Photo: Just a dream, just an ordinary dream by Wade Brooks / CC BY-NC 2.0

2Cor 5:14-17    John 15: 4-11

A Dominican Sister who has lived in and appreciates many countries and cultures shares her reflection about Saint Rose of Lima, her patron. We celebrate the feast of Saint Rose on August 23rd.

The love of Christ impels us…Paul told the Corinthians with conviction in the first reading. The love of Christ impelled our Saint Rose of Lima throughout her life and in unsuspecting ways. She is usually portrayed as the beautiful, pious daughter, mystically espoused with Jesus, enduring rather extreme mortifications, and friend of the poor and Saint Martin de Porres. Yet an important development in her life has not been disseminated. Have you ever thought of our sister Rose as Prophet?

When I was missioned in Peru, I began to make some discoveries and loved to visit her Sanctuary in the heart of Lima and nearby St. Dominic’s Church where she attended Mass. I was intrigued to observe the stream of the poor — humble servants and manual laborers –come respectfully from the busy city avenue into the garden of her home (the same garden with the now glass-encased hermitage!) They would approach the stone well and quietly write down their petitions, then drop them into the well. They conveyed confidence that their own “Santa Rosita” would obtain her “miracles” for their needs. I began to ask myself: What really drew them? There had to be something more! Then I discovered lesser-known ways in which Rose was indeed prophetic. To understand, we have to consider the historical context in which she lived.

Isabel Flores de Oliva (later called Rosa) was born in Lima, Peru in 1586 to a well-to-do father from Spain, and a mother of mixed-blood, a native of Lima. We need to remember this was only a few decades after the Spanish conquest – and their initial evangelization efforts. It was a time of extremes in Peru. Lima was the center of political and economic power. Of course, this was because endless mineral resources in gold and silver were extracted for Spain. The natives were severely oppressed, and there were constant threats of indigenous uprisings, and threats from pirates who raided the coast.

At the same time Lima became a baroque city of arts, theology, & mystical reflection. Pious women were led to combine prayer and mysticism with service to the sick. This was the context of Rose’s early life and spirituality. In a vision, she became mystically espoused with Jesus and most of what we know about Saint Rose is focused on Rose as mystic. Yet there is more and I would like to share two lesser-known stories of situations that prompted her to assume prophetic roles:

Story 1 – As a young teenager Rose’s world changed when her family went to live in the world of the miners in the town of Quives, where her father was sent to be in charge of a mining operation. Her eyes became opened. She saw how the Indian workers were uncontestable slaves. Multitudes died in enforced labor in the mines or in hard work such as road-building and carrying huge stones. Once I saw a painting in a Dominican monastery on this very theme – and it made a profound impression on me. It was about a “vision” in which Jesus is depicted as a Master-Stonemason. The painting was of the inside of a house in which Christ is speaking to Rose. The door is open, and Jesus gestures for her to “look outside” to the street, to SEE outside. There young women were working on the roads. They were dressed in finery as if for a wedding or a feast. But they were digging, sawing, smoothing and fitting stones together on the road. The Master Stonecutter was pointing the way to Rose and trying to conduct her to the quarry He was directing as Master Stonemason. We can interpret from this how Jesus was inviting her and other women to participate, to overcome difficult conditions and to cut foundational stones for a new Way to live – under His direction – and for a renewed Church in the Americas. For Rose and for women this would also mean assuming an outward focus to obtain a new place in society. She changed her life direction as a result of this vision!

Story 2 – Rose was also prophetic within the Dominican Order. She is known to have identified with the theology of the Dominican Friars in Latin America, not only for their contemplative spirituality, but also for their commitment to truth, as demonstrated in their defense of the indigenous people (Las Casas, Pedro de Cordoba, Montesino, the 1st Dominican community in the Americas). This was at a time when the Order in Europe was not being faithful to their charism and spirituality. Rose challenged the Order.

One of her Peruvian biographers tells us that Rose was not attracted to enter an existing monastery. The fundamental reason was because women of mixed blood were not admitted. This anti-gospel sign disturbed her. As a result, she set out to found a monastery under the patronage of Catherine of Siena for women of all races where Indians, Spaniards, mixed races, blacks and descendants of Moors might encounter each other as sisters. Imagine! The effort did not succeed however, and Rose chose to live her life as a lay Dominican tertiary. However, she pursued something new for religious life in the Peru of her time.

Our Dominican Sr. Gabriela Zengarini of Argentina writes: “I believe that Bartolome (de las Casas) and Rose did theology because they were capable of living a mystical espousal with Jesus Christ present in the peoples of America. They elaborated ‘a word about God’ because they were capable of contemplation, prophecy and dreaming … In the midst of a patriarchal system…Rose has the mystical daring to see a Church where it is women who prepare the foundation stones for a new Christian community, and has the liberty to call her Dominican brothers to be more faithful to the preaching of the gospel; she denounces the religious life of her epoch that discriminates, and especially, gives herself without limit to the very poor and the scorned, thus transgressing family and social commands.” What a legacy!

Why don’t we call upon our sister Rose to intercede for us and to help us respond with full and energetic hearts to the Mission of Jesus, especially to the challenge of identifying and overcoming our own racial prejudices? Surely our sister Rose, patroness of the Americas and of the indigenous peoples would rush to our aid and help us build more loving relationships among ourselves and people of all races. Small ways, big ways, prophetic ways. If it is the love of Christ that impels us, surely, we can become a new creation and bear much fruit.

Rose Ann Schlitt, OP