November 6, 2008
Bl Josepha Naval Girbes, Virgin
1820-1893 – Optional Memorial - November 6th
Josepha (Josefa) was born on December 11, 1820 in Algemesi, Valencia Province, Spain. Algemesi was a small agricultural village – 8000 inhabitants. Josepha was the first of five children of Francisco Navel and Josefa Girbes. She was baptized the day she was born and was named Josepha Maria, but her special name was Senora Pepa. Coming from a spiritual family, she had a Christian upbringing. She was confirmed in 1828 and made her First Communion a year later at the age of nine. Josepha had a basic education in reading and writing, even though there were no public schools. She also learned the skill of embroidery, which proved to be a way to educate and save souls for Jesus.
When she was thirteen, her mother died. The family moved to her maternal grandmother’s home. Since she was the oldest, she helped her father raise her younger brothers and sisters. As time went by, her love for Jesus and the Blessed Mother grew steadily in her adolescence. As a young adult, she received spiritual direction from Father Silvestre, a parish priest. It was through his influence and her commitment to God, that, at age 18, this Servant of God, consecrated herself to the Lord with the vow of perpetual chastity.
She dedicated herself to answer the call to be holy, serve the Church, and her neighbor. Because of this dedication to God and her spiritual experiences, she felt compelled to help others. She started to hold meetings at her home - meetings that evolved into embroidery instruction. During the needlework sessions, there were readings and spiritual conversations. “Under her care, women practiced needlepoint and learned the practice of virtues’. She touched many lives, teaching basic catechism, stressing the importance for prayer and mediation, preparing children for first communion, and encouraging participation in Church activities. She also prepared young women for their vocation a spouses, mothers or the religious.
Despite the fact that many documents and records were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War of 1936, there is evidence that Josepha entered the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and of St. Teresa, but the date is not known. As a member of the Order, her lay Carmelite community was served by the Discalced Carmelite Fathers of the Province of Valencia. Further evidence shows that today, in Algemesi, there is a large picture of the Virgin of Carmel which was embroidered in gold and silk – made under the supervision of Josepha.
Eventually, Josepha’s health began to decline due to a heart condition. On February 24, 1893, at the age of 72 she died in her home at Algemesi, but not before receiving the last sacraments. At her request, she was buried in the brown tunic and white mantle of the Carmelite habit. She was surrounded by her faithful followers whom she nurtured and feed the word of God.
On October 20, 1946, Josepha’s remains were removed to the parish Church of St. James and placed in a beautiful metal and glass coffin for all to venerate. After careful investigation of her life and obtaining “fifteen sworn depositions”, His Holiness John Paul II proclaimed the Decree for her heroic virtues on January 3, 1987. On September 1, 1988 the proposed miracle for her Beatification was accepted. The Beatification ceremony was celebrated in Saint Peter’s Basilica on September 25, 1988. Her feast is celebrated on November 6th.
As Secular Carmelites, we have much to learn from Josepha Navel Girbes. Why is it important for the members of the Secular Order of the Carmelites to know her? Since we are all called to holiness in a secular world, full of distractions and attachments, we benefit from her example. She is a model of holiness, which guides us along the path of sanctity. “Sanctify yourself and sanctify others. That was her guiding principle – always and in everything to follow God’s desire in ordinary life circumstances and secular duties.” It was recognized that Josepha lived in the love of God and shared that love by extending herself to others.
Josepha was a person with a deep interior life. As a result, her prayer life was deep as well. Her repeated message was “prayer, prayer; pray for awhile each day, and life will be easier and bearable. Learn to speak with God without words and, in this way, practice the prayer of meditation. Be faithful and reverent before the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.”
“She lived and died in the world leaving after her a light, which continues illuminating those who, in secular society, look for Christian holiness. She walked the narrow road to holiness, leading others on the way.” Maybe we will do the same!