Today is the feast day of Saint Rose of Lima. Ora pro nobis.
Born Isabella de Flores, Saint Rose was the daughter of a Spanish immigrant father and a Peruvian mother. She was personally confirmed by the Archbishop of Lima, Saint Turibiuis de Mongrovejo, and took the name Rose. Her family and friends had been calling her “Rosa,” as when she was still an infant, one of the family’s servants had seen her face miraculously transform into the vision of a mystical Rose. All of Saint Rose’s sufferings were offered for the conversion of sinners, and the thought of the multitudes in hell was ever before her soul. She died in 1617, at the age of thirty-one.
by F. M. Capes, 1899
We may not say that St. Rose was the first saint of the New World, for God only knows His own; but she was the first of America’s children to be placed in the calendar of canonized saints–the first flower gathered from that part of the great garden over which St. Dominic has been placed as the husbandman of Jesus Christ.
Almost before she was out of her infancy, that love of Our Lord’s suffering, which was afterwards to become the ruling passion of her life, began to lay hold of little Rose’s heart. How God speaks to the baby souls of those early-chosen children of His special delight; by what channels the Divine secrets are imparted to their barely-opened minds; what marvelous gift enables them to entertain and understand thoughts far beyond their years–we cannot know; but that such special communications are made to some of the Saints even as little children is certain.
In St. Rose’s case the working of these mysterious operations in her heart was witnessed to by the fact that, as a little thing barely able to walk, she would often be found, having managed to escape from her guardians or companions, absorbed in deep infantine contemplation before a picture of the thorn-crowned Christ, in His mantle of scorn, which hung in her mother’s room.
Her own apprenticeship in her Master’s school, too, began early; for from the time that she was three years old Rose de Flores was the subject of one accident or complaint after another, and was kept perpetually in states of suffering which were sharp trials to her childish patience.
This ideal she realized in her life. It is this life of penance and mysticism which is presented to the reader in these pages. Everything in her life calls for admiration, many things for imitation, some, maybe, for explanation. The reader of this record of her ways and works will perforce exclaim: ‘Wonderful is God in His saints’–wonderful in their number, in their graces, in their variety.
St. Rose’s life was eminently wonderful in its marvelous penance, its deep, earnest, and all but continuous prayer, its perfect union with God. She studied in the school of Christ; her book was the Cross; her Master the Crucified. Naturally of delicate health, weak in body, and physically feeble, hers was a life of chronic suffering. To this she added much fasting, abstinence, and penances of every kind, as will be seen from the perusal of this interesting and instructive life. But all her sufferings, whether sent by God or self-inflicted, were borne for God, with God, and in God.
She could say with the Apostle: ‘With Christ I am nailed to the Cross; and I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me. Her suffering life was a life of detachment from the world–a life of union with God. If she could make her own the words of St. Paul, ‘The world is crucified to me, and I to the world, she could add with equal truth, ‘I live in the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me and delivered Himself for me.’ (1)
St. Rose of Lima, Virgin
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
God gave to the Christians of America, and all over the world, a beautiful example of holiness, at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, in the Saint whose festival is this day commemorated by the Catholic Church. Her native place was Lima, the capital of Peru. She was named Isabel, but while yet in the cradle, she was called Rose, as her face, in its loveliness, resembled a rose. She took the surname of St. Mary, by order of the Blessed Virgin. Already in her childhood, her conduct was holy. Her intention was to follow the example of St. Catherine of Sienna, whose life she had read, and therefore she entered the third order of St. Dominic. When five years old, she consecrated her virginity to God, and was such a perfect hand-maiden of the Lord, that during her whole life, she never offended Him by a mortal sin, nor even intentionally by one that was venial. Her time was divided between prayer and work. Twelve hours she gave to devout exercises, two or three to sleep, the rest to work.
When grown to womanhood, her hand was sought by several, but she always unhesitatingly gave the answer, that she was already promised to a heavenly spouse. That, however, her parents might no further urge her, she herself cut off her hair, as a sign of her consecration to God. She treated her innocent body with extreme severity. From her childhood she abstained from fruit, which, in Peru, is so delicious. Her fasts and abstinences were more than human; for, when scarcely six years old, her nourishment consisted almost entirely of water and bread. At the age of fifteen, she made a vow never to eat meat, except when obliged by obedience. Not even when sick did she partake of better food. Sometimes for five or eight days, she ate nothing at all, living only on the bread of angels. During the whole of Lent, she took only five citron seeds, daily. Incredible as this may appear to the reader, it is told by unquestionable authority. Her bed was a rough board, or some knotted logs of wood. Her pillow was a bag filled with rushes or stones.
