HER FASTS, HER DISCIPLINES, AND THE OTHER AUSTERITIES
WITH WHICH SHE MACERATED HER BODY
ALL the graces which Christians receive, being derived from the torn and wounded heart of the Son of God, inspire them with a love of sufferings, and make them practice austerities so frightful, that their innocent excess in the use of them can only be excused by the necessity which baptism imposes of dying with Him on the cross, in order to reign with Him in heaven; for they know that their predestination to eternal happiness, includes those mortifications which are to assimilate them to Jesus Christ their head; for this reason S. Paul considers this spirit in Christians as the special characteristic of their sanctity, when he says, that they that are Christ’s crucify the flesh, with its vices and concupiscences.
This love of the cross was so ardent in the soul of S. Rose, that the reader would scarcely give credit to that part of her life which treats of her fasts and other mortifications, if we could not assure him, that all which is related has been taken from the juridicial informations of the examination, made by the pope’s express order, that he might proceed with her beatification.
She arrived at an astonishing degree of abstinence, by the same means which S. Catherine of Sienna employed. From her infancy she abstained from all sorts of fruits, which are delicious in Peru. At six yeas of age she began to fast, three days a week, on bread and water. At fifteen she made a vow never to eat meat, unless she were obliged by those who had authority over her, and whom she though she could not disobey without sin. When her mother took her with her to dine with some ladies of rank, who invited them out of devotion, and obliged her to eat meat at their table, her obedience caused her a pain in the chest, which brought on fever and other dangerous symptoms. The same thing happened when meat was ordered for her by physicians: and so far was it from doing her any good, that it always made her relapse into a more dangerous state. The most expeditions method of relieving and curing her on these occasions, was to give her a piece of brown bread soaked in water; and experience has proved, in several instances, that this diet restored her to her original health. Her mother, who only looked upon her with eyes of flesh and blood, seeing her face pale and disfigured, blamed her conduct, and even wished to persuade her that she committed a mortal sin by thus denying herself the necessary nourishment for the preservation of life. To prevent her from continuing this manner of living, she obliged her to sit at table with the rest of the family; but this enlightened daughter contrived to elude her vigilance by begging the servant to offer hero only a sort to dish made without salt, composed of a crust of coarse bread, and a handful of very bitter herbs. This food was so bad and disagreeable, that she found a voluntary mortification at the same table where others sought to gratify their appetites. She was accustomed herself to gather wild herbs in the forest, and to cultivate them carefully in her garden, that she might have the materials for her self-denial always ready at hand.
She hid under the largest tufts of these plants a vessel full of sheep’s gall, with which she sprinkled her food, and washed her mouth every morning.
One of her favorite repasts, which seemed to her the most delicious, as it was the bitterest, was to eat the leaves of that creeping plant, the granadilla, whose flowers represent so perfectly the crown of thorns, the nails, the pillar, and the other instruments of the Passion of the Son of God, that it is commonly called the “Passion Flower” in Europe; so that we can scarcely tell whether eating or abstinence was the greatest mortification to her. Her fast was so severe and rigorous, that in twenty-four hours she took nothing but a piece of bread and a little water. Those who have visited America, and felt its burning heats, will acknowledge that our Saint suffered by these austere fasts a martyrdom of which we can have no idea; for the extreme heat that prevails in that burning climate exhausts the strength so much, that it is necessary to eat frequently, as a preservative against weakness.
She had accustomed herself to fast in this manner, especially the few last years of her life; she observed very exactly the seven months’ fast of her order, from the festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross till Easter. From the beginning of Lent, she left off bread, contenting herself with a few orange pippins every day of the forty that are consecrated to penance; on Fridays she took only five; during the rest of the year, she ate so little, that what she took in eight days was scarcely sufficient nourishment for twenty-four hours.
She was known to make a moderate sized loaf and a pitcher of water last fifty days. Another time she remained seven weeks without drinking a drop of water or any other liquor; and towards the end of her life she sometimes passed several successive days without eating or drinking. She frequently shut herself up on Thursday without food or sleep, and so completely absorbed in God in a sort of ecstasy, that she continued there immovable, and as if incapable of rising from the place where she was praying on her knees. She once passed eight entire days without any food but the bread of angels, which she received in the holy communion; and her supernatural abstinence was so well known to all the inhabitants of Lima, that they were aware that she passed weeks without eating or drinking; and that when necessity compelled her to drink a little water to assuage the burning heat which consumed her, she took it warm, to mortify sensuality in the pleasure she might have felt from drinking cold water.
That which seems miraculous in her austerities is, that our Saint derived more strength from her fasts, than from the nourishment she took; for while she deprived herself of natural food, she imbibed from the sacred Wound of the adorable heart of Jesus Christ, like S. Catherine of Sienna, a delicious nectar, which strengthened her more efficaciously than the most solid nourishment could have done.
It was no less astonishing that she could find room on her emaciated body to engrave it in by her disciplines the wounds of the Son of God; and that she should have been able to draw from it those streams of blood which she every days caused to flow; with iron chains and her other instruments of penance, she practiced such terrible austerities that her confessors were obliged to restrict her in the use of them. After she became a nun, she was not content with a common sort of discipline; she made one for herself of two iron chains, with which she gave herself such blows every night, that her blood sprinkled the walls, and made a stream in the middle of the room, so prodigious a quantity did she draw from her veins. She disciplined herself in this manner seven times; first, for her own sins; secondly, for souls engaged in sin; thirdly, for the pressing necessities of the Church; fourthly, when Peru or Lima were threatened with some great misfortune; fifthly, for the souls in purgatory; sixthly, for those in their agony; seventhly, in reparation for the outrages offered to God.
