Stories of the Saints for Children – Saint Rose of Lima

stained glass window of Saint Rose of Lima; date and artist unknown; Saint Joseph's Cathedral, Macon, Georgia, USA; photographed by the author summer 2003The Saint of Lima, whose life is a history of such great and constant penance, was born in April, 1586, and baptized in the name of Isabel, but three months later, as She was sleeping in her cradle, her mother and some friends who were in the room saw upon the baby’s cheek the impression of a beautiful rose, so that ever afterwards she was called after the flower.

When Rose was old enough to know that it was not her baptismal name, she felt some disinclination to be called so, fearing that it might have been given her with a view to make her attractive, and being disturbed with this thought, she told it to our Blessed Lady one day as she knelt in the chapel of the rosary belonging to the Dominican Friars. But the Blessed Virgin consoled her, and bade her have no more anxiety, telling her that the name of Kose was pleasing to Christ, and that as a proof of her own love, she should add to it the name of Mary. As a baby, Saint Rose was unusually quiet and sweet-tempered, bearing pain in a manner which was marvellous. At only three months old her little thumb got severely pinched through a chest being shut upon it by accident, but the infant never shed a tear or uttered a cry, even though the nail came off, and the pain must have been very great. When she was old enough to walk and speak a few words, Rose seemed to have received great grace from God, for already her heart was filled with love to Him, and an extreme dread of every kind of sin.

Once she was playing with her little brother, when he threw a quantity of mud over her hair, which vexed her so much, that she was just going to leave him, but he told her, in words quite beyond his years, that the curled ringlets worn by girls pleased the eyes of those who ought to take pleasure only in God, and Rose was so struck by what he said, that she had from that time a perfect horror of anything which could lead to vanity in herself, or admiration in others. Then she began to think of God continually; even her sleep brought dreams of Him, and having heard how Saint Catherine of Siena had as a child promised never to give her love to any but Jesus Christ, Rose at five years old copied this great example, and told our Lord she would be all His. As soon as she had made this vow, she cut off her hair, so that she might look less pleasing to others, because she only wanted to please God. Nothing can give greater joy to Jesus than to have a little innocent heart offered up (entirely to Him, and He always shows His pleasure with the gift by pouring out more graces and blessings upon such a child, than upon those who only spare Him a few thoughts, and a little love; so in return for the generous devotion of little Saint Eose, she received grace to keep the white robe of her baptism unstained by any sin. Her obedience was perfect, because she did it from the intention of pleasing God, and in imitation of the obedience of Jesus to Mary and Joseph in His life at Nazareth; and although her mother often wished her to do things which Rose felt would be contrary to the simplicity she had promised God to observe in her dress and behaviour, she begged so sweetly and humbly to be excused from what was asked her, that she managed to win her own way, and thus fulfil the duty she owed to her parents, without displeasing her Father in heaven.

One time when her mother had ordered her to wear a wreath of flowers, Rose found that she could not get excused, so she obediently wore the garland, but to prevent a vain thought creeping in, she fixed it upon her head with a large needle, which she plunged in so deeply that afterwards a surgeon had to take it out. Another time Rose had put pieces of wood into her pillow, so as to make herself suffer a want of rest and comfort, like her Lord, but as she was told to remove them, she obeyed without a murmur; only – to be faithful to what God always asked of her – she put into the spaces such a great deal of tightly-pressed wool, that her pillow was almost as hard as a log would be. After noticing the pain and uneasiness it gave Rose to be well-dressed, and taken into company, her parents at length ceased to force her, for they were obliged to confess that such a great spirit of penance could not come from the natural heart of a child, but must be sent from God for some particular good to her soul.

In everything which did not interfere with what her conscience directed, Rose obeyed promptly and gladly. She would not even drink anything without asking leave, not only of her mother, but also putting herself under the control of their servant, who was sometimes very ill-tempered. Besides obeying her parents, Rose was industrious in working for them with her needle, and in cultivating a little garden, from which she sold flowers as a means of gaining money to help them.

As the young Saint grew older, she was increasing in beauty, and was so intelligent and amiable, that many persons were attracted by her virtues, and wished to marry her. Instead of taking delight in her looks, Rose grieved that there was anything about her to win the love of creatures, and she tried hard to put an end to it by disfiguring herself. She washed her hands in hot lime, to take off the skin; she endeavoured to spoil her delicate complexion, and she scarcely ever went out of the house, so as to prevent people seeing her and thinking about her.

At last a very distinguished lady came to the parents of the Saint to beg that she might become the wife of her only son, and upon Rose persisting in refusing to marry, her father and mother became very angry, even striking her, and finding other means of ill-treating her, in the hope of overcoming at last. But Rose bore it all without ever swerving from her promise to God, and as a help in these difficulties, she resolved to join a religious Order, so that all the inhabitants of Lima might know her resolve. Accordingly she received the habit of Saint Dominic when she was twenty years old, choosing it first because she could still remain in her home to assist her parents, and then because God made known to her that it was His Will she should not belong to any other Order.

