her sisters, she felt sorry for them, for she failed to count enough on God… Suddenly, Jesus presented himself to her with a Heart on fire and full of majesty. In a tone of reproach, He said to her:
“Alone, what can you do for them? Fix your gaze here.”
Thus she learned that in order to overcome her insufficiency, she had to keep her eyes fixed on her ideal.
Giving her own littleness to Jesus
Another important aspect of the Venerable’s spiritual life consisted in giving over her own insignificance. At first glance this seems like something simple, but how hard it is for proud human nature! This surrender can only be accomplished through three virtues: abandonment, confidence and love.
Abandonment was, so to speak, the motto of Sister Josefa’s existence. How many times did the Sacred Heart instruct her in this way: “I do not need your strength, all I want is your abandonment”; “I supply what you lack: allow Me, allow Me, and I will act in you.”
Confidence was the constant cry that the Redeemer made to humanity through His messenger: “Let souls come to Me!… Let souls not be afraid of Me!… Let souls have confidence in Me!”
The greatest mistake a sinner makes, in fact, is to lose confidence in this ocean of mercy when he perceives his own misery. The Master lamented this in poignant words: “It is not sin that wounds my Heart the most… What most lacerates It is that they do not come to take refuge in It after having sinned.”
The Good God thirsts for love, and only His children can quench it, as He demonstrated one night when He appeared to Josefa as a poor man with a sad and beseeching appearance.3 Mystery of iniquity! We ought to ask ourselves with St. Bernard: “How can we fail to love Him who is essentially Love?”4 And Jesus answers us, through His seer: “Loving my Heart is neither difficult nor burdensome; it is easy and sweet”…
Even when wounded by ingratitude, Our Lord understands human indigence, as He once explained to His confidante: “In the midst of its great wretchedness, a soul may love Me madly… But understand well, Josefa, that I am not referring to faults that are forewarned and premeditated, but to those committed out of fragility and inadvertence.”
To respond to the flames of this furnace of charity was a constant objective in the life of the Spanish nun, who wanted to do all she could to satisfy the longings of the Divine Heart: “The only thing I want is love. Docile love, that allows itself to be led by the One loved… Disinterested love, that seeks neither its own pleasure nor its own interests, but those of its Beloved… A zealous love, ardent and all-consuming, that overcomes all the obstacles that self-love presents; this is true love, the love that preserves so many souls from the abyss of perdition into which they are plunging.”
The victory of forgiveness
Another indispensable point in Sister Josefa Menéndez’s formation was recognizing the need for forgiveness. This gift benefits not only those who receive it, but above all, it brings enormous consolation to those who give it! “I am always waiting with love… Do not be discouraged! Let them come! Let them throw themselves into my arms without fear! I am your Father!” the Lord exclaimed.
Josefa often felt the weight of her unfaithfulness to God’s call, which sometimes caused her uncontrollable aversion; but she did not hesitate to implore indulgence, and she eventually learned that “happier is not the one who has never needed forgiveness, but rather the one who has had to humble himself many times.”
In the end, exactly what the Saviour said came true in her: “In my forgiving you, they will know my mercy,” since “your sins will never be greater than my mercy, for it is infinite!”
The power of love ennobles the smallest acts
As time went by, Our Lord instilled in Josefa’s soul the desire to save souls and to make reparation for the sins committed against His Divine Heart.
On May 3, 1922 – when the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross was then celebrated – the nun felt a great desire to kiss the wounds of the Crucified Jesus. A few moments later, He appeared to her to fulfil her wish. Following this, He said with the utmost affection: “You see that I deny you no consolation. And will you deny Me any?”
Specifically, these consolations were to offer to the Eternal Father every act – great or insignificant – in union with the Blood of Jesus Christ, so as to make reparation for the ingratitude of the world. He trained her in this practice: “Nothing done out of love is small… for the very power of love makes it great.”
Other celestial manifestations also educated her in the same school, such as the vision she had of the founder of the Society of the Sacred Heart, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, who explained to her: when she received graces, it was the seer who rested in Jesus; when the Saviour afflicted her with sufferings, it was His turn to rest in her. In this way, she could console Him in the most diverse circumstances.
