The Rose of Lima

No, you didn't read the title wrong...the Rose of Lima, not the Rose of Tralee. This evening, a familiar tune will drift through the televisions of many Irish households and through the internet for many other international followers. As a tenor belts out the words “The pale moon was rising…” this haunting melody signals that the new Rose of Tralee had been crowned. The Rose of Tralee International Festival is a week long festival and is one of Ireland's largest and longest running festivals. It is based around the selection of the Rose of Tralee, an international event that encompasses young women of Irish descent from Ireland and around the world. People sometimes ask if the Rose of Tralee Festival is a beauty pageant. As their website states, “The Rose of Tralee Festival is a multifaceted event that celebrates the many attributes of modern young Irish women.”

When we were younger, we all wanted to be a ‘Rose’, to dress up in a beautiful dress and share our story with the world. It was the time to celebrate being Irish and to let one’s personality shine through, to share a gift or a talent. It also meant that the school holidays were coming to an end and I have memories of watching the Rose of Tralee with my sisters as my Mam ‘wallpapered’ our schoolbooks. Last night, I didn't manage to tune in and tonight I choose not to after hearing that the stage was hijacked by a particular Rose who used it as a political podium for a personal agenda. I decided to blog about roses instead and remind myself of a saintly role model!

It's fitting that today we celebrate the liturgical memorial of Saint Rose of Lima, a great friend of the Dominican Family and many others as she is the patroness of Latin America and the Philippines. Her original name was Isabel, but apparently she was such a beautiful baby that she was called Rose, and that name remained. As she grew older, she became more and more beautiful, and one day, her mother put a wreath of flowers on her head to show her off to friends. But Rose had no desire to be admired, for her heart had been given to Jesus. So we're told that she put a long pin into that wreath and it pierced her so deeply and that is why she is often depicted with a wound on her head. As a young girl, she took St. Catherine of Siena as a model. When she was admired for her beauty, Rose cut off her hair and smeared pepper on her face, upset that suitors were beginning to take notice of her. She wanted to become a nun, but her father forbade it, so she instead entered the Third Order of St. Dominic while living in her parents' home. In her twentieth year she donned the habit of a tertiary and took a vow of perpetual virginity. She lived a further eleven years demonstrating a profound life of prayer and offering. She was an artist who wrote poetry, sang songs, played the guitar and embroidered. Who knows, if the Disciples of the Divine Master were around in the 1600's, maybe Rose would have been a PDDM! She also raised flowers to support her family and medicinal herbs to cure the poor and sick people of Lima. Rose was a friend of St. Martin de Porres and, like Martin, helped to bring healing among peoples of different races. She died in 1617 at the young age of thirty-one and was the first saint from the Americas to be canonized. It wasn’t long before many miracles were attributed to her intercession.

The Roses visit our Athlone convent
But the roses continue to flourish especially those planted and pruned by the Divine Gardener. This time last year we had just finished the national tour of the Rise of the Roses. Their mission was to rediscover the beauty of a life promised to God. These are not nuns but young vibrant women who love who they are and desire to live the fullness of life, not any kind of mediocre life! In their mission statement we read: “We believe that the Ireland is ripe for a new generation of young women (Irish Roses) to ‘rise up’ and answer the call to holiness. We are passionate about our home country, its people, culture and its rich Christian heritage. We want to show that the fire of faith still burns brightly in Ireland. The young people of our country have a tremendous opportunity, at this point in our history, to do something amazing for God - to 'rise and shine', spreading the joy and hope that comes from being a follower of Christ. We believe in power through ‘unity’. We aim to reconnect all the branches of our 'family tree' of believers so, rooted in Christ, the Catholic Church in Ireland can grow strong again and be a beacon of hope and shelter for all.”

The girls toured Ireland to meet nuns from ten different orders who showed them around their home, shared the story of their founders, the saints that inspired them and their unique charism. They listened to their personal testimonies and learned how they spend their time. It was such a blessed time and the young women involved with the Tour continue to share the beauty of who they are as children of God with so many people.

This past week in Ireland, we celebrated the feast of our Lady of Knock, fondly known as the Golden Rose of Ireland. In this apparition in Knock, Mary does not speak, her message was a silent one but she pointed to the Lamb of God. This year, over 250,000 people were drawn to the shrine of Knock for prayer and pilgrimage and Marian devotion. Mary, Queen of Knock keeps her mantle of motherly love over all of us. Mary’s ‘YES’ continues to ripple down throughout the centuries.

Rose from convent garden
in Dublin (Photo-LOR)
For me, there is a thread which is woven through all of the above. Beauty is something which runs a lot deeper than the surface. I wrote about this before in a previous post entitled 'P.S You're Beautiful' which you can read here. There is so much pressure on young women to mask anything which is not ‘perfect’ according to the world’s perception. To be beautiful’, you must have a tiny waist and look good, without any blemishes. As we look at the 'Rise of the Roses', the Rose of Tralee, St. Rose of Lima, in each one we can celebrate the beauty and dignity of being a woman and the gift that femininity and motherhood is to our world. Anne Bronte wrote: “But he who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” We often hear the experience that ‘life is not a bed of roses’. The thorns of life are always there, they are part of the rose. I remember when I used to go to the flower-sellers in Rome to buy the flowers, they would ‘de-thorn’ the roses as they wrapped them in paper for me to bring home. However there was something very unnatural! The reality is that in life we take the rose and the thorns together and we learn to keep the tweezers handy!