This week on Tuesday the 23rd we celebrated the feast day of St Rose of Lima who was the first canonized saint of the Americas. She was born in Lima in 1585, the eleventh child of Spanish Indian parents. From her earliest days, she showed an awareness of God and His Son Jesus. When she could hardly walk, she was discovered lost in contemplation before the big crucifix in her mother’s room.
That she understood suffering became clear when, after an accident, while still a child she endured the pain of surgery without protest, commenting that Jesus had suffered much more.
When Rose was twelve years old the question of her marriage was broached. Her mother envisioned her beautiful daughter as Lima’s loveliest bride. Rose hated to hurt her mother, but she had no intention of marrying. Her parents in turn refused to allow her to enter a religious order. An uneasy compromise was made, and the young girl continued in her life of solitude and penance at home as a member of the Third Order of Saint Dominic.
Suffering and Grace
She and her brother Ferdinand built a tiny hermitage in her father’s garden. Here for the remainder of her life, she was to spend all of her days and part of her nights in contemplation, performing the penances that she devised to punish herself for the sins of the world. Peru in the 1600s was still quite a pagan place where many worshipped native gods and goddesses.
She was very fond of fruit, but she never touched it and she never ate meat. Her ordinary fare consisted of hard crusts, water, and bitter herbs; during Lent, she omitted the bread. She also devised a number of severe penances which people nowadays would find frightening and not be imitated. While her pursuit of pain may be extreme for most people a central truth behind it all is that whenever suffering increases in our lives, the graces of God will also increase.
When her family fell into financial trouble, Rose helped support them by working for ten hours every day. She was an expert needlewoman and made lace and many fine embroideries for sale. She also raised flowers for the market, and it was her greatest joy to keep the Lady Altar at the Dominican church supplied with the loveliest blossoms from her garden.
Close Unity with God
Rose had many visions and celestial experiences and was in a state of ecstasy a great deal of the time. When she began to have dreams that caused her soul great disturbance, she was supported by her friend Brother Martin de Porres who assured her that her visions and spiritual aridity were signs of the highest friendship with God. Her tiny residence in the garden accommodated a steady stream of heavenly visitations. Sometimes when she went down to the church to receive Holy Communion, she was rapt in wonder, and for hours would be unconscious of the people who crowded around to watch her. It was clear she had ascended to the highest form of mystical prayer.
She was also exposed to the most terrifying temptations – to visitations of the devil who came in visible form, and to long stretches of spiritual desolation. Once, at the end of a particularly grueling encounter with the devil, she reproached our Lord; “Lord, if you had been here, I would not have been exposed to such horrible temptations.” To which Our Lord replied: “Rose if I had not been there, do you think you would have conquered?”
Heroine of Lima
Rose would have been ready to die a martyr and she prayed incessantly for missionaries. At one time, the chance of martyrdom seemed almost within her grasp A fleet of Dutch pirates anchored off Callao, and Lima was in a paralysis of fear. Rose hurried to the church, planning to give up her life in defense of the Blessed Sacrament. The women, children, and religious of Lima took refuge in these holy places. Inside the Church of Santo Domingo, Rose exhorted them all to prayer. It is said that as the invaders rushed into the building, they were confronted with the terrifying spectacle of a young girl on fire holding a Monstrance. They turned back and fled to their ships. It was Rose whom the grateful people credited for having saved their lives.
Rose died at the early age of thirty-one, on 24 August 1617. The entire city mourned her death, for it seemed that people of all classes had experienced her holiness. The poor knelt beside her bier alongside the Spanish nobility. Worlds apart socially they agreed on one thing; Rose was a saint.
The Church confirmed this opinion in 1671, making her the First Flower of America and the Patroness of America and the New World.
Written by Marie – Therese Cryan