Miracles in the Life of Saint Rose of Lima
Authors: Bob and Penny Lord
Patroness of the Americas
A Miraculous Name
Even the name she was given came directly from Heaven. Originally she was named Isabel after her maternal grandmother. But a miraculous occurrence took place while the child was an infant, before her Baptism. She was in her stroller with the Indian servant Mariana. All of a sudden the maid began to cry out to Rose’s mother and the children assembled in the room. She saw the child’s face turn into a beautiful rose! The children ran over to the stroller. They saw something different. They cried out that they saw a rose above her head, suspended in mid-air. Her mother, Oliva, took this as a sign from Heaven that the child was to be named Rose. We believe it was a sign from Heaven also, even though it caused a lifetime of bad feelings between Oliva and her mother, Isabel, for reasons which are pretty obvious. This was just the beginning of the mystical experiences attributed to St. Rose of Lima.
When it was time for the Baptism, Rose’s grandmother, Isabel was still determined to have the Archbishop, Toribio de Mongrevo, baptize the child with her given name, Isabel. But the Archbishop, who heard about this miracle from his sister, being justifiably fascinated by the possibility that this might truly be a miracle from Heaven, baptized her with the name Rose, ignoring the name Isabel altogether. Whether he did it intentionally, or was inspired by the Holy Spirit, is not certain. Do you think there may have been a little intercession from on high? We do.
We believe that God had a very special plan for this child in the religious development of the people of this New World. If we just look at the parallel world, Europe, in this same time frame, we may be given some indicator as to why God was working so hard to make the Church strong in Peru. The year of Rose’s birth was 1586. What was happening in Europe in 1586?
The heresies of Martin Luther had wreaked havoc on the Church of Europe from the beginning of the century. But the movement faltered, even under the rule of Calvin, who was much more violent than Martin Luther. It was in great danger of collapsing, until Henry VIII of England started his own church in an effort to legitimize his lustful and adulterous behavior. He wanted to marry many women and couldn’t get the Pope to annul his previous marriages. Henry decided to throw out the Catholic Church and start a new church, with him as the head. This from a man who had been given the title of Defender of the Faith by the Pope for his defense of the Faith against Martin Luther.
Henry VIII’s daughters played a game of one upmanship on him, treating those who would not come over to the Church of England worse than Henry did. By 1570, Elizabeth I, his daughter from Ann Boleyn, declared her Act of Supremacy,1 and in 1585, it became illegal to be a priest in England under pain of treason. Priests and religious became non-persons. This was Elizabeth’s way of getting back at Pope Pius V, who excommunicated her as a heretic in 1570.
In 1588, a rumor was started that the Pope and the King of Spain were planning an invasion on England and Ireland. All priests who were in captivity or who were able to be rounded up, were taken to Canterbury and executed. Most were hanged, then drawn and quartered.2 They were called the Martyrs of Canterbury.
During the time Elizabeth and her cronies were enjoying killing their own countrymen, she decided it was time to subject the Irish to her particular type of terror. Thus began the Penal times for the Irish, the age of the persecution. Thousands of Irish people, faithful to the Church, were slaughtered or starved to death in an effort to bring Ireland under English Rule and the Church of England. It never happened. This was followed by Oliver Cromwell, who subjected the Irish to inhuman terror.
In France, the Huguenots3 began Wars of Religion, in which they looted and destroyed churches, kidnapped and murdered priests and nuns, dug up bodies of Saints and profaned them, all to put down Catholicism in France.
So if you wonder why Our Lady came to Guadalupe in 1531, and Our Lord Jesus gave us Martin de Porres, Rose of Lima, and Toribio de Mongrevo in Lima Peru at the end of the Sixteenth century, the answer may be all too clear.
A Rose from Heaven
In the midst of so much political activity in Lima, little Rose was born on April 20, 1586 to Oliva and Gaspar Flores. From the very beginning of her life she exhibited a great deal of mysticism. She was the only child of Gaspar and Oliva’s eleven children who did not cause her mother any labor pains. All the children before, and those subsequent to Rose, caused her a great deal of pain in child-bearing. Rose, on the other hand, caused her mother a great deal of pain after she was born.
She was the recipient of God’s graces from an early age. Barely able to walk, she would be found lost in contemplation before the big crucifix in her mother’s room. At three years old, she endured surgery from an accident without crying at all. A heavy lid from a flour jar fell on her finger, causing a blood clot and great pain. The surgeon had to cut back her fingernail, and apply acid to the finger. All of this was done without anesthetic. The acid had to stay on the finger for several days. When she was complimented on her behavior, Rose commented on how much more Jesus had suffered.
Later, she was stricken with an excruciating earache. When asked if it hurt badly she stated, “Yes, but Our Lord’s Crown of Thorns must have hurt much more.”
During Rose’s recuperation period from the blood clot, her mother tried teaching her how to read, using secular material. It was impossible. The girl could not read anything. Oliva gave up in despair. She threw the book across the room and told little Rose to get out of her sight. Then her grandmother began to teach Rose from her prayer book. Sometime later, little Rose came out of her room with the prayer book, having read several pages from it. When Oliva asked her daughter who taught her to read and write, she replied, “I asked the Baby Jesus to teach me, Mama, to save you the work and He did.” Rather than being elated that her daughter could read and write, Oliva punished Rose for what she considered defiance. Rose took her punishment without a word of complaint.
