Saint Rose of Lima and Our Unity in Christ
The birth of the Church at Pentecost is a snapshot of the world’s first universally welcoming family (Acts 2:9-11). From that first moment, the Church has been multicultural and inclusive, that is to say, catholic, a word that comes from the Greek, katholikos, which means “universal.” Incorporated within the Body of Christ is every ethnic group, every race, every nation, every class and every people upon the earth. Jesus excludes no one; his Church embraces everyone. Unity in the Holy Spirit transcends every other distinction that would separate us in our great human diversity.
The election of Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina as pope, Pope Francis, illustrates this universality of the Church and it also prompts us to turn our gaze upon those great saints of the New World, the first of which was Saint Rose of Lima, whose feast we celebrate today. She was herself of mixed ethnic heritage, both Spanish and Incan, and during her short life, she worked for the unity of people in the Lord, both seeking to bring the love of Christ to the Peruvian natives and calling the Spanish settlers to Christian charity and virtue.
Given the name Isabel at birth in 1586, she was called Rose growing up because of her beauty and she took this name at her Confirmation. She was remarkable for her great reverence, spending many hours before the Blessed Sacrament and receiving Holy Communion daily. Early on, Rose took a vow of virginity and she resisted her parents’ attempts to have her marry, becoming a Dominican Tertiary instead at the age of 20.
Rose also sought to emulate Saint Catherine of Siena, including the adoption of various ascetic practices, seeking to detach herself from worldly concerns and more closely participate in the cross and sufferings of Christ. During this time, she had supernatural visions, leaving her soul with peace and joy. For her piety, Rose incurred the opposition and ridicule of many, but she bore these adversities with heroic patience, often saying, “If human beings knew what it is to live in grace, no suffering would frighten them and they would gladly suffer any hardship, for grace is the fruit of patience.”
Meanwhile, her days were filled with acts of charity – consoling and helping the sick and hungry, slaves, and indigenous people – as well as acts of industry – growing flowers and doing embroidery and other needlework that she sold to help the poor in addition to her family. Rose also spoke out against the vice and corruption of some of the Spanish landlords who sought to enrich themselves with the gold and silver found in the hills of Peru, fearlessly protesting their oppressive and exploitive practices against the native people.
The work, prayerful devotion, and sacrifices of Rose made a deep impression on the people of Lima. When she died at the young age of 31 years in 1617, the common people poured into the streets in mourning and they were soon praying for her intercession. Many miracles followed and she was canonized in 1671, only 54 years after her death.
Saint Rose of Lima and the communion of saints from every corner of the world remind us of the universality of the Church, one people in Christ. In keeping with their example, we treasure and work toward unity among all of God’s children. Let us strive to be unifiers who bring the straying and wavering back to the joy and confidence that come with the light of the faith.