[Readings: 1 Thess 2:1-8; Ps 139; Mt 23:23-26)
In the church’s calendar today we remember and honour St Rose of Lima. St Rose was one of the special patrons of the just completed World Youth Day. She was just 31 when she died, and she was the first canonized American saint, being born in Peru of Spanish parents. She was baptized by St Turibius of Mogrovejo, and she was a friend of St Martin de Porres.
She lived at home, and worked hard to support her parents. She took the habit of the Third Order of St Dominic. She was very devoted to her vow of chastity, and she lived a life of intense penance. As the missalettes say, as a result of her austerities and penances, she endured interior periods of darkness and desolation as well as mystical experiences.
The extract from her writings in the Office of Readings beautifully sets forth the message Jesus gave her, and one that she literally wanted to shout to the world: without the cross there is no road to heaven. – [there is] no grace without suffering. This really is a message we have to hear again and again, because it flies in the face of the message of the world which is “flee suffering, be comfortable.” Perhaps because of that, we tend to run away from even the slightest cross, and become miserable at the first sign of suffering; instead of realizing that they are the pathway to heaven, the door to grace.
From St Rose of Lima we can be reminded not to seek the path of worldly greatness. Rather, we must live fully and faithfully our vocation wherever God has put us. Above all we must train ourselves to try to accept sufferings cheerfully, as gifts from God. As St Rose said, “No one would complain about the cross or about hardships coming seemingly by chance upon him, if he realized in what balance they are weighed before being distributed to men.’
The spiritual wisdom given by the Lord to St Rose of Lima can be a great encouragement to us: life won’t be “one great spiritual ‘high’” – in fact, the milk of spiritual consolation is typically given to beginners so as not to scare them off. But the one journeying deeper into the mystery of God must learn to deal with trials and desolation: the cross and suffering. There will be days, even prolonged periods, of spiritual nothingness. Nothing apparently to show for our prayers: no word, no insight, no apparent consolation. To enter into this darkness is not to have moved away from God (or He from us), it is simply a sign that we are moving beyond infancy in the spiritual life. It is in these times that we show if we really have ‘faith’ or not: the ability to believe in that which is not immediately apparent.
The toddler gets upset at difficulties (and even throws a tantrum) – but the adult, like St Rose, accepts sufferings cheerfully and realizes that the Cross is in fact the ladder to heaven … there is no grace without suffering.
May the Eucharist, to which St Rose was so devoted, be our nourishment today and always on this spiritual journey, and may we know the Lord’s closeness to us – and the immensity of His grace – even – and particularly – in darkness and desolation.