The fragrance of holiness is wafted today across the dark Ocean, renewing the youth of the Old World, and winning for the New the good will of heaven and earth.
A century before the birth of St. Rose, Spain, having cast out the Crescent from her own territory, received as a reward the mission of planting the Cross on the distant shores of America. Neither heroes nor apostles were wanting in the Catholic kingdom for the great work; but there was also, unhappily, no lack of adventurers who, in their thirst for gold, became the scourge of the poor Indians instead of leading them to the true God. The speedy decadence of the illustrious nation that had triumphed over the Moors was soon to prove how far a people, prevented with the greatest blessings, may yet be answerable for crimes committed by its individual representatives. It is well known how the empire of the Incas in Peru came to an end. In spite of the indignant protestations of the missionaries: in spite of orders received from the mother country: in a few years, Pizarro and his companions had exterminated one third of the inhabitants of these flourishing regions; another third perished miserably under a slavery worse than death; the rest fled to the mountains, carrying with them a hatred of the invaders, and too often of the Gospel as well, which in their eyes was responsible for atrocities committed by Christians. Avarice opened the door to all vices in the souls of the conquerors, without, however, destroying their lively faith. Lima, founded at the foot of the Cordilleras, as metropolis of the subjugated provinces, seemed as if built upon the triple concupiscence. Before the close of the century, a new Jonas, St. Francis Solano, came to threaten this new Ninive with the anger of God.
But mercy had already been beforehand with wrath; justice and peace had met, (Psalm 84:11) in the soul of a child, who was ready, in her insatiable love, to suffer every expiation. Here we should like to pause and contemplate the virgin of Peru, in her self-forgetful heroism, in her pure and candid gracefulness: Rose, who was all sweetness to those who appreciated her, and who kept to herself the secret of the thorns without which no rose can grow on earth. This child of predilection was prevented from her infancy with miraculous gifts and favors. The flowers recognized her as their queen; and at her desire they would blossom out of season. At her invitation, the plants joyfully waved their leaves; the trees bent down their branches; all nature exulted; even the insects formed themselves into choirs; the birds vied with her in celebrating the praises of their common Maker. She herself, playing upon the names of her parents, Gaspard Flores and Maria Oliva, would sing: “O my Jesus, how beautiful thou art among the olives and the flowers, and thou dost not disdain thy Rose!”
Eternal Wisdom has, from the beginning, delighted to play in the world. (Proverbs 8:30-31) Clement X relates, in the Bull of Canonization, how one day when Rose was very ill, the Infant Jesus appeared and deigned to play with her; teaching her, in a manner suited to her tender age, the value and the advantages of suffering. He then left her full of joy, and endowed with a lifelong love of the Cross. Holy Church will tell us, in the Legend, how far the Saint carried out, in her rigorous penance, the lesson thus divinely taught. In the superhuman agonies of her last illness, when someone exhorted her to courage, she replied: “All I ask of my Spouse is that he will not cease to burn me with the most scorching heat, till I become a ripe fruit that he will deign to cull from this earth for his heavenly table.” To those who were astonished at her confidence and her assurance of going straight to heaven, she gave this answer, which well expresses her character: “I have a Spouse who can do all that is greatest, and who possesses all that is rarest, and am I to expect only little things from him?” And her confidence was rewarded. She was but thirty-one years of age when, at midnight on the feast of St. Bartholomew in the year 1617, she heard the cry: Behold the Bridegroom cometh! In Lima, in all Peru, and indeed throughout America, prodigies of conversion and miracles signalized the death of the humble virgin, hitherto so little known. “It has been juridically proved,” said the Sovereign Pontiff in his Bull of Canonization, “that, since the discovery of Peru, no missionary has been known to obtain so universal a movement of repentance.” Five years later, for the further sanctification of Lima, there was established in its midst the monastery of St. Catherine of Sienna, also called Rose’s monastery because she was in the eyes of God its true foundress and mother. Her prayers had obtained its erection, which she had also predicted: she had designed the plan, pointed out the future religious, and named the first superior, whom she one day prophetically endowed with her own spirit in a mysterious embrace.