In an effort to establish a truce with her own mother, Oliva allowed Rose’s grandmother, Isabel, to bring Rose to confession to whatever church she desired. When Rose became five years old, Isabel brought her to the Jesuit church. Rose immediately asked her new confessor if she could make a vow of Chastity. The priest was somewhat surprised, especially in view of the fact that she was only five years old, but after prayer and counsel with superiors, he allowed her to make the vow. It would be a problem for Rose in later years, when her mother wanted her to marry, but at this time, it seemed harmless to the priest, and to our little Saint, it was an important gift to give Our Lord Jesus.
Through a controversy which took place between the government and the Archbishop of Lima, the Lord moved Rose and her family from the Jesuit church to the church of St. Dominic, to which Rose became extremely attached. There was a special statue in this chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary. Many of the faithful of Lima flocked in time of need to petition favors of Our Lady. In this chapel, Rose had many encounters with the Mother of God, some of them actual apparitions, others inner locutions, and still others just down-home conversations with Our Lady.
At this particular time Rose was only six years old, but a thought pattern was established which would stay with the Saint all her life. Peru was in danger of revolution and civil war. All the people were praying for peace and an end to the crisis. Rose began, at this very early age, to pray for the people of the city, the people of the country, and for the officials of the government and the Church. Rose would offer this form of prayer for the rest of her life.
Lima boasted many miracles, and miraculous images which attracted many to chapels of pilgrimage. Rose grew up in an atmosphere of miracles. They were taken pretty much for granted in Lima at that time. We have to keep this in mind when we learn how naturally St. Rose and her family, indeed, most of the people of Lima, took miraculous occurrences. When Rose began to work miracles, she paid little or no attention to them. They had virtually nothing to do with her. They were the works of the good Lord and our Mother Mary.
The Lord worked very powerfully in the life of Rose of Lima, especially when it came to helping His people. Nothing was impossible when it came to doing the Lord’s work. The time would come when the very flowers and trees would dance at her bidding, and bees and birds would join her in psalmody. Yet she saw in this a fact no more extraordinary than their creation. To her, life was all faith; she never descended from the supernatural, and what might amaze others was of little account to her. In many ways, she reminds us of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina in Italy.4 Padre Pio began having apparitions of Our Lord Jesus, our Mother Mary, the Angels and Saints as early as five years old, as did Rose. These apparitions became such natural occurrences that both these holy people believed that everyone had visits from our Holy Family.
Rose and Obedience
We would be hard-pressed to give just one outstanding characteristic of St. Rose of Lima. There are no end of special virtues with which she was blessed. But high on the list, perhaps at the top, would have to be Obedience. She practiced what had to be perfect obedience, even at the risk of suffering physical and spiritual pain. There were times when her mother claimed she was too obedient! We would like to share just a few examples.
Food was an expensive commodity for the Flores family. There were the mother and father, the grandmother, and three children. So there were certain rules which had to be obeyed. A definite one was nothing to eat in between meals. But a special rule which Rose’s mother liked to impose on Rose was not drinking any water unless she asked permission. Rose, who looked for any excuse to practice self-denial, would go for two to three days straight without asking for a drink of water. The mother, not realizing it had been days since the daughter had asked for water, would sometimes refuse permission for Rose to drink water. Rose never complained, which would extend the fast to four or five days without drinking water.
Another much more serious incident took place when the family had to move to Quive, some distance from Lima. Rose’s sister Mercedes, died there. Soon after, Rose began feeling a coldness in her extremities, i.e., fingers, toes, which was then followed by numbness and eventually paralysis. The doctors were stymied as to the cause. However, they pronounced her incurable. The situation became graver with each passing day. Rose’s mother had heard of a cure for paralysis which had to do with covering the patient’s body with the uncured hide of a recently killed animal. Rose’s brother, Fernando, had just been given the gift of a pet llama which he loved dearly. But he loved his sister even more than his pet. So when Oliva asked Fernando to sacrifice the llama so that it could be killed and used for a cure for his sister, he gladly turned his favorite pet over to be slaughtered.
The animal was killed and skinned. The hide was taken immediately to the mother, who in turn brought it to her daughter. She said to Rose, “Here is the skin of a freshly killed llama....I am going to bind it on you tightly. When the proper time has passed, I shall come and take it off. Now, do not loosen these strings no matter how it feels.”
Oliva had a tendency to forget things. One of the things she should not have forgotten was to take the hide off Rose’s body. After being distracted by many things, she finally came into the child’s room and began to take off the wrappings. She apologized to Rose, and asked how she felt. Rose looked pale, but avoided the question. All she said was, “The hide has not cured me, Mama. But I have not unbound it or loosened the strings since you put it on.”
Oliva said, “That is good; you are obedient.” With that, she took the strings off and began to unravel the hide. She was shocked by what she saw. Rose’s skin came off with the hide. A huge ugly rash covered her body. Her back was ulcerated. She was in excruciating pain. The mother was in shock. “Why didn’t you loosen the strings? You must have suffered terribly.” Rose answered, “But you told me not to loosen the strings or unbind the hide! What could I do but to obey you?”13
If this story were about anyone else, we would have to say the child was being precocious, trying to show the mother how stupid or incompetent she was in jeopardizing her daughter’s health in that way. But knowing Rose, and how committed she was to obedience, we have to hold fast to the fact that she was doing as she had been ordered. She was being obedient at all costs, even at the cost of her health.