The people of Lima having one day misunderstood the meaning of the words addressed to them by Father Solano, a celebrated Franciscan preacher, thought he said that the earth was going to open and swallow up the town in a few days. In consequence of this mistake, the whole place was thrown in to consternation. Rose, taking pity on the terrified people, retired to her oratory, and to appease the anger of God, she took the discipline so severely, that she was nearly dying in consequence.
As she practiced this penance every night, she reopened her bleeding wounds by making new ones; and being careful to prolong her suffering, she contrived not to strike always in the same place; but she reiterated her blows so frequently, that she did not allow her wounds time to close; scarcely did they begin to heal than she opened them again by fresh blows; thus her whole body was almost one entire wound.
Those in the house who heard the sound of the blows she inflicted on herself, had a horror of this cruel treatment, and were, at the same time, touched with pity for this innocent penitent, who felt none for herself. Father John of Laurenzana, her confessor, being informed of the manner in which she treated her body, commanded her to use moderation; she obeyed, but she begged so earnestly, that he could not refuse her the permission she asked to take five thousand more stripes in the course of three of four days. She had shown from her infancy the first sparks of that fire which inflamed her soul with the love of penance; for when she was only five years old she carried, though mortification, heavy tiles and stumps of trees from one place to another, with great difficulty. She entreated Marianne the servant, and the dear confidant of her austerities, to load her with heavy stones in the corner where she usually prayed; and she heaped upon her so great a quantity sometimes, that Rose, overcome with the weight of this burden, fell fainting and half dead to the ground. When she was fourteen, she used to leave her room at night when every one in the house had retired to rest, and walk around barefooted in the garden, carrying a long and heavy cross on her wounded shoulders; the joy which she felt under this beloved burden rendering her insensible to the effects of the air and the season.
Her confessor having ordered her to use an ordinary discipline, and leave off her iron chain, she made it into three rows, and wore it round her body, and after passing the ends through the ring of a padlock, she threw the key into a corner, where it would have been very difficult to find it. This chain very soon took the skin off, and entered so deeply into her flesh that it was no longer visible; and one night she felt so terrible a pain from it that she fainted, and was near dying. The servant having awoke at a cry she uttered, quickly ran to her assistance. Rose, seeing herself obliged to confess the truth, begged her to help her take off the chain before her mother, awakened by the noise, should come up to her room. Marianne found no other means than by breaking the padlock; but they could not do this, and she was obliged to go down to the garden for a stone to break it. While she was gone, Rose, fearing her mother would surprise them, had recourse to prayer, which served as a key to open the lock; for Marianne, entering with her stone, saw the padlock open of itself, and separate from the links of the chains; thus they succeeded in taking it off, though not without causing great pain and an abundant effusion of blood. Her wounds were no sooner healed than she put the chain on again; but as soon as it had entered into her flesh, her confessor ordered her to send it to him; and in obeying him she suffered the same pain and loss of blood as before. After her death, Mary of Usatengi kept some links of this bloody chain, which exhaled so sweet an odor that every one who smelt it was obliged to confess it to be supernatural.
She bound her arms from the shoulder to the elbow with thick cords, which caused her great pain by compressing tightly the muscles of this fleshy part. In order to suffer more she rubbed herself with nettles, making her body one entire blister, and with thorns, which, entering deeply into the flesh, drew forth quantities of blood. She used two hair shirts. The first, being only two feet long, did not satisfy her desire for suffering; nevertheless, she used it till she obtained another, woven of horse-hair with two sleeves, and which hung from her shoulders to her knees. She appeared yet more glorious in the eyes of God when wearing this strange coat of arms. From having armed it underneath with a great quantity of points of needles, to increase her excessive sufferings by this ingenious cruelty. She wore this frightful hair shirt several years with incredible joy, and she only quitted it by the express order of her confessor, when a vomiting came on.
As she was insatiable of pain, seeing her hair shirt taken from her, she chose a sack of the coarsest stuff she could find, and made it neatly in the form of a shift. It would be impossible to express the suffering this rough dress caused her; sometimes it made the perspiration stream from her in great drops; sometimes she fell fainting under it, and was unable to take a step without great torture. These austerities were insufficient to satisfy her thirst for suffering; she watched also for the hour in which cooking was going on in the house, and, when no one could see her, she exposed the soles of her feet to the heat at the mouth of the oven, where it is the greatest, that no part of her body might be without a wound, and she kept them there till the pain of her half-roasted feet quite overcame her.
This was the treatment our Saint inflicted on her innocent body, though her frequent attacks of illness gave her plenty of occasions of suffering. She would have practiced yet greater and more cruel mortifications if her confessors had not prevented her. What astonishes us in her conduct is, that she suspended the interior joy with which Almighty God favored her in her greatest sufferings, for fear that this spiritual sweetness might extend to her body, and that by making it participate in the delight of her soul, her insupportable sufferings would be softened. We may therefore say, that her pains were unmixed with any consolation; they resembled, in a manner till then unknown, those suffered by the Son of God in His Passion, during which He never permitted the superior part of His soul, which was sovereignly happy, to communicate any part of its happiness to His afflicted body. We consider this divorce of the flesh and the spirit in our Saint, as one of the great wonders that have made her the admiration of the Peruvian people. When charity induced some pious persons to exhort her to moderate her austerities, she answered, “As I cannot do any good, is it not just that I should suffer whatever I am capable of enduring?”
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