Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we have a fascinating Scripture selection from St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians. In this passage, Paul talks about the vocation to the single state of life and how beautiful this calling can be. Specifically, Paul says, “Brothers and Sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-34).
Today we look at the life of a woman who lived a beautiful life in the single state, and as result, is one step away from being proclaimed a “saint” of the Catholic Church. Her name is Josefa Naval Girbés.
Josefa was born on December 11, 1820 in the town of Algemesi, twenty miles south of Valencia, Spain, the eldest of six children. She attended the school of a neighbor. There, she learned how to read and write, and to embroider. In addition, she became very knowledge in her Catholic Christian Faith.
When Josefa was 13 years of age, her mother died. And because Josefa was the eldest of the children, she had to leave school to help her father raise the other children.
As she got older, Josefa chose her parish priest, Fr. Gaspar Silvestre, as her spiritual director. And when she was 18 years of age, she decided to take a vow of chastity so that she could devote her life to Christ in the single state.
By the age of 30, Josefa became deeply advanced in her spiritual life. This was not only because of the guidance that her parish priest gave her, but also because of her extraordinary virtues and knowledge of the Faith.
Josefa was also shaped by the writings of Discalced Carmelite saints such as John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. Her attraction to these saints was due to the fact that sometime during her adult life, she had become a secular member of the Discalced Carmelite Order.
Although her name was Josefa, everyone called her Señora Pepa, or simply Pepa. And like many Catholic Christians who live in the single state, Pepa wanted to give her time and talent to others.
To do this, Pepa began by giving embroidery classes to young women in her town. In addition to teaching them how to embroider, though, she also helped them appreciate spiritual reading and conversation. Soon, Pepa’s house became a place not only to practice needlepoint, but also to learn about virtues. In addition, she encouraged the women to get involved in their parish, and she developed a basic catechism to teach the women about prayer. In short, Pepa’s place became known as sort of a novitiate to prepare young women to become wives, mothers, or members of religious orders. It is important to add, here, that all of these apostolic works that Pepa did was under the direction of her spiritual director, her parish priest.
Eventually, when her home became so popular it could no longer accommodate all of the women who wanted to learn from her, a family gave Pepa an orange grove. Gradually, more and more women came to the orange grove to learn from Pepa.
When she was 65 years old, Pepa and some of her followers dedicated themselves to help nurse victims of a cholera epidemic.
Pepa died from heart failure on February 24, 1893. The Discalced Carmelite Order granted her request to be buried in the habit of a Discalced Carmelite.
On September 25, 1988, Pope St. John Paul II beatified Josefa Naval Girbés.
Blessed Josefa’s memorial day is February 24th.
From the Scripture passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and the life of Blessed Josefa, we can glean many things. Here are just two.
First, not everyone is called to the married state. Because we live in a couple-centered world, many people forget this important principle. Often people believe that in order for a person to be happy in this life, they need to be coupled with another person. This is most definitely not true. If God calls a person to the single state, that is the state in which that person should find the greatest satisfaction and joy, and that is the state in which the individual should find the easiest path to holiness.
Second, persons who live in the single state – and that includes Catholic priests, Religious Sisters, Religious Brothers – are quite often freer to give their gifts of time, talent, and treasure to build up the Kingdom of God here on Earth. That is one of the things that Paul was talking about today. That is not say, of course, that coupled persons cannot be generous with their time, talent, and/or treasure. Rather, it is often easier to a single person, who is free from the responsibilities that arise from being in a coupled relationship, to give of self more readily and completely.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on St. Paul’s words today about the single state versus the married state. Where do we fit into Paul’s scheme of things? What are the challenges and joys of our vocational state?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2018.
- Joan Carroll Cruz. “Blessed Josefa Naval Girbes.” In Saintly Women for Modern Times, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2004, pp. 118-119.
- Irma Estrada, OCDS – Translated by Ezequiel Machado, OCDS and Alicia DeMedina, OCDS. “Blessed Josefa Naval Girbés, OCDS,” Meditations from Carmel, online, no date.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Josefa Naval Girbés.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 30 November 2017.