In this particular account, there’s a happy ending, and what might be considered a double miracle. The following Sunday, it was announced at Mass that all candidates for Confirmation should be prepared shortly, as the Archbishop, Toribio de Mongrevo would be arriving in a few short weeks to administer the Sacrament. Rose was a candidate for Confirmation. But she had lost all desire to live after the incident with the llama hide. She was still in bed, paralyzed. When her mother told her when Confirmation was going to be, she came to life again. She wanted to receive Confirmation. She began to pray hard for a healing. At the other end of the spectrum, Archbishop Toribio also prayed, not for Rose in particular, but for all the children who were to be confirmed. We believe the power of prayer of these two Saints brought about the complete healing of Rose just in time for her confirmation.
Rose and St. Catherine of Siena
The parallels between the lives of St. Rose of Lima and her mentor, St. Catherine of Siena are remarkable. Both girls had a strong vocation early in life. Both took a vow of chastity, and claimed Jesus as their bridegroom. Both were mystically married to Jesus. Both lived at home and worked as Third Order Dominicans. Both treated the sick, although Catherine’s greatest accomplishments were the writing of her book, Dialogs, for which she was given the title of Doctor of the Church, and bringing the Popes back to Rome from Avignon. Both had to go through tremendous struggle with their families when it came to marriage.
For Rose, the conflict arose when she was twelve years old. The question of marriage surfaced as was natural for that time. As we said, Rose had already taken a lifetime vow of virginity. But her mother was not having any of that. To give Oliva credit, Rose was exceedingly beautiful. Remember what we told you about the combination of Spanish and Inca. The children were most beautiful. Rose was possibly the most beautiful of the Flores children. She was so beautiful that biographers have detailed every fine turn of her face, the curve of her cheeks, the soft texture of her skin, the color of her lips and eyes. To research Rose of Lima is to fall in love with her.
Considering all of that, we can understand why Oliva was looking forward to her most beautiful daughter marrying well. A suitable marriage could mean comfortable living for the child and her new family for life, and could also be helpful to Oliva and Gaspar, whose financial condition had always been on the verge of bankruptcy. Plus, to be sure, Oliva had fantasized for years how it would be for her child to be married to someone from a good family, raising grandchildren as beautiful as Rose and the continuation of the lineage. She would be the grand-dame of the family, taking the place of her mother Isabel, who had always been the head of her family.
It’s also not hard to understand how devastated Oliva was when Rose told her she would never marry. She had consecrated herself to God at an early age, but this was the first time she had to confront her mother with it. It took a lot for Oliva to come to terms with her announcement, but once she did, she insisted the girl enter a convent. When Rose asserted, she desired to become a third order Dominican, Oliva was beside herself. Rose had become very close to St. Catherine of Siena over the years, and she wanted to follow in her footsteps. Finally, her mother accepted this; but neither she nor the rest of the family could empathize with her decision.
Rose and her brother made a little retreat out in the back of their parents’ property. It was a very small room, but it became Rose’s living quarters for her life. She lived an austere but extremely happy life with her Lord Jesus and the Saints. She did all she could, however, to help her family, whose financial situation never got better. She grew beautiful flowers in her little yard and sold them. The Lord blessed this venture, and gave the family much-needed money through her efforts. The family knew the child was extremely loved by her Heavenly Family, but didn’t know how far the Lord would go out of His way to please her.
Once, Gaspar had over-extended himself financially for two of his sons. They were given the honor of joining a royal galleon to fight the British. The cost of outfitting them for this position went far beyond the normal expenses of the family. Add to that the expense of a wedding of another daughter. The normal income from Oliva’s needlework was not forthcoming because she had concentrated on making a trousseau for her sister. Gaspar was informed by creditors that he must come up with the money by ten o’clock the following morning, or pay the consequences which could include prison. They tried never to bother Rose with their problems, but the whole family was so depressed that she could not help but be aware of it.
At her mother’s urging, Rose asked her father what the problem was. He shared their financial situation, ending with “all is lost. It is the end.” Rose went to church with her brother. She kept telling him to have faith. He too, was very depressed about what was happening to the father. Rose prayed as hard as she had ever prayed. As she and her brother walked out of church, a man came up to Rose and handed her a packet of money. He said to her: “I have this package of money for the señorita. Give this to your father for his present needs.” Needless to say, it was the exact amount that Gaspar owed. Also needless to say, from that time forward, no one ever questioned Rose’s special relationship with Jesus.
Rose and Mortification
From her earliest days, she asked her confessors’ permission to perform various forms of mortification, from fasting and abstinence from water or food, to physical mortifications which were common at that time, and which had been practiced by Saints before her. She was always trying to do more than she had done previously. There were times when she would become accustomed to the disciplines she inflicted upon herself. This happens when the body builds a tolerance for pain or deprivation, whether it be self-inflicted or not.