Every night she scourged her body with two small iron chains, in remembrance of the painful scourging of our Saviour, and for the conversion of sinners. When, however, her Confessor forbade her this, she, after the example of St. Catherine of Sienna, bound, three times around her body, a thin chain, which in a few weeks, had cut so deeply into the flesh that it was scarcely to be seen. Fearing that she would be compelled to reveal it, she prayed to God for help, and the chain became loose of itself. Hardly were the wounds healed, when she again wore the chain, until her Confessor, being informed of it, forbade her to do so, She then had a penitential robe made of horse-hair, which reached below her knees, and occasioned her intense suffering. She wore under her veil, in remembrance of our Saviour’s crown of thorns, a crown which was studded inside with pins, and which wounded her head most painfully. To attend the better to her prayers, she loved solitude above everything.
To this end, she asked the permission of her parents to build a small cell for herself in the corner of the garden. This cell was only five feet long and four feet wide; but she lived more happily in it than many others do in royal palaces. O, how many graces she obtained from heaven in this place! How many visions she had there of St. Catherine of Sienna, her Guardian Angel, the Blessed Virgin, and even of Christ Himself! She was also frequently favored with visions in other places. The most remarkable of these was one which she had on Palm Sunday, in the chapel of the Holy Rosary, before an image of the Blessed Virgin. Rose, gazing at the picture, perceived that the Virgin Mother, as well as the divine Child, regarded her most graciously, and at last she heard distinctly from the lips of the divine Child, the words: “Rose, you shall be my spouse.” Although filled with holy awe, she replied, in the words which the Blessed Virgin had spoken to the Angel: ” Behold, I am a handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.” After this, the Virgin Mother said: “May you well appreciate the favor which my Son has accorded to you, dear Rose!”
I leave it to the pious reader to picture to himself the inexpressible joy which this vision gave to Rose. It served her as a most powerful incentive to the practice of all virtues. Among these virtues, surely not the least was the heroic patience which this holy virgin showed, as well in bodily suffering, as in interior, spiritual anguish. The Almighty permitted her, for fifteen years, to be daily tormented, at least, for an hour, by the most hideous imaginations, which were of such a nature, that she sometimes thought that she was in the midst of hell. She could think neither of God nor of the graces He had bestowed upon her; neither did prayer or devout reading give her any comfort. It sometimes seemed as if she had been forsaken by God. In this manner, God wished to prove and purify her virtue, as He had done in regard to many other Saints. Her patience was also most severely tried by painful diseases, as she sometimes had a combination of two or three maladies at the same time, and suffered most intensely.
During the last three years of her life, she was disabled in almost all her limbs; but her resignation to the will of God was too perfect to allow her to utter a word of complaint. All she desired and prayed for was to suffer still more for Christ’s sake. She, at the same time, encouraged other sick persons, whom she served with indescribable kindness, as long as she was well. She endeavored to comfort them when it was necessary to prepare them for a happy death; for, her greatest joy was to speak of God and to lead others to Him. One day when she was greatly troubled about her salvation, Christ appeared to her and said: ” My daughter, I condemn those only who will not be saved.” He assured her at the same time, first, that she would go to heaven; secondly, that she never would lose His grace through mortal sin; thirdly, that divine assistance would never fail her in any emergency. God also revealed to her the day and hour of her death, which took place in her thirty-first year. After the holy sacraments had been administered to her, she begged all present to forgive her faults, and exhorted them to love God. The nearer the hour of her death approached, the greater became her joy.
Shortly before her end, she went into an ecstasy, and after it, she said to her Confessor: ” Oh! how much I could tell you of the sweetness of God, and of the blissful heavenly dwelling of the Almighty!” She requested her brother to take away the pillow that had been placed under her head, that she might die on the boards, as Christ had died on the cross. When this was done, she exclaimed three times: “Jesus, Jesus, be with me!” and expired. After death, her face was so beautiful, that all who looked at her were lost in astonishment. Her funeral was most imposing. The Canons first carried the body a part of the way to the church; after them the senate, and finally, the superiors of the different orders, so great was the esteem they all entertained for her holiness. God honored her after her death, by many miracles; and Clement X. canonized her in 1671 and placed her among the number of the holy virgins. (2)
Image: Crop of Santa Rosa de Lima, artist: Claudio Coello, circa 1683. (5)