Full Throttle Spiritual Life: The Inspiring Story of St. Rose of Lima
The first saint born in the Americas, St. Rose, lived and died in Lima, Peru spanning the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century (1586-1617). She was born Isabel Flores de Oliva, but such was her beauty that she received the nickname Rose as a child. Later at her confirmation, she chose the name Rose and we remember her by that to this day. Rose died at the age of 31 and was canonized shortly after (at least by Rome time) in 1671. St. Rose is so revered in her home country that since 1995, her image graced the highest currency note in Peru, worth 200 sol.
Early Life and Entry into Religious Life
Rose’s soul was especially tuned into the love of God from an early age. She expressed the desire to become a nun early on. As she got older, her parents refused her wish to be a nun and tried to force her to get married. Rose fought them on this matter for several years until they slightly relented. She was allowed to enter not a convent but the Third Order Dominicans at the age of 20. She was particularly inspired by St. Catherine of Siena, another Third Order Dominican. A backyard garden shed became her little hermitage and she spent much of her time there.
Once finances became troubled for her family, Rose worked during the day and prayed at night. She tended and sold flowers, as well as working as a seamstress with lace and embroidery. In addition to her penances, prayer, and work, she sheltered and tended the poor of the city in her own room.
Rose attended Mass daily and spent many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament. This life of labor, penance, and prayer continued until her death in 1617.
Life of Penance: An Introduction
Rose joins a company of sainted young women—like Catherine of Siena, Gemma Galgani, and Therese of Lisieux—who achieved a high degree of sanctity over the course of a short life. Besides dying young, all of those women caused the consternation of the world. Rose is no exception, as much attention is paid to her extreme mortifications. She took as St. Catherine of Siena as an example; who also lived a radically austere life. These penances are difficult to process for our modern way of thinking. Before we recoil too quickly at the mortifications, we need to take a step back. Her life deserves a fair shake, rather than an unthinking dismissal of craziness. We ought to first consider the fruits of St. Rose’s spiritual life.
As a starting point, St. Rose had many miracles attributed to her after her death. She also had visions of Our Lord throughout her life. No matter the extremity of the penance, Rose strove after them out of great love for God. The subjective criteria may be difficult to nail down, but we also have objective criteria of Rose’s devotion to Our Lord. We can also take heart in Rose’s daily attendance at Mass, her willing submission to the direction of her confessor, and the hours spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament (from the Catholic Encyclopedia). A team of Inquisition interrogators heard about her life (even in her attempt at obscurity), examined her, and came back with a favorable verdict.
After due investigation, the Church chose to canonize Rose. We have to remember that the Church does not have an obligation to canonize popular saints: it took nearly 500 years for Joan of Arc to be canonized.
Full Throttle Penance
Although the term may not have been used in Rose’s lifetime, she fits the definition of a victim soul. They offer themselves and their mortifications to Jesus and Mary for the salvation of other souls. And it is not a common vocation! Victim souls do not live an ordinary life and do seem out of touch to the rest of us. Yet their special grace is to be more in touch with the crucified Lord than with the world.
Part of the “training” for a victim soul is to be tempted greatly. For Rose, it started with temptations to vanity and impurity. To combat this—not to mention to resist her parents’ ardent will for her to marry—Rose undertook special mortifications. She rubbed pepper on her face until blotches formed and cut off her long hair. To her family and friends, Rose was considered out of her mind. She was also assailed with temptations against faith. This drove her to increase her penances. Her fasting went from a daily practice to giving up meat completely; she then only ate minimally to survive. One of the most recognizable instruments of her mortification was the silver crown that she wore. On the inside, it had spikes on the inside that pierced her flesh.
One image that comes to mind is that of the training of a fighter pilot. They undergo extensive physical training before even setting foot in a cockpit. Then after many training hours of flying, a fighter pilot can be sent into battle. When in battle, would a pilot timidly approach their enemy? Or only try to move out of the line of fire? No, the fighter pilot would use every tactic, every weapon, and the full capacity of his/her fighter jet in battle. St. Rose lived her spiritual life at full throttle with her sights set on the enemy of souls.
A Sign of Contradiction
St. Rose remains a great model for the rest of us even if we do not undergo severe penances. She did not seem to have the slightest care for the world. How do we measure up in that regard? Rose lived a quiet life and her prayer and love for Christ fueled everything she did. Does prayer give us strength, or have those muscles atrophied? Does our love for Christ overflow in our hearts as to spill over into every other aspect of our lives? St. Rose poured her full effort into her spiritual life. We should give ourselves a stark look: what does our effort look like?
It’s tempting to think that we would die without the things of the world—at the very least, die of boredom. St. Rose’s life stands in firm opposition to that. She owned little, had no great position or power, and attracted ridicule. And she still had everything in Jesus!