We have a tendency today to criticize our brothers and sisters of long ago for practicing such penances as mortifications, disciplines, fasting and abstinence. But it’s really important to understand the moral fiber of the people of the Church of that time. We of today’s society find that hard to understand or accept. Our problem is that we’ve never tried to control our senses. A common philosophy today is “If it feels good, do it.” This is the culture we were born into; this is how we were raised, not necessarily by our families, but by the world around us, the influences of television, movies, magazines and materialism.
As an example, there is a movement to close the various military academies in the United States, West Point and Annapolis, because of the furious scandals coming out of them, and because of the low moral character of their students and graduates. A Senator, who was a graduate of either West Point or Annapolis, was questioned about whether the academies should be closed. To paraphrase his reply, he said, “Don’t blame the institutions for the behavior of the students. Blame the society that sends that type of student to the military academy. We can’t change in four years, a lifetime of immoral or amoral behavior.”
Based on that philosophy, perhaps we should not pass judgment on those who came before us, but on the moral character, or lack of it, of this generation of ours. So when we share about someone who did a great deal of fasting, rather than attribute it to a weakness based on the latest psychological theories, give them credit for wanting to control their appetite for food for the sake of the Kingdom.
There were also other reasons for these forms of discipline, positive motivations. The most apparent is that our Saints were attempting to share in the Passion of Our Lord Jesus. Remember, this overpowering love for Jesus was their raison d’etre, their reason for being. They wanted so much to emulate the Savior. Add to that the state of their particular world, be it the religious or secular world.
The world has always had need for souls who would participate in Redemptive suffering. It’s been lost on the last few generations, but for those of us who date back to the Great Depression, we understand the value of this gift. Simply stated, it’s offering up our sufferings for the redemption of sins, of our families, our Church, our world, conversion of sinners, and reducing the time souls spend in Purgatory. This is one of the reasons we have such a problem with the Suicide doctor, Jack Kervorkian. His philosophy cheats people of being able to offer their pain to the Lord, for many possible intentions. Their illness, which could have been a shared experience of the Passion for the Glory of God, becomes and ends as an egocentric, lonely finish, taking away much of the meaning of life. Could you picture a Rose of Lima, or Francis of Assisi, or Thérèse of Lisieux, or the many thousands of brothers and sisters before us, giving up the privilege of being able to suffer for the Lord? I don’t think so.
Rose would not give that up. Having received permission from her confessor to practice fasting, abstinence and mortification, she asked her parents, because the priests’s permission was contingent on obedience to her parents. We talked about that before. Obedience was the most important gift Rose or any of the Saints could give to the Lord. One time she asked permission to give up red meat for life and to fast on bread and water. Her parents didn’t really go for this too much. Her mother said Rose could fast and abstain from meat until she felt Rose needed that nourishment, and then she would be required to eat meat. 17
Penance became a normal part of Rose’s life. A small example would be her wearing of a crown of sharp, pointed metal thorns inside her veil, and then covering them with a garland of roses. She was able to persuade her mother to allow her to wear a penitential band, but she didn’t tell Oliva it would be around her head. Rose had an adjustable band made to which she attached steel points. She could adjust them so that she could share in the pains of Jesus crowned with Thorns for the conversion of sinners.
St. Rose wore the headband in this manner, covered on the outside by the garland of roses, until a situation arose where her father grabbed his stick to hit his son, who had made a disrespectful remark. Rose got in the way and the cane hit her on the head. The pointed steel pressed against her head, causing her to bleed. Her mother saw this, and took the headband away, showing it to Rose’s confessor, who had not given her permission to use the pointed steel. He filed them down, so that they became nubs, rather than points. Out of obedience Rose wore the head band this way for the rest of her life.
Rose and St. Toribio de Mongrevo
Visions, mysticism and miracles had become a normal part of Rose’s life but not for those around her. For years little miracles would occur to help the family in time of need. Rose’s mother always knew about these, but did not say anything to her children. However, one time when Gaspar was ill, and no money was coming into the house, the family had come to the end of their resources. They didn’t even have honey for bread. Everyone in the family, Oliva, Mariana the maid, each of the sons individually, went down into the basement to look for honey in the barrel, but each one saw it was empty. They were filled with despair. Then Rose went down and came back with a jar full of honey stating that there was a big barrel down there.
Her brothers, instead of thanking God for a miracle through the hands of Rose, went down together, saw the honey and came up angry because Rose had somehow contradicted them. Could it be the devil? She had better be careful or the Inquisition would call her in. Doubts began to arise in the family as to where these gifts were coming from. Were they from God or the evil one? That poison soon invaded the heart of Oliva, and before long, the entire neighborhood murmured gossip that Rose could be possessed by evil spirits.
Word came from Archbishop Toribio de Mongrevo that the Inquisition was looking into the mystical character of Rose’s life, and that unless these supernatural occurrences stopped, they might call her in. Actually, the Archbishop was trying to protect her from a very unpleasant possibility. He even came to the house to try to talk the family into sending Rose into the convent. Oliva’s hair stood on end. She had plans for Rose to marry. She was not happy with the Archbishop recommending the convent. Archbishop Toribio’s niece had entered the Poor Clares. He suggested that to Rose.
