Today we celebrate the feast of St. Rose of Lima, the first saint born in the Americas. She entered the world as Isabel in 1597 in Lima Peru and had a great love for God all of her life, even at a very young age.
As she grew, she spent much time in prayer, practiced mortifications, and developed a deep devotion to the Infant Jesus and the Blessed Mother. After reading about the life of St. Catherine of Siena, Rose decided to model her life after this thirteenth century Doctor of the Church, including fasting three times a week and offering up hidden penances. Many people commented on beauty which bothered St. Rose and stirred up her vanity. She responded by cutting her hair and making herself less attractive. It is said that at one point, she rubbed pepper or lye into her face to mar its beauty, which indeed she did!
Eventually, she took a vow of virginity for the Lord. Her parents and friends opposed her lifestyle, which was often a cross for her. For ten years she struggled with her parents’ desire for her to marry. In time, they relented.
St. Rose suffered from great temptation and desolation of spirit. Jesus revealed himself to her in a unique way. We have heard of Jesus appearing to saints, like St. Faustina, in bodily form. St. Rose experienced His manifestation through knowledge of His presence and evidence of His Divine Love bringing her great consolation and courage to continue. With this greater understanding of His love, she increased her fasting, penance and acts of charity.
At the age of 20, she became a Dominican tertiary. Dominican tertiaries are members of a fraternity of lay people who live lives according to the charism of St. Dominic, much of which involves practicing perpetual penances and detachment from material goods and the things of the world. (Dominican tertiaries are also called Third Order Dominicans.)
Upon receiving the Dominican scapular, St. Rose intensified her penances. She is often depicted with a beautiful crown of roses upon her head. Unbeknownst to most of us, the roses were woven around a metal spiked crown, giving her the opportunity to unite the suffering of her crown with Jesus. This is just one example of the many mortifications she made to the Lord, who filled her heart with great joy and peace in the midst of her penance, which she offered in reparation for offenses committed against His Divine Majesty, for the offenses of her country, for the conversion of sinners, and for the souls in Purgatory.
St. Rose died in 1617. The many miracles associated with her after her death raised her to sainthood in 1671.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I read about saints who practice extreme penance, I feel like a Catholic loser! I can do Lent, six weeks being achievable – and sometimes with great effort. In fact, I seem to recall trying to give up coffee one year and couldn’t last a week (I’m much too stupid in the morning without it!) But to practice perpetual penance poses particular problems for this sinner. I’m weak.
Time and again, I wonder, “Are we all called to that intensity? Is this what God wants from me? If this is the way to heaven, I’ll be luck to squeeze into Purgatory!” I don’t know the answers to those questions; God does. What I do know is that we are all called to make sacrifices and to offer up our sufferings to God for His purposes.
I’m a big believer in “Do what can and not what you can’t.” So instead of feeling like a loser, a better approach is to do something I can. Maybe it’s coffee for one day, which quite honestly, sounds ridiculous, but if it’s hard for me, and I give it to God, would He refuse? New England ice cream is unmatched, and summertime is the time for consuming it. If I say, “No,” to just one ice cream cone, would my Father in heaven scold me because it isn’t enough? I can emphatically say, “He would never do that.” He would take my little gift and make it His because He loves me and He knows my heart.
So today, and in the days and weeks ahead, find a way that you can add just one simple penance to your day – small or big matters not. What matters is the purity of heart which offers it and the way we carry it out.
St. Rose of Lima, pray for us! Anne