Now the great labour of Saint Rose seems to have been to find out every possible means of humbling herself, for not only did she choose the lowest and meanest occupations, but she, would cast herself at the feet of the rough, ignorant servant of the. house, begging her to strike her, and treat her with contempt. When any one found fault with her, the Saint felt that she merited blame, and any misfortune which happened she received as a punishment for her sins. If she heard a word in her own praise, she would shed tears in private, and punish herself because she thought she had given a false opinion of her character to others. Yet her life was so innocent and pure, that her confessors could scarcely find any fault worthy of absolution, and it is declared that she never committed any sin which could have destroyed the grace of God in her soul.

Those who aim at pleasing our Lord in all things, are still so unhappy as to fall into many imperfections and failings through their own weak nature, and perhaps their greatest difficulty is to keep a strict guard over their words, so that they may not speak of the mistakes of others, or do anything which could be against perfect charity. We can judge what a watch Saint Rose must have kept over her heart and lips when we hear that she was never known even to speak one word louder than another, never to utter even a suspicion of any person’s actions not being right, and it was commonly said of her that she was not truly a ” rose,” for she had no thorns.

It would take too long to mention all the sufferings Rose heaped upon herself, the heavy loads she would carry at night and bare-footed, in memory of the still more painful carriage of the cross up Calvary, the scourgings, the fasting, the piercing crown of silver which she made for herself, with sharp points pressing always into her head, under the veil she wore. All these and many more were the penances she offered to God for her own sins, the sins of her country, and in satisfaction for the souls in purgatory, remembering in them all that the terrible pain she felt was nothing compared to that which Christ had borne upon the cross for her.

As a child, Rose had loved to be alone to pray and think of God, and as this desire increased with her age, she built herself a little hut in her father’s garden, made of woven palm leaves and the branches of trees, and here she was constantly to be found. Afterwards she had a hermitage built, in which she dwelt entirely, occupied in work whenever she was not absorbed in prayer. This strange way of life became known, and to the Saint’s great grief, many persons came to see her, for they wished to hear her talk of God. Rose received at this time the miraculous power of assisting in spirit at all the Masses which were said, and the sermons that were preached in the churches of Lima, so that she could give an account of them, even though she had not moved from her hermitage.

Jesus appeared to His servant many times during her life of prayer, sometimes in the form of a child, sometimes in His manhood, and when from ill-health Saint Rose had to take draughts to give her sleep, which made her heavy and drowsy in the morning, the Blessed Virgin came daily to arouse her, bidding her rise and prepare for prayer.

Rose, like all who love God very much, had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and used great care in her preparation for receiving Holy Communion. Every time she enjoyed this happiness, she was so filled with love, that the brightness of her face was observed by the priest who communicated her, and many persons have declared that rays bright as the sun seemed to come from her body when she was making her thanksgiving.

Sometimes from fasting and severe penance the Saint became so weak, that she could scarcely go up to the altar, yet after the Body and Blood of her Lord had been given to her, she was perfectly revived and full of strength, so that she returned home without any difficulty, and shut herself up in her retreat without taking any food until evening. Like her especial patron, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Rose was sometimes known to pass eight whole days without any other support than what she received- in the Holy Eucharist. In the year 1615 a powerful fleet from Holland came to the coast of Peru, and it was thought that a number of soldiers landed. The women and children of Lima were in tears; the men hurried to make defences; but Rose had no thought save for the Blessed Sacrament, which she dreaded to see in the power of these heretics. With flashing eyes she begged her companions to die for the defence of their Lord. Mounting upon the altar steps of the church, she was prepared to give up her blood for Jesus in the Sacrament of His love, when news was brought that the ships had raised their anchors and sailed away. Every one rejoiced except Rose, and she was sad and silent, for she would have loved to die for Christ, and she regretted that such an opportunity had been taken from her.

The Saint had great trust in God, and always begged His help in every difficulty. It happened once that there was not a bit of bread in the house, or money to buy it, but with confidence in Him,Rose went to open the empty chest, and she found it full of loaves. Another time when her father was ill, Rose went to the church to beg God to assist her, for he owed some money which he had not the power of paying. On her return, a stranger came to her home, and gave her father a little purse containing the exact sum he needed. Thus, and in many other ways, Almighty God rewarded the Saint for her trust in Him.

When Rose had reached her thirty-first year, she learned by a revelation from heaven that she would die upon the Feast of Saint Bartholomew- She heard, too, that she must endure extreme suffering, each part of her body being in violent pain, and yet she never trembled or shrank from the thought; she rejoiced that she might have a share in the cross and suffering of Christ.

On the 1st of August she was in health, but at midnight she was heard crying and groaning piteously, and from then to the 24th ofAugust, when she died, she endured terrible agony; but her mind was calm and peaceful, and she begged that her pains might even be increased in punishment of the sins of which she believed herself guilty. She confessed daily during that illness, and when the Blessed Sacrament was brought to her, her face became bright with joy, and she remained quite motionless and rapt in God. When she felt her last moment approaching, the Saint begged her brother to move the bolster from beneath her head, and to put pieces of wood instead of it, which he did, and after thanking him, she said twice, “Jesus be with me! Jesus be with me!” and then her innocent soul went home to God.

– from Stories of the Saints for Children, by Mary F Seymour