The mother countered with the fact that Rose already had a vocation, helping all the sick who came to the infirmary at the house. The Archbishop did not consider that a vocation. Oliva said Rose would most likely marry. The Archbishop turned to Rose and asked her how she felt about entering the Religious life. She replied,
“It is true that I have often longed for the retirement and consecration of the religious life. Still, as my mother says, I have much to do here at home caring for the poor who come for medical help, as well as for the members of our family.”
As she spoke about the poor, everyone in the room could see her eyes gleaming, her face flush; the poor were her great love. She continued,
“I would miss this work exceedingly; but if I am called to the cloister, God’s will is all. I would willingly forfeit everything for this treasure.”
A subtle battle ensued between Oliva and the Archbishop. The family was too poor; they couldn’t possibly come up with a proper dowry. The Archbishop offered a dispensation from the dowry. Oliva came back with the fact that Rose’s embroidery was a major factor in the financial life of the family; without the income from her work, they would be reduced to total poverty. The Archbishop pointed out that Oliva had another grown daughter as well as sons who could provide income for the household. Finally, Oliva put her foot down, stating that her daughter was not entering any convent, much less the Poor Clares, and that she would marry.
The Archbishop took this as her final word and accepted it. However, the seed that had been planted about going into a cloistered atmosphere began to grow. It haunted Rose. She went to her confessor, a Jesuit priest, and asked him his opinion. When he heard that the Archbishop, whom everyone agreed was a holy man, had recommended the Poor Clares, he urged her to join immediately. Then she went to the Convent of the Holy Rosary, Martin de Porres’ Dominican Community, where she had gone to 19
Mass and Communion for years. They agreed, she should go into the convent, but recommended the Dominicans. She went back to her Spiritual Director, the Jesuit priest, to ask if he concurred with the Dominicans. He was furious that she asked the opinion of someone else after he had told her what to do. She told him it was because her mother would never take the suggestion of her Spiritual Director alone. He told Rose not to tell her mother and father until after she had entered the Community. He also suggested she go to the Augustinians with whom he was friendly. He went to arrange everything with them, and told Rose to go there the following Sunday morning after Mass.
Rose recruited her brother Fernando to help her in the clandestine plot. He would take her to the Augustinian convent. She was not really happy with the turn of events. In addition, she did not like the idea of deceiving her mother and father. She would rather have gone to the Poor Clares, because it had been the recommendation of Archbishop Toribio. But she felt this must be what the Lord wanted. She prayed as we often do, and as we have heard Mother Angelica say so often, for the Lord to open the right doors and to close the wrong doors. And that’s exactly what He did.
Rose and the Miracle of the Dominicans
The following Sunday morning, Rose and Fernando left as if they were going to the eight o’clock Mass at the Convent of the Holy Rosary. The only difference between this and other Sundays was that Rose had a little suitcase which contained all her worldly possessions, not very much. As they passed the Convent of the Holy Rosary, Rose asked Fernando if she might not go into the chapel and say a prayer. Fernando advised her to hurry. She went in and knelt down. Fernando stayed outside in the doorway of the church, but felt uncomfortable because his family’s front door was right across the street from this entrance. If they should come out and see him standing there, all would be lost.
After what he felt was a reasonable length of time, he called to Rose, to get a move on. Rose seemed not to pay attention to him. Finally, he went inside and snapped at her, “You will have plenty of time to pray after you have entered the convent.” She looked up at him, perplexed. “I would certainly like to leave, Fernando, but I cannot move.”
Exasperated, he grabbed her arm and tried to pull her up. He couldn’t move her. He exerted all his strength; she didn’t budge. Finally Rose turned to the statue of Our Lady, to whom she had been praying. She seemed to realize why she couldn’t get up. She spoke to Our Lady, “Good Mother, if you deliver me, I promise you to go back to my mother and live at home with my parents as long as you order me to do so, instead of in the convent.” She rose from the kneeler as if she were being lifted by Angels. She turned to Fernando who appeared aggravated on the surface but was secretly thrilled that his sister had such a close personal relationship with Our Lord Jesus, our Mother Mary and all the Angels and Saints.
Rose said to him, “I am sorry to have caused you so much trouble, but evidently it is not the will of God and our Lady that I should enter the cloister. I must stay at home, at least for the time being.”
Fernando could only reply, “You and your miracles!” and with that, the cloister was forgotten forever but not the vocation.
Shortly after this incident, the saintly Archbishop Toribio died. Rose felt a great loss as did all the people of Lima. There would never be so special an Archbishop as Toribio. They were correct, although they didn’t know for sure at that time, why they felt that way. Toribio was one of the three who lived in Lima at the same time, who became Saints. He was canonized in 1726, St. Martin De Porres in 1962, and St. Rose of Lima in 1671.
After the Archbishop’s death, Rose knew she had a Saint in Heaven, interceding for her to know God’s Will in her life. Within a few short months after his death, God’s Will was made known to her most clearly. She was in the garden working on her embroidery with her mother and sister. A beautiful black and white butterfly flew into their presence. Oliva cried out, “Be still, Rose; I believe that it is going to light on you!” Sure enough, the butterfly rested on Rose’s heart. The butterfly stayed there, but its wings fluttered back and forth. When it flew away, the black markings stayed on Rose’s breast.
Rose spoke very gently, “It means that God wished me to be a Dominican Tertiary. I was just praying that he would make His divine Will known to me, when the butterfly came. As it rested on me, I had an interior light explaining what it meant.”
