Friday, August 23, 2013
The Sufferings of St. Rose
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