Today, August 23, is the Memorial of St. Rose of Lima.
St. Rose was born in Lima, Peru in 1586. She practiced severe penances during her brief life, dedicating her time to caring for the poor and sick. She would embroider and sell her work to help support her family or for resources to be used for the poor. She wanted to become a nun, but her father would not have it, so she became a Third Order Dominican, wearing the habit of the Order and vowing herself to a life of virginity. She lived mostly as a recluse in her room in her family’s home, experiencing ecstasies and gaining a reputation for holiness. When she died on August 24, 1617, all of the civic authorities of the city of Lima attended her funeral. She was canonized by Pope Clement X in 1671, the first person born of the Americas to be canonized a saint of the Church.
Here is an excerpt from her writings:
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.”
That same force strongly urged me to proclaim the beauty of divine grace. It pressed me so that my breath came slow and forced me to sweat and pant. I felt as if my soul could no longer be kept in the prison of the body, but that it had burst its chains and was free and alone and was going very swiftly through the whole world saying: “If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights! Without doubt they would devote all their care and concern to winning for themselves pains and afflictions. All men throughout the world would seek trouble, infirmities and torments, instead of good fortune, in order to attain the unfathomable treasure of grace. This is the reward and the final gain of patience. No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighed when they are distributed to men.”
(from Liturgy of the Hours, Memorial of Rose of Lima)
It may seem to us in our modern sensibilities that St. Rose was too devoted to an extreme view of suffering and penance. It is said that she held her hands over an open flame as a form of penance, and wore a crown with spikes on the inside, tearing at her scalp, in order to imitate the crown of thorns worn by her Lord. Even still, we can learn much from this young saint of the New World. Today, too many Christians think that being a Christian means that God will spare them any suffering. We wonder how could God allow us to suffer if we claim to be His children. “I am a Christian,” we think, “so I should be spared.” Atheists like to challenge Christians with the notion that God is supposed to spare us hardship and suffering, so when Christians do suffer, atheists point to this as proof that God isn’t real. How foolish!
Freedom from suffering is not one of God’s promises. In fact, St. Paul said, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rm 8:17). To share in Christ’s glory, it is necessary to share in His sufferings, to unite our sufferings with His. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the body, which is the church” (Col. 1:24).
I don’t think that the Church, or Christ for that matter, desires that we imitate the penances of St. Rose of Lima in order to share in Christ’s glory. Those penances were for her. But, we ought to re-think this Western, if American notion that to be a Christian means to experience God’s protection from sufferings. Rather, we are called to unite our sufferings to those of Christ that our own sufferings might become redemptive, that we might share in the redeeming mission of Christ for the sake of the world.
St. Rose of Lima, pray for us.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.