And although her mother tried to pawn it off as the work of the devil, the die was cast. Rose knew what her vocation was to be, and she went forward with full steam. After a few weeks of resistance, Oliva finally gave in and accepted her daughter’s decision, even though she felt that being a third order Dominican meant that she could still marry. Rose was probably too exhausted by this time to bother telling her again that she would never marry.
St. Martin de Porres, who was a member of the Holy Rosary Convent, was completely elated when he heard of Rose’s decision to enter the Community. Although they had always been close, a strong spiritual bond was formed between the two that was obvious to all who saw them together. They worked closely in ministering to the sick and the poor. Rose’s infirmary, located in her home, was only a block away from the Holy Rosary Convent. It was easy for the two to bring patients back and forth and meet at the chapel to share gifts from the Lord.
Even though Rose’s mother had agreed to allow her daughter to become a Dominican Tertiary, she was still fighting the program. When they came back from the clothing ceremony, Oliva felt exceedingly tired. Rose told her to go into her bedroom and rest. Rose went to show her grandmother her habit and scapular. Oliva fell off into a semi-sleep until she was awakened from her reverie by Angels all around her. She found herself in the clouds, and right in front of her was the Blessed Mother, in her title of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary. She was dressed in the white habit of St. Dominic. On her knee was the Infant Jesus, dressed in a Tertiary habit. Our Lady spoke to Oliva,
“This rose represents your daughter, my Son’s cherished flower. I plucked her for Him from your garden and He will not let her go. Only see how grateful He is to you for having tended her for Him and for having given her to me!”
Our Lady held out the Baby Jesus to Oliva so that she could feel His hand touch her cheek. She said to Oliva, “Now, see the reward that my Son has prepared for those who love Him. This reward will be yours if you are faithful in His service.” At this point, Oliva saw a young woman in the Dominican habit kneel at the feet of Our Lady and Our Lord Jesus. It was Rose. She kissed the Baby Jesus. Oliva heard the words spoken, “Come, spouse of Christ, accept the crown the Lord has prepared for thee from eternity.”
The rose in the hand of the Baby Jesus transformed into a crown of roses, glowing with the brilliance and the fragrance of Heaven. Rose bent her head and received the crown of roses. She took the Baby Jesus into her arms, pressing Him to her heart. Oliva swooned. She was finally convinced that her daughter had chosen the right path. When Rose came into the room an hour later to see how she was, Oliva opened her eyes, smiled and said, “You are not the only one who has visions, Rose. I have just had one myself, and I must say that it was consoling.”
St. Rose was a third order Dominican. She was in charge of the infirmary, which was in her home. She welcomed people of all classes and colors. There was at that time in Peru a great influx of black slaves from Africa. She and St. Martin de Porres ministered to them. Her work was so important that you know she had to be under constant attack. In the writing of this book, our Ministry, and we personally, have been bombarded by the enemy. Whenever that happens, we know it’s because we’re doing something important. And so it was with Rose. She was centuries before her time. She was the Saint of Social Justice, along with St. Martin de Porres, who was a peer of St. Rose. They worked exclusively with the poor. Wherever possible, they worked together. But each had their own individual ministry to the poor. Because of the success Rose was experiencing, she was open to ferocious attacks.
No sooner had Rose taken the habit of the Dominicans than she became very popular with her religious brothers and sisters. They flocked to hear her. They adored her. They heaped praises on her. Now this was a new form of temptation for her. She had always been on her guard against praises from the secular world on her beauty or her skills in flowers or embroidery. She did not have this guard up with her brothers and sisters in religious life. She could not equate this kind of praise with that which she was so wary against from the world. She enjoyed this attention from her peers. She couldn’t see the harm in it, but she attempted to offset the satisfaction she received from this flattery, by practicing the disciplines more harshly, too harshly. Eventually, when she tried to inflict the same tortures on herself that the men were imposing on themselves, she had to be stopped.
The Dark Night of the Soul
This title has been used in the life of every great Saint. For most of the Saints, the dark night is one of desolation, complete desertion from God. For Rose, her dark night began with Aridity, a dryness in which she could not feel the presence of God. She prayed constantly but felt nothing. Teresa of Avila suffered Aridity for twenty years, during which time much of the fruitful work of her Ministry was done. Under normal conditions, when the Saints were subjected to Aridity, they tried harder. Rose was just like the rest. She prayed more, disciplined herself more, fasted often, and pleaded with her spiritual directors to explain what was happening to her. Nobody knew what to tell her. Their explanations ranged from epilepsy to insanity.
We have always had a question as to why the Lord allows this dryness, and these violent attacks from the evil one to plague our Saints, like Thérèse of Lisieux, Teresa la Grande of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, and on and on. We believe the Lord has finally given us and St. Rose of Lima, the answer through St. Martin de Porres, her brother-in-Christ.
From the time she was a child, she had always had visions. But they were beautiful visions of Our Lord Jesus, His Mother Mary, all the Angels and Saints, especially her mentor, St. Catherine of Siena. They had always given her great comfort. She received teachings from her visions. But these new visions were ugly, foul-smelling, filthy, sensual, sexual visions, conjured up from the bowels of hell. She fought them fiercely with prayer and with all the penances she could come up with. She concocted a bed of nails and broken glass and pottery which she laid on to take her mind off these visions. One night, deep in prayer in her garden, a handsome young man, dressed in white, accosted her and tried to have his way with her. She broke away from him, and managed to get inside her home. She shook with fear, not so much of the man, but of the possibility that she might give in to the temptation.
