"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)


St. Rose Of Lima: “Little Flower” of the New World and Patroness of the Indigenous Peoples of Latin America

We will better appreciate the life of St. Rose of Lima if we first take into account how people in her era looked at their own reality which is very different from the way we now look at our present context. The religious piety of her time, which was still predominantly medieval, was marked by the constant battle between body and soul. The fascination of many saints like St. Rose was with severe self-inflicted pain and its goal in helping the soul along its spiritual ascent towards God.

Saints are not born but they are made according to the mold of their surroundings, albeit, with God's grace. What was considered extraordinary virtue were the characteristics, e.g., contempt for worldly comforts or pleasures, the holiness of St. Rose was built on that on top of the usual extraordinary acts of charity toward the less fortunate. There are accounts that she used a metal chain to flog herself in order to experience extreme bodily pain. She fastened an iron-cast contraption about her waist, e.g., a chastity belt with a lock on it, and threw the key into a well. To emulate the sufferings of Jesus Christ, she had made for herself a pewter crown of thorns but disguised under a wreath of flowers. She hid it from public view lest it becomes a source of pride by calling attention to her own struggle for virtue.

St. Rose was largely influenced by the holiness of life of St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), who is one of two women the Catholic Church has declared in 1970 a "doctor of the Church." St. Rose, although she knew how to read and write, did not leave behind a book of devotion or a spiritual autobiography unlike other religious women of her time. As a true protege, she followed St. Catherine's standard of self-mortification and she too encountered similar mystical experiences. Let us take a look at the following excerpt from St. Catherine.
"The more a soul possesses the love of God, the more holy hatred it has for the sensory part, for its own sensuality, because the love of God naturally begets hatred for sins committed against God. For the soul sees that concupiscence, the origin and source of every fault, reigns within and plunges its roots into the sensory part. Then it feels itself seized with a great hatred for this life of the senses, and it exerts every effort, not to kill this life, but to pluck out the source of corruption that is rooted in it. That cannot be done without a long, total war on sensuality itself. Furthermore, it is not possible that there should not remain some roots capable of producing at least light faults, which is a new motive for the soul to be displeased with itself. Nothing ensures the security and strength of the soul as much as this holy hatred. Sensulaity absolutely must be killed because it robs us of the life of grace by making us resist God" (Legenda minore I. 10).
Stories told about Rose of Lima started when, even as a young girl, she was drawn to a life of prayer and self-denial. She liked being in solitude and prayer than the company of other children. Just like St. Catherine, it was also at an early age that she made a private vow of perpetual chastity. Contrary to her parents' hopes for her to be successfully married, she showed no interest in the many suitors who came to their house. Once, when her brother Hernando teased her by calling attention to her beautiful hair, she took a pair of scissors and cut it off. These she did, among others, just to appear unattractive to the suitors.

In colonial Peru, the only honorable alternative state of life if not in marriage was the religious life. Rose attempted on two occasions to enter a convent but it was met with parental objections. Eventually, the solution to her dilemma lay in becoming a beata, a woman who had taken religious vows but who lived and worked in the outside world. In 1606, in imitation of St. Catherine, Rose joined the Third Order of the Dominicans. Without being required to stay in the cloister of a convent, she happily lived her consecrated life at home with her parents, brothers, sisters and with Jesus Christ with whom she was betrothed until her death at the young age of 31.

The culture of the people at the time was marked by fascination with relics. Given Rose's reputation for holiness to be widely known in Lima, there was a near riot that occurred at her funeral. This prompted the authorities to cancel the whole ceremony for fear that the remains would attract the mob in the frantic attempt of everyone to get hold of a piece of the saint. Each wanted to snatch a thread from her habit and even of her corpse. In 1618, only months after Rose's death, the inquiry into her life and virtues began as a first step toward presenting her cause for canonization. The formal process took the usual span of not less than fifty years, but at home Rose was already a saint by popular acclamation. Rose of Lima (1586–1617) was a Peruvian mystic, ascetic and first person born in the Americas to be canonized a saint in 1671. Fr. JM Manzano, SJ
Sources: Keyes, Frances Parkinson. The Rose and the Lily: The Lives and Times of Two South American Saints. NY: Hawthorn Books, 1961.

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