Let us read the Church’s beautiful account of her life.
The first flower of sanctity that blossomed in South America, the virgin Rose was born of Christian parents at Lima. From her very cradle she gave clear signs of her future holiness. Her baby face appeared one day changed in a wonderful way into the image of a rose, and from this circumstance she was called Rose. Later on the Virgin Mother of God gave her also her own name, bidding her to be called thenceforward Rose of St. Mary. At five years of age she made a vow of perpetual virginity, and when she grew older, fearing her parents would compel her to marry she secretly cut off her hair which was very beautiful. Her fasts exceeded the strength of human nature. She would pass whole Lents without eating bread, living on five grains of a citron a day.
She took the habit of the third Order of St. Dominic and after that redoubled her austerities. Her long and rough hair-shirt was armed with steel points, and day and night she wore under her veil a crown studded inside with sharp nails. Following the arduous example of St. Catherine of Siena, she wound an iron chain three times round her waist, and made herself a bed of the knotty trunks of trees, filling up the vacant space between them with potsherds. She built herself a narrow little cell in a distant corner of the garden, and there devoted herself to the contemplation of heavenly things, subduing her feeble body by iron disciplines, fasting and watching. Thus she grew strong in spirit, and continually overcame the devils, spurning and dispelling their deceits.
Though she suffered greatly from severe illnesses, from the insults offered her by her family and from unkind tongues, yet she would say that she was not treated as badly as she deserved. During fifteen years, she suffered for several hours a day a terrible desolation and dryness of spirit; but she bore this suffering, worse than death itself, with undaunted courage. After that period, she was given an abundance of heavenly delights, she was honored with visions, and felt her heart melting with seraphic love. Her Angel-Guardian, St. Catherine of Siena and our Lady used often to appear to her with wonderful familiarity. She was privileged to hear these words from our Lord: “Rose of my heart be thou my bride.” At length she was happily introduced into the paradise of this her Spouse, and being famous for miracles both before and after her death, Pope Clement X solemnly enrolled her among the holy virgins.
Patroness of Peru, ever watch over the interests of thy fatherland. Respond to its people’s confidence in thee by warding off from them the calamities of even this present life: the earthquakes which spread terror through the land, and political convulsions such as have already so severely tried its independence. Extend thy guardianship to the neighboring young republics; for they too love and honor thee. Hide from them and from thy native land the Utopian mirages which rise from the old world. Preserve them from the rash impulses and illusions to which their youth is liable. Guard them against the poisonous teachings of condemned sects, lest their hitherto lively faith should be corrupted. Lastly, o thou our Lord’s beloved Rose, smile upon the whole Church, who is enraptured today at the sight of thy heavenly beauty. Like her, we all desire to “run in the fragrancy of thy sweetness.” (Collect of the feast.)
Teach us to let ourselves be prevented, like thee, by the dew of heaven. Show us how to respond to the advances of the divine sculptor, who one day allowed thee to see him making over to his loved ones the different virtues in the form of blocks of choice marble, which he expects them to polish with their tears, and to fashion with the chisel of penance. Above all, fill us with love and confidence. All that the material sun accomplishes in the vast universe, causing the flowers to bloom, ripening the fruits, forming pearls in the depth of the ocean, and precious stones in the heart of the mountains; all this, thou didst say, thy divine Spouse effected in the boundless capacity of thy soul, causing it to bring forth every variety of riches, beauty and joy, warmth and life. May we profit, even as thou didst, of the coming of the Sun of Justice into our hearts in the Sacrament of union; may we lay open our whole being to the influence of his blessed light; and may we become, in every place, the good odor of Christ.
The holy Martyrs Felix and Adauctus won their palms in the reign of Diocletian. Their tomb, which lies close to that of the Apostle of the Gentiles, is adorned by one of the beautiful epitaphs of Pope St. Damasus. Let us address to God the prayer, wherein the Church implores their powerful protection.
We suppliantly beseech thy Majesty, O Lord, that as thou dost ever rejoice us by the commemoration of thy Saints, so thou wouldst always defend us by their supplication. Through our Lord, etc.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)