Her family became aware of the toll this was taking on Rose. They suggested she sleep during the day if the visions were going to attack her at night. She tried that, but found that she was under constant assault at all times, day or night. In her visions, Rose saw the Angels, the Saints, her family, everyone she believed to be good and holy, reject her, and thrust her into the fires of hell. She couldn’t cope with it.
Finally in desperation, she appealed to her brother-in-Christ, Martin de Porres. Through his God-given wisdom he granted her the peace she needed. He explained what had happened and why. First he asked her why she had the feeling of Aridity. Then he answered the question for her, “I have heard you say you suffered from Aridity before; would you say that it made you love God more?”
Rose answered, “Yes. I kept seeking Him, and striving to be better to please Him.”
“And that, my dear sister,” Martin replied, “is why the Lord sent you that Aridity. Now, why do you think He is permitting these visions of the judgment in which you feel that you are damned?”
Rose could see the simple logic before she answered the question. She smiled in her agony.
“To make me love Him more and seek for ways of pleasing Him better, so that I may escape hell and enjoy His presence?”
Martin smiled. “I am not at all surprised at this purification the Lord allows you to bear. I should be more surprised if you had not begun to suffer some such trial. It is the lot of those whom God wishes to raise to the highest sanctity to pass this way. You should find in the very violence of your trial a source of encouragement, since He purifies most, those for whom He has destined the most perfect union with Himself.”
It was so simple! It was so logical! Rose could not help but be in total awe of this humble but brilliant servant of God. She knew the Lord could heal her completely through the intercession of this brother. She continued, and was given the most powerful answer she had ever heard. She asked him, “Then why have the priests whom I consulted not understood, Brother?”
He looked at her with so much love in his eyes, tears welled up in them. “God Wills it; that is all.”
This was not the end of the Dark Night of the Soul for St. Rose of Lima. The battles with the visions continued until the end of her life. But there was a great difference. While she was having visions of the great judgment upon her, she knew who was attacking her. She knew God loved her, and was protecting her. So in the midst of Hell, she could see Heaven through the smoke and stench. Satan could not have his way with her. God was victorious. We hate to tell you this, but the lesson behind this story is that the closer you are to the Lord, the more merciless the attacks will be. But to quote St. Paul, “My grace is enough for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”5 Thank You Jesus; thank you St. Paul; thank you, little Rose of Lima.
From the time Rose became a Dominican Tertiary she had to give up her Jesuit Spiritual Director. It was difficult for her to find a strong priest to take the place of her Director. She had a need for two great strengths she would receive from a Spiritual Director, obedience, which she loved dearly, and a guarantee of safety. She knew that the right Director would not let her go astray and would advise her against anyone who would be harmful to her immortal soul. The right Spiritual Director was hard to come by. However, a Dominican priest, Fr. Juan de Lorenzana, was drawn to Rose from the beginning of her ministry with the Dominicans. He found her piety and reverence profound. That, coupled with the stories which constantly circulated around the church and convent about miracles attributed to her, the ongoing presence of out-of-season flowers on the altar, her raptures and ecstasies, made him want to be more involved in her vocation.
There was a slight problem, however. He was the provincial of the Dominicans as well as the Head Inquisitor. This created a twofold difficulty: his time was extremely limited, and more importantly, being the Inquisitor he was constantly investigating people like Rose who claimed apparitions, mysticism, and special relations with the Supernatural. When Rose announced that he had agreed to be her Spiritual Director her mother saw the potential dilemma immediately. She panicked. She moaned out loud, “Oh my God! What will become of us! You have taken the Inquisitor as your Director! You are going to open your soul to him! Daughter, you are mad!” The problems she predicted were not long in coming.
It was really a comedy of errors. It began because everyone was concerned about Rose’s health. She had fasted and abstained from nourishing food for so long, and had practiced physical penances and mortifications for so long, that signs of physical as well as emotional breakdown were surfacing. A new benefactor, Don Gonzalo de la Maza, who loved her very much, had granted a long time wish of Rose’s to build a hermitage outside her house. She didn’t live in it very long before she became seriously ill. Her mother blamed the dampness of the hermitage, which, coupled with her Asthma and Arthritis, had forced Rose to bed. When at last she was able to beat her illness, she was left very weak.
Her Spiritual Director, Fr. Lorenzana, became very forceful in his orders that she not overdo her penances while she was still in a weakened state. Whereas previously he had allowed her to whip herself one hundred strokes each time she disciplined herself, which could have been two or three times a day, now he ordered her not to whip herself more than a hundred times in an entire week. Rose, being always obedient, gave her word. However, when she did her discipline the next time, while she only gave herself the proportion of a hundred strokes, she hit herself with all her strength each time.
