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Extreme blossom: Weekly Message for 08-23-2022
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we celebrate the Memorial of St. Rose of Lima (born April 20, 1586, died August 24, 1617—the Feast of St. Bartholomew). She was born Isabel Flores y de Oliva at Lima. Her father, Gaspar, was a Puerto Rican soldier of Spanish descent, and her mother was Maria de Oliva of Lima. Her family would have eleven children.
She was such a beautiful baby, and later such a beautiful woman, that her nickname, Rose, became her confirmation name. She also showed early signs of a capacity to bear suffering well: she had to undergo a surgery as a baby and remained silent before the pain. It foreshadowed her desire to sacrifice and do penance, a desire that marked the rest of her short life (she died at 31).
Rose was so beautiful that she was worried her vanity would sprout into something harmful to her spiritual life, so she cut off her hair, blistered her face with pepper, and blistered her hands with lime. Her physical beauty had blossomed even though she practiced harsh physical penances.
Her mother often harangued her for serving the poor and living an austere life instead of seeking marriage. Rose knew something more important had to blossom in her heart and soul: A life of holiness and virtue. St. Peter encouraged early Christian women to adorn themselves with virtue, not make-up and jewelry, to be truly beautiful (cf. 1 Peter 3:3-5).
When she was twenty her parents permitted her to section off a part of their home as an “infirmary” for ill and homeless women. This desire to serve Our Lord and others led her to become a third-order Dominican and to model her life on St. Catherine of Siena, donning the Dominican habit. As a third-order Dominican she took the name Sister Rose of Saint Mary and lived a spirituality and life inspired by St. Dominic, but remained at home, blossoming in virtue where she was planted.
People today are fascinated by extreme sports: for some it fuels their desire to excel, for others it wins an elusive rush of adrenaline through activities with a rush of danger. Rose was moved by an extreme love for the Lord and others. In the eyes of the world, it was extreme, even in the eyes of some of her family and friends; but just as some young people live as though immortal, the Lord knew Rose’s time on earth was short, and she responded.
Right after her Confirmation, as she left the parish church of a small village outside Lima, the unbaptized indigenous who had suffered at the hands of some Spanish soldiers, making them resent Christianity, mocked her and the other Christians for their faith. Not even the archbishop could calm the crowd, and Rose and her mother had to circle the angry crowd to head home.
Rose’s take-away was a desire to share the faith with them, and she told her mother she would pray and offer her whole day, every day, to the Lord for their intentions. She would be patient about little troubles and ask Jesus to help them. She had responded to ridicule with extreme charity.
In the end her penances and austerity were so severe that her confessor and friends had to put a stop to some of her spiritual practices, but the damage to her physical and mental health had already been done. Her health improved a little, but she revealed that the Lord had told her she would die on the Feast of St. Bartholomew, August 24th. And so she did.
The Lord, when asked, told a scribe that “to live” you had to love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself (cf. Luke 10:25-28). If you’re going to be extreme, St. Rose of Lima teaches us that you have to be extreme in love for the Lord and for neighbor. If you are, your heart and soul will blossom into something more beautiful than any blossom or pretty face in this world.
May the Lord bless you through the intercession of St. Rose to love him and your neighbor with the only extremism the world needs: charity.
Father Nikola Derpich, L.C.
Author of Maximizing the Mass
“Rose-of-Lima Flores”, in D. B. WATKINS (ed.), The Book of Saints: A Comprehensive Biographical Dictionary, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016, 8th Edition, 653–654.
SHEA, J. G., Pictorial Lives of the Saints, Benziger Brothers, New York; Cincinnati; Chicago 1887, 376.
Saints, Verbum, Bellingham, WA 2013.
CURLEY, M. P. – HILL, M. L., Saints Alive!: The Gospel Witnessed, Pauline Books & Media, Boston, MA 2013, 164–165.