It’s impossible to present in a month’s collection of posts even a cursory overview of women mystics in the Christian family. But I want to dedicate at least part of this week to two of our mystics from outside our usual European examples.
First, there’s Rose of Lima (1586–1617), the first canonized saint of the Americas.
Rose was from mixed heritage: Puerto Rican father and a Spanish/Incan mother. Even as a child, Rose was quite devout; she created her own space outdoors where she could pray and be alone. When a young girl, she cut her hair to discourage suitors. She wanted to join the Poor Clares, but her mother pressured her to stay with the family, in part to help support the family through her gardening and needlework. At age 20, Rose became a Third Order Dominican, thereafter living in her parents’ home but most of the time in her own room—in solitude, prayer, and penance. Some of the penances—such as wearing a literal crown of thorns—were extreme. But Rose had seen harshness; as a young girl she noticed how the Spanish conquerors treated native peoples—and she spoke up about it. Through fasting and other forms of physical discipline, she became acquainted with suffering, and some of the few quotes we have from her indicate the value she gave it:
Without the burden of afflictions it is impossible to reach the height of grace. The gift of grace increases as the struggles increase.
If only mortals would learn how great it is to possess divine grace, how beautiful, how noble, how precious. How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delight! No one would complain about his cross or about troubles that may happen to him, if he would come to know the scales on which they are weighted when they are distributed to men.
According to www.catholic.org, “She is the patroness of native Indian people of the Americas; of gardeners; of florists; of the City of Lima; of Peru; of the New World; of Sittard, the Netherlands; of India; of people misunderstood for their piety and of the resolution of family quarrels.” This last category is, of course, linked to her lifelong struggle with her parents and many other people who thought she—an exceptionally beautiful young woman—should marry and otherwise live a normal life.
During the last few years of her life, Rose set up a room in the house where she cared for homeless children, the elderly and the sick. This was a beginning of social services in Peru. Though secluded in life and activity, she was brought to the attention of Inquisition interrogators, who could only say that she was influenced by grace. (http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1116)
According to tradition, many miracles followed her death. She was canonized by Pope Clement X in 1671, and her feast day is August 23.