Friday, August 23, 2013

The Sufferings of St. Rose

It's strange to admit it, but one of the biggest stumbling blocks in my entire conversion process to the Catholic Church was encountered when I read the life of today's saint, St. Rose of Lima.  Reading about her life and her horrific penances was so shocking to me that I nearly turned around entirely.

Without any kind of understanding on the subject, and having just begun to dive headfirst into the lives of the saints, I found the mortifications and self-inflicted sufferings of St. Rose of Lima to be startling to say the least.  She was one who took heaven by violence (cf. Matt 11:12 ), sparing no expense in chastising her body for the sake of heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27) - all of this was done in imitation of Christ crucified, and for love of Him. 

Her penances and austerities are not unheard of in the lives of the saints, both East and West.  Many undertook self-imposed mortifications for the sake of Christ, desiring to imitate and suffer with Him, and offering up their own sufferings as oblations to God.  From St. Paul the Apostle himself right on up to our own time, many practiced mortification of some kind.

Mortification, of course, does not mean doing what St. Rose of Lima did - one would have to be her, I think, to understand why she did it.  But her ardent love of the Crucified can give us a clue.

In the West especially, we can see a great devotion to the suffering Christ which has been manifested throughout history in the lives of the saints who sought to not only imitate Him but to suffer alongside Him as He Himself suffered.

"Christian mortification, far from debasing our personality, exalts it to such a point that it renders us independent of the world, its maxims, its theories, its fashions, its foolishness, and its snares. It exalts our soul above everything created, permitting us to depend only on ourselves and on God. In the measure that it makes our dependence on God closer, it develops our personality, rendering it more like the divine personality of Christ."1 (Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange)

Here we see that it is precisely the end that matters - God Himself - and the reason that matters - love of God.  Many times, the saints spoke against those who mortified the body out of false motives and ends.  Better to deny oneself something little for love of Christ, than to engage in great penances with little love at all.  St. Rose captures these two truths perfectly - "Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Your love in my heart."2

Obviously, corporal penances are not for everyone; as St. John of the Cross warned, "corporal penance without obedience is no more than the penance of beasts."3  Not everyone is called to live the life of St. Rose, and I dare say, few of us probably could.  But I was mistaken in nearly turning tail and running from the Church when I read her life.  Instead of becoming frightened or shocked (though it might be natural to become that way when one reads about her penances), I should have done a little more research on what was behind her austerities. Here, there is no dualism, no Gnostic hatred of the body, but a hatred of the "flesh" - our sinful nature.  The mortifications undertaken by St. Rose were not done for hatred of body, but for love of Christ.

So we read - "Denial of this world - do not presume that this is anything other than the Cross and death.  Come to know what is the power of this crucifixion, since through it you will not live to anyone else, but He Who was crucified for you will live in you."4  (Skete Patericon)

I think this is what happened in the case of so many saints, especially St. Rose.  As she herself said, "Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven."5  Hence, she embarked on her climb up on to the cross to be nailed to it with her Beloved.

I find the following words helpful: "Asceticism is not self-enslavement, but the way to freedom."6  This is because asceticism, whether understood in its Eastern or Western contexts, is undertaken for love of Christ, in Whom is true freedom.  We are made dead to the world and alive to Christ.

St. Rose, pray for us, that we may endure all suffering for the sake of Christ. +

1 - From here.
2 - From here.
3 - Dark Night of the Soul, I:6:2
4 - qtd. in Little Russian Philokalia Vol. V: St. Theodore of Sanaxar, pg. 92
5 - From here.
6 - The Orthodox Way, ch. 3


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Being a former atheist, I would argue that belief in God PER SE is indicative of a mental problem. From that point of view, it is ALL foolishness. But, as the Bible itself says:

      1Cor1:18- 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

      “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
      and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

      20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

      We cannot even love God, or understand these things, WITHOUT the grace of God to enable our understanding and love.

