St Rose of Lima is the first saint of the Americas to be canonized. She’s the patroness of Peru, the Philippines and the West Indies. Her feast is August 23.
By all accounts Rose was extraordinarily beautiful from her birth. Her family, seeing how attractive she was, gave her the name, Rose. They probably envisioned a good marriage for her, improving their own fortunes, for her family struggled to make ends meet.
But Rose, influenced by the example of St. Catherine of Siena, wanted to enter religious life and devote herself to a life of prayer. Her family forbade it and in spite of their opposition Rose began a life of prayer and penance at home.
Her penances seem excessive to us today. For one thing, she minimized and disfigured her physical beauty instead of enhancing it. Instead of fine clothes she wore the simple habit of a Dominican tertiary. She shunned Lima’s social life, which prized beautiful women, for a life of prayer and fasting. Instead of cultivating influential friends, she took care of the poor and the sick.
Yet when she died at 31, thousands came to her funeral at Lima’s cathedral and miracles were reported by those who prayed for her intercession.
Facing great opposition, St. Rose of Lima followed a call from God. She resisted an arranged marriage by her family, probably supported by Dominican theologians who, following the decrees of the Council of Trent, told her she had the right to choose marriage on not.
She herself learned something more: troubles bring suffering, but they also bring an increase in God’s grace. Here’s the saint speaking for herself:
“Our Lord and Savior lifted up his voice and said with incomparable majesty: “Let all 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 them 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 children 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 had burst its chains and was free and alone and going swiftly through the whole world saying:
“If only we 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. No one would complain about his cross or the troubles that come.” (Office of Readings, St. Rose of Lima)