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St. Rose of Lima

St. Rose of Lima by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:

The life of this saint is like a rose among thorns. She was born into a poor, but upper class family in Peru, soon after the conquest. As a child she suffered physical and psychological abuse from her neurotic mother and grandmother, each of whom slapped or beat her when she answered the name the other had given her -- Isabel or Rose. After several years, when the bishop of Lima finally established that her name was Rose, the slaps and beatings stopped, but she could never please her mother.

Coming from such a bewildering childhood, she identified deeply with the suffering Christ. She longed to become a nun, but was prevented by her family from doing so. She practiced austere penances at home and eventually became a Dominican tertiary. She was a close friend of another Dominican saint with an unhappy childhood, Martin de Porres. To help support her family, she did fine embroidery and raised flowers for sale. Along with flowers, she raised medicinal herbs which she used to cure the sick poor of Lima who began flocking to her small infirmary in her family’s home. She had a special love and concern for the Indians who had been savagely conquered by men like Pizarro. She herself had Inca blood.

Her love for God was passionate and deep. She wrote mystical poetry, which she occasionally sang with a guitar. Like many a Spanish mystic, she had to defend herself before the dreaded Inquisition. Near the end of her short life, a small bird came each day at sunset and sang a love song with her that she had composed. She died after a painful illness, just as a clock was striking midnight -- reminiscent of the Gospel parable of the Bridegroom and the ten virgins bearing lamps.

Her feast day is August 23.

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The first canonized saint of the New World has one characteristic of all saints—the suffering of opposition—and another characteristic which is more for admiration than for imitation—excessive practice of mortification.

She was born to parents of Spanish descent in Lima, Peru, at a time when South America was in its first century of evangelization. She seems to have taken Catherine of Siena (April 29) as a model, in spite of the objections and ridicule of parents and friends.

The saints have so great a love of God that what seems bizarre to us, and is indeed sometimes imprudent, is simply a logical carrying out of a conviction that anything that might endanger a loving relationship with God must be rooted out. So, because her beauty was so often admired, Rose used to rub her face with pepper to produce disfiguring blotches. Later, she wore a thick circlet of silver on her head, studded on the inside, like a crown of thorns.

When her parents fell into financial trouble, she worked in the garden all day and sewed at night. Ten years of struggle against her parents began when they tried to make Rose marry. They refused to let her enter a convent, and out of obedience she continued her life of penance and solitude at home as a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. So deep was her desire to live the life of Christ that she spent most of her time at home in solitude.

During the last few years of her life, Rose set up a room in the house where she cared for homeless children, the elderly and the sick. This was a beginning of social services in Peru. Though secluded in life and activity, she was brought to the attention of Inquisition interrogators, who could only say that she was influenced by grace.

What might have been a merely eccentric life was transfigured from the inside. If we remember some unusual penances, we should also remember the greatest thing about Rose: a love of God so ardent that it withstood ridicule from without, violent temptation and lengthy periods of sickness. When she died at 31, the city turned out for her funeral. Prominent men took turns carrying her coffin.

Born: 1586 at Lima, Peru as Isabel

Died: August 23, 1617 at Lima, Peru

Canonized: April 2, 1671 by Pope Clement X