Touching in this sense is a fact that occurred during the illness that would lead to Josefa’s death. Some moans involuntarily escaped her. Fearful, she asked Our Lord:
“Do these lamentations offend You?”
“No. I know what you suffer, and your pain is as if it were my own… Your suffering falls on my Heart like a precious balm to heal my wounds.”
Hand in hand…
Last but not least, a decisive factor in Sister Josefa’s perseverance and fidelity to the call of the Heart of Jesus was her deep devotion to Our Lady. Without the Star of the Sea, this religious sister would never have been able to fulfil her mission.
Christ himself said it with tenderness: “Begin my work hand in hand with my Mother. Does that not encourage you?” These words filled her with joy, because she was fully convinced of Mary’s love. “Yes, my Jesus,” she replied, “that gives me great encouragement and great confidence.”
Feeling cold? Come closer to the fire!
Perusing the pages of her book The Way of Divine Love, it is impossible to remain insensitive to the torrents of unmerited affection that fall upon us at every second! Phrases like “I will never tire of you” or “I am your Father and I have [my eyes] open to lead and guide you,” uttered by Our Lord Jesus Christ, move even the hardest of hearts. How can human wickedness go to such a satanic extreme as to reject or doubt this love?
In Holy Week 1923 – Sister Josefa’s last in this land of exile – the Redeemer revealed to her in a vision some details of the mysteries of His Passion, such as the Washing of the Feet, at which Judas, the betrayer, was still present:
“At that moment I wanted to teach sinners that they must not turn away from Me because they are in sin, thinking that there is no longer any remedy for them, and that they will never be loved as they were before they sinned. […] These are not the sentiments of a God who shed all His Blood for you…” And speaking of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, He also declared: “I did not remain among men to live only with the perfect, but to sustain the weak and nourish the little ones.”
It is a terrible mistake for anyone, upon perceiving his inner uncleanness, to distance himself from the only Person who can purify him. The folly of such an attitude is greater than that of someone who, because he is shivering with cold, stands farther away from the fire. On the contrary: if you are cold, come closer to the fire to warm yourself up!
Let us enter the school of the Sacred Heart
“If my chosen souls live united to Me and truly know Me, how much good they can do to so many others who live far from Me and do not know Me!” said Jesus on December 12, the date on which Josefa made her religious profession in articulo mortis.
In learning something of the brief life of this Spanish mystic in these lines, we have followed the story of someone who came to know the Sacred Heart by accepting His love, being moulded and, so to speak, conquered by it in order to pass it on to the world. At the end of this journey, which cost her so much blood, she reached the level of perfection to which she was called, not by her own merits, but by virtue of the charity of the Good Jesus.
The Saviour’s Heart also beats for us, has been pierced for us, is on fire with love for us… Let us acknowledge our misery, hand it over to Him, and ask for His forgiveness – always under the mantle of the Blessed Virgin – so that we can be united to Him and console Him!
Would that we one day hear from His august and sweet lips the same sentence He addressed to Josefa: “Your littleness has given way to my greatness… Your misery and even your sins, to my mercy… And your trust, to my love and my goodness.” ◊
1 The biographical data and verbatim quotes from the message that the Sacred Heart of Jesus entrusted to Sister Josefa Menéndez have been taken from the work: MENÉNDEZ, RSCJ, Josefa. Un llamamiento al amor. 7.ed. Madrid: Religiosas del Sagrado Corazón, 1998.
2 Josefa’s father, Leonardo Menéndez, had already passed away when Josefa entered religious life.
3 In this regard, see two episodes in which the Sacred Heart appears to the seer – in her words – as “a poor starving man” asking her to satisfy His hunger for souls: cf. MENÉNDEZ, op. cit., p.159; p.272.
4 Cf. ST. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX. Sobre el Cantar de los Cantares. Sermón LXXXIII, n.5. In: Obras Completas. Barcelona: Rafael Casulleras, 1925, v.III, p.709.