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Saint Rose of Lima and the Pursuit of Weightier Things


"Remember that at the hour of death we shall reap what we have sown in life. If we have done good works, we will be happy. Death will be a blessing because it will usher us into Paradise. Otherwise, woe to us! Remorse of conscience and the open jaws of hell will await us.” ~ Saint John Bosco

In yesterday’s Gospel (Matthew 23:13-22), Jesus began to proclaim “woes” upon the scribes and the Pharisees for being hypocrites in their leadership of the people. In the closing verse for instance, he berates them for how they determine the value of oaths: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated…And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.'”

Jesus is essentially explaining to them that what they value is not what is important. As Christians, we cannot let worldly values influence how we live our faith. Instead we are compelled to allow our faith to influence and ultimately dictate how things are done in the world. To allow God to “powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith” as Paul explains to the people of Thessalonia in the 1st Reading (2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12).

The woes continue in today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:23-26), as Jesus once again excoriates the Pharisees for neglecting what he calls the “weightier things” of the law, virtues such as judgment, mercy and fidelity, using a memorable analogy in the process “You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self indulgence,” he tells them.

The vocation of every Christian is to be holy. Granted, holiness does not come easily or swiftly. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the Christian life is the diligent and earnest pursuit of holiness. For most of us it does indeed take a lifetime. Holy people hold themselves to a very high standard while at the same time exhibiting mercy, patience and unending charity towards others. To achieve this state of being requires a deep conversion. Christian life is difficult and Jesus never promised that it wouldn’t be; only that it would be worth it. It doesn’t always culminate in “happiness,” but it does lead to joy, and joy is not fleeting.

Our church today celebrates the first Saint of the Americas, Saint Rose of Lima (1586-1617). An uncomplicated and beautiful soul, she was first given the name Isabella at her baptism. One day however an image of a mystical rose appeared over her crib, inspiring her mother to change her name to Rose. In later years, Rose became fearful that changing her name was an act of hubris. She took her concern to our Blessed Mother in prayer. It was in a vision shortly thereafter that she was told by our Lady that she was indeed destined to bear the name Rose. In fact for a short time she was known as Rose of Saint Mary.

Born into a complex, violent, and war-torn world in the year 1586, Lima Perú was a particularly turbulent place at the time. Stunningly attractive, young Rose had many suitors. In an effort to make herself more unattractive, she would cut off her hair and rub coarse pepper on her face, causing it to blister. Unlike the Pharisees in today’s Gospel, she was far more interested in “cleansing the inside of the cup” than ruminating over appearances. In this day and age of frivolous plastic surgery, Botox, and endless Facebook photo filters, terribly vapid times when virtually nothing is real, here was a young woman who actually downplayed her physical beauty. To Rose of Lima, it was an obstacle in her pursuit of the better part

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Saint Catherine of Siena would quickly become her role model, and the similarities of their lives were striking, particularly in matters pertaining to their resistance to marriage and love of the Eucharist. Much like Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima would go on to join the Third Order of Saint Dominic. Her mortifications increased to include fasting, coarse clothing, isolation, and prolonged prayer. She was said to have voluntarily worn a makeshift crown of thorns and suffered an invisible stigmata.

Rose offered up these sufferings for the sake of lost souls, her country, and the conversion of sinners. She served the poor with tireless love, funding her efforts through her artistic needlework and tatting. In remembrance of this, she is the Co-Patroness of embroiderers along with Saint Clare of Assisi. Her life would be something of an unusual existence, proactively seeking out mortifications and living largely as a hermit, although she would emerge from her meager living quarters to tend to the aforementioned needs of the impoverished of Lima. She would die young, in the year 1617, at the age of 31 and was canonized in 1671 by Clement X.

As we reflect upon the stark contrast of the lives of Saint Rose of Lima versus the Pharisees, it‘a clear that there are two very distinct and disparate paths one can take in this life. There is the path of the Pharisees, that of joylessness, hypocrisy and scrupulosity, or the path of Saint Rose of Lima, a path forged in humility, modesty and charity. A path forged in the pursuit of weightier things.

Saint Rose of Lima, pray for us…

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