A good friend, Isabel de Mejía, who also loved Rose very much, saw her in her hermitage beating herself. She knew that Rose would not last long if she kept up this abuse of her body. Isabel went to Fr. Lorenzana and begged him to make Rose curtail her disciplines. Fr. Lorenzana assured her he had already taken care of this. Isabel went back to the hermitage to find Rose whipping herself to the cadence of the psalms. Now her love turned to hate. She believed that Rose had disobeyed her Spiritual Director, in which case she was not a Saint but a pretender. Furious, she returned to Fr. Lorenzana to make a formal complaint against Rose.
Fr. Lorenzana had just finished listening to a complaint against Rose accusing her of witchcraft. In addition, the priest was experiencing a great deal of difficulties administering to his Community, which had problems, and taking care of his job as Grand Inquisitor, which was a full time job in itself. When Isabel came in with this new charge against Rose that she had disobeyed Fr. Lorenzana, he just blew. It did not occur to him at that time to address the real reason for his anger, his difficulty in handling his too many jobs. He never bothered to get the particulars on the complaint, or to give Rose the courtesy of questioning her about this. When next he saw her, he told Rose he would no longer be her Spiritual Director, and accused her of being a hoax. She had no idea what was going on, and protested her innocence, but the priest would have none of it.
In addition, his outlook on Rose took on the same complexion as Isabel’s. If she had disobeyed him in this one thing, and then lied about it, what about all the other claims about her, the miracles, the bilocation, the super-piety. Add to that the charge he had received of her practicing witchcraft. Were all her supposed gifts from the evil one? He didn’t act immediately, but held all these things in his heart. He would wait and see.
Now, at the beginning of this story, we told you how Rose’s vow of Virginity, taken when she was about five years old, would come back to haunt her, when her mother wanted her to marry. Well, the time had come. A very handsome suitor came calling on Rose at the house. Remember, though she was a Tertiary, she had not taken the vow of chastity, because she had already done so secretly at age five. Her mother thought Rose was available to marry because she had not taken the vow of chastity when she entered the Dominican order. So each time this young man came calling, Oliva became more and more optimistic that this might be the one. Rose developed a very good, spiritual relationship with the young man, and so she told him that she had given herself over to Jesus at age five and would never marry. The young man loved her so much, he was willing to live in this celibate relationship with her.
The problem arose when Rose’s mother and father were becoming impatient that the young suitor had not asked for their permission to marry Rose. Finally, Gaspar asked the young man what his intentions were. The reply was that he would marry her in a minute if she hadn’t taken this vow of virginity. Gaspar tried to correct him. Rose had not taken the vow of Chastity when she entered the Dominicans. Then the young man told him about the vow she had taken when she was five. Gaspar maintained his calm, but when the young man left, he became ballistic. He blew like an atom bomb.
He ran into the room where Rose was working on embroidery with her mother and sister. He began yelling at her, accusing her of being disobedient to her parents all these years. As soon as Oliva caught wind of what was taking place, she became furious. She was followed by Rose’s sister Juana who was followed by the brothers. Before the end of the day, everyone in the family had vent their anger against Rose.
But the real problem came about the following morning, when Rose prepared to go to morning Mass. Her mother gave a strict edict that from this time forward, they would only go to Sunday Mass and Communion; Daily Mass would be eliminated. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament chapel were out also. Rose was obedient to her mother. It didn’t create a real difficulty for Rose. She bilocated to the different churches in Lima for Mass and devotions. The difficulty arose because no one could see her in these churches.
Her superiors in the Dominican Community across the street knew nothing about Oliva’s ban on morning Mass. They only knew that Rose was not attending Mass or services at the church or chapel any more. This, coupled with what was perceived as very strange behavior on the part of Rose and the accusation of her practicing witchcraft, was justification enough for the Grand Inquisitor, her former Spiritual Director, Fr. Lorenzana, to call for an investigation of Rose. Three priests and one doctor showed up at Rose’s doorstep one day, and the heat was on.
However, God is in charge. He is always in charge. Perhaps it was necessary for this to happen so that the Lord could let these people know how they were pulling this child apart, who had no desire other than to love Him, and serve Him. During the course of the questioning, it became obvious to Fr. Lorenzana and Oliva and the wife of Don Gonzalo de Maza who was allowed to stay, just how Rose had been unwittingly and unintentionally manipulated and victimized by those who loved her. Fr. Lorenzana repented of his judgments on her. He had always loved her. He just felt that she had disobeyed him and that was as much as saying she didn’t trust him.
Rose was vindicated by her beautiful testimony. She never accused anyone of misjudging or mistreating her, although everyone knew the part they had played in this terrible indictment against her character and her spirituality. Actually, because she refused to put the blame on anyone, she was exonerated completely and brought back into the good graces of church and family.
1The Act of Supremacy basically stated that the throne of England was head of the Church in England or its possessions, under penalty of treason. At first, it wasn’t enforced very strongly. But it became a tool to persecute the enemies of the throne.
2Drawn and Quartered was a cruel and brutal way of slaughtering people. The prisoner was tied to four horses, one extremity to each horse, i.e., the two legs to two horses, and the two arms tied to two other horses. At a given command, the four horses were hit with a stick, and forced to gallop at high speed in four different directions. The body was ripped to pieces.
3Huguenots - French followers of Calvin
4Read about Padre Pio in Bob and Penny Lord’s book, Saints and Other Powerful Men in the Church
52 Corinthians 12:9
6St. Martin had the gift of Bilocation35