      In my new-found faith, I have returned time and again to the question, "Why so much suffering?" And just recently, had a question about "why a crown of thorns" and then I was lead to this set of pages, which are mainly excerpts from "The Crown of Thorns by a Passionist Father" and also some bits from "The School of Christ Crucified":

      These have been instructive to me, and they may be helpful to others in coming to understand why mortification & penance for our sins are not just necessary, but beneficial. I have so many books to read, but I keep being lead to bits and pieces when they are most urgently needed.

      Today I had a real fit of blasphemy and anger about my own personal dilemmas and the apparent lack of help God is giving me. I still have a long long way to go, but please pray for me to obtain the patience and grace I need. This world is crushing me. Can any self-inflicted mortification even come close to the daily UNCHOSEN psychic torment we experience?

      If, by any self-inflicted mortification and penance given to God, I could obtain true peace in my heart, truly obtain love for ALL souls created by Him, and truly come to see and FEEL His love poured out for us on the Cross, then I would be truly blessed. No price is too great to obtain these things, although I do not yet possess the strength and courage to subject myself to these things.

      O Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray to thy Divine Son for me, a poor sinner; beg Him to make me humble. Oh, how humble art thou, the purest of Virgins; thou, my powerful mediatrix; thou, O most holy among the children of Adam, who art the exalted Mother of God! Thou didst declare thyself the handmaid of Him Whose Mother thou art. Behold, my dear heavenly Mother, how gladly I would dedicate myself to thy Divine Son, that His Will may also be mine. But my pride, my self-esteem, my vanity, are always against me. I struggle against them, and yet I allow them to surprise and deceive me so often. Oh, how this afflicts me! Mary, Refuge of Sinners, if I were only sincere when I beg of thee to obtain humiliation for me. But alas, whilst praying for such helps to humility, I fear the granting of my prayer. I clearly see better things; I even desire their possession and yet I shrink from what alone can give me true humility. Behold my trials, my combats in this valley of tears! O my dearest Mother, if to be freed from this body would give glory to God, how gladly would I not lay down my life.

      (Although, I suspect laying down my life would be the easy way out and God's not letting me off the hook that easy! :)

  2. Excellent post and links you included.


  3. I felt the same way when I read the life of St Margaret Mary of Alacoque. Her fasts, penances, and self-abasement seemed so extreme to me that I felt almost horrified and repulsed. I briefly questioned my faith, as I too, was new to the Church. Prayer and reflection led me to understand that we are all called to walk the path in different ways, and it was her love for Christ that I should look at as a model, rather than her method.

  4. Ric.....psychological problems do exempt in Church teaching on being raised to the Altar as a Saint...please don't fall to the temptation to judge God's work or His Saints...all will sing a different song when the Lord explains it to each when were before Him....God be praised in His Saints the Word of the Lord teaches and shares.........

  5. Just because you have been to her house doesn't give you the right or authority to call St Rose nuts, with your comments you are offending all Peruvians, but I forgive you in the name of Jesus and will pray for your soul and may God have mercy on people that think they are not nuts.

  6. Thanks for the rant Ric. Did you miss the part in the article that talked about her having her own reasons for doing what she did?

    I suppose you would call going way and starving yourself for 40 days, getting scourged and not fighting back, having nails hammered into your hands and silently suffering a crucifixion a reason to call 911, all which could have been sensibly avoided. I guess you may think Jesus get checked into a psych ward.

    Oh and of course his appointed presence on earth Peter who asked to be crucified upside down- what a loon.

    And there are many more examples of this 'lunacy'' if you know how to google.

    Give thanks to God for her example of love, regardless of whether you understand it in worldly eyes, and ask God for an ounce of St Rose strength to endure your own sufferings, which I'm sure if you are human like me are probably also self-inflicted.

  7. Only God knows the truth!

  8. Ric, She was not nuts, and to say so is to not understand the call to perfection. I suggest you read the Doctors of the Church on these points.

    As to her call to such penances, many are called to such but few people respond. That some of us have difficult lives, such as poverty, cancer, broken marriages, death of children and so on, is an indication not only of God allowing these sufferings to happen for our own purification of soul, mind, heart, body, but for our own sins. One can choose purgatory now. Only the perfect see God, and we are not privy to St. Rose's interior struggles.

