August 22, 2016

Saint Rose of Lima, Virgin: "We Cannot Obtain Grace Unless We Suffer Afflictions."

St. Rose of Lima
August 23rd, is the Optional Memorial of Saint Rose of Lima, (1586-1617) a Dominican lay tertiary known for her charity and extreme austerity, who is the first canonized saint of the Western Hemisphere. She was born Isabel Flores de Oliva in the city of Lima, Peru, to Gaspar Flores, a cavalry officer in the Imperial Spanish army, and María de Oliva y Herrera, a criolla native. As a five-year-old child, she pledged her innocence to God. When her family struggled to feed their ten children, she sold vegetables, setting aside a portion of her earnings to give to the poor. At her confirmation in 1597, she officially took the name Rose. (Saint Toribio Alfonso de Mogrovejo, the Archbishop of Lima, conferred the sacrament.)

Rose’s piety and great beauty attracted suitors. Over the objections of her family, she rejected them all. To repulse their interest, Rose cropped her hair and rubbed pepper on her face causing it to blister. Her mother in particular, insisted that Rose marry. Against her mother’s wishes, Rose took a vow of virginity. This contest of wills persisted for a decade. Emulating Saint Catherine of Siena, the future saint spent many hours contemplating Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, practicing severe chastisements and fasting. Her acts of self-denial were often harsh. For Lent, Rose would abstain from bread and meat for extended periods, eventually giving up the later completely. On another occasion, she put lime on her hands, inducing tremendous suffering.

Finally, in 1606, Rose’s parents allowed her to become a Dominican of the Third Order. Withdrawing to a hut in the family garden, she lived her days in secluded contemplation. It was at this time that her mortifications intensified. They included, wearing a metal crown studded on the inside with sharp points, reminiscent of the crown of thorns, and sleeping on a bed of broken glass and potsherds. In order to pray more, Rose slept two hours and subsisted on little to no food. Like Saint Padre Pio, she experienced terrible manifestations of the devil, who tested her faith nightly. At some point she was graced with the invisible stigmata of Christ. Her regimen of radical denial and sacrifice resulted in painful, and increasingly debilitating, bodily ailments. Moreover, her family remained largely critical. They expressed their disapproval in periodic scoldings.

Despite her relative isolation, Rose was acutely sensitive to the spiritual and material needs of others. She tended to the sick and indigent of Lima, bringing them to her hut to care for them. Rose sewed fine needlework, lace and embroidery which she took to market, along with flowers from her garden, to help her family. She continuously prayed and did penance in the grotto she built.

After Tribulation Comes Grace

St. Rose endured great difficulty in living a life of heroic virtue. She atoned for the evils committed by conquering colonizers in their desire for wealth. She intimately understood that only through suffering and hardship can we come to truly appreciate the gift of God’s mercy and His plan for our lives. This passage from the Breviary is excerpted from a reflection by St. Rose describing a mystical insight in which Christ extols the value and necessity of suffering:

"Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: 'Let all men know that grace comes after tribulation. Let them know that without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. Let them know that the gifts of grace increase as the struggles increase. Let men take care not to stray and be deceived. This is the only true stairway to paradise, and without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven.' When I heard these words, a strong force came upon me and seemed to place me in the middle of a street, so that I might say in a loud voice to people of every age, sex and status: ‘Hear, O people; hear, O nations. I am warning you about the commandment of Christ by using words that came from his own lips: We cannot obtain grace unless we suffer afflictions. We must heap trouble upon trouble to attain a deep participation in the divine nature, the glory of the sons of God and perfect happiness of soul.'"

St. Rose of Lima died on August 25, 1617, at the age of 31. She is said to have predicted the date of her own death. Her funeral was attended by the public authorities of Lima and hundreds of its citizens. She was beatified in 1668 by Pope Clement IX and canonized by Pope Clement X in 1671. In the bull of canonization, Clement X declared: "Since the discovery of Peru no missionary has arisen who effected a similar popular zeal for the practice of penance." She is the patroness of the Americas. O God, You set Saint Rose of Lima on fire with your love, so that, secluded from the world in the austerity of a life of penance, she might give herself to you alone; grant, we pray, that through her intercession, we may tread the paths of life on earth and experience Beatitude with You in heaven.

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