    Vanity and vainglory are two of the most common sins, and denying one's self the reason for such, natural beauty, could be reason for such extreme penances. In fact, Our Lord Jesus Christ said that if our right hand caused us to sin, we should cut it off. Matthew 5:27-32

    There are easier ways, of course, and I have over 500 posts on perfection, based on the Doctors of the Church, including, of course, John of the Cross, and Garrigou-Lagrange, which may help one understand St. Rose.

    You may enjoy this as well.

    Great post.

  9. Ric you made such a negative comment... What do you know about miracles and mortifications? Why do you reject the idea that her self-imposed suffering, when done FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST and with complete humility and obedience to her superiors and spiritual directors, could not be a (huge) channel of grace for her and for others, for us all? Here is a simple solution: why don't you pray specifically to her, asking her to help you understand it? Let's say, turn to her every day for a week (with as much respect, reverence and sincerity as you can), asking her to help you grow in faith?

  10. Ric: I'm guessing that you are not a beautiful young woman. Therefore, until you walk in her shoes you can not say what she did was because she was 'nuts.' She was so devoted to Christ that she was willing to do anything to 'keep the wolves at bay.' Who really cares what they look like when they are wanting to imitate God?

    Great post! St. Rose is my patron saint:)

  11. 'It is blasphemy against the Saints, to mock them, to attribute to them defects or failings, to find fault with the honours rendered to them by the Church, &c.'

    St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, 'Duty of a Christian Towards God'

    'Let us read the lives of the saints; let us consider the penances which they performed, and blush to be so effeminate and so fearful of mortifying our flesh.'

    St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

  12. I've heard people say all manner of things when they read about the saints lives...leading me to conclude that they haven't read enough of them. When I first became Catholic I understood why the saints sought detachment and performed penances and mortifications...but I was discouraged from doing anything like they did because it seemed everyone these days says those are just things they did because they lived in the dark ages or some such nonsense. I know better now but as a new Catholic, it was pretty crushing.

  13. I will admit that people like Rose of Lima, Margaret Mary Alacoque and most Victim Souls tend to make me uneasy when they don't downright repulse me. But they are who they are and God may be calling them to sanctity by that particular life. Still, I'll admit I much prefer cheerful saints like Phillip Neri, Thomas More and Teresa of Avila. I also admire Therese of Lisieux who did not seek out extra penances but simply followed the rule and aspired toward Love.

  14. What are you basing this stuff on Ellen? I'm in the middle of reading St. Teresa of Avila's autobiography right now for the second time and I can tell you she was not 'cheerful' (she is CONSTANTLY talking about how wicked she is, how weak she is, and that God was leading her down a path of fear) and all she does is praise the great saints who could perform penances and mortifications that she didn't because as she herself said, she was too weak(plus she had a lot of illnesses) and could barely follow her own rule as a nun for most of her life. She did perform them though, not to the extent that some great saints did, but I'm sure it would repulse you if you actually read about them.
    Again, I conclude that no one ever actually reads the lives of the saints (or at least not enough of them or often enough) like people did in the past and that's why they can spout nonsense like this.
    St. Therese of Lisieux did in fact seek out extra penances, in addition to her life of penance as a nun, it was just that they were small ones.

  15. From

    As she grew older, she became more and more beautiful, and one day, her mother put a wreath of flowers on her head to show off her loveliness to friends. But Rose had no desire to be admired, for her heart had been given to Jesus. So she put a long pin into that wreath and it pierced her so deeply, that she had a hard time getting the wreath off afterward. Another time she became afraid that her beauty might be a temptation to someone, since people could not take their eyes off her. Therefore, she rubbed her face with pepper until it was all red and blistered.

    Perhaps St Rose of Lima should be the patron saint of beauty pageants, to show vain women that true beauty cannot be marred by external actions, and that external beauty should be willfully subordinated to God.