In reading about the lives of saints, sometimes we encounter a rare flower indeed. A person so touched by the grace of the Lord, that their whole life is a devotion to the Almighty God who made us. Saint Rose of Viterbo is one such saint. Born in 1235, about 40 miles north of Rome, to poor but pious parents. Little Rose showed remarkable gifts at a very young age. Her first words are said to have been Jesus and Mary. When she was just three years old her aunt died, and seeing how distressed her family was at the funeral, she went and stood over her aunt and prayed. The woman awoke and hugged her niece.
When Rose was seven she asked her parents if she would be permitted to spend hours alone so she could pray and. Her father built her a small cell in which she spent many hours doing penance and praying for the conversion of sinners. At other times she roamed the streets preaching about God. She wore a simple tunic with a rope wrapped around the waist and walked all over town, leading processions and praising God. She wanted everyone she met to turn away from their sin and follow God.
When she was ten years old she became very ill, and upon recovering she had a vision of the Blessed Mother, in which Mary asked her to join The Third Order of St. Francis. She was instructed to continue to live at home but to become an exemplary example of Christian life and holiness. It was during this time that she would wander around with a wooden cross and preach about how Jesus died on the cross for the sins of man. Several miracles are attributed to her at this time and her popularity grew.
During these years the political atmosphere was uncertain. The Emperor Fredrick II was in rule over the land and made Rome the ecclesiastical capital of the world. Pope Gregory the IX excommunicated the Emperor and occupied her native land, Viterbo. By 1250, the city was in revolt against papal authority and sought to kick out the pope. When Rose, who was now almost a teenager, sided with the pope against the Emperor, she and her family were exiled from the city and went to live in Soriano nel Cimino. Rose spoke out against the Emperor more and more, and many miracles occurred around her.
But her outbursts against the Emperor, worried her father, and he threatened Rose with a severe beating if she continued her public outcries against Emperor Frederick II. Unafraid of the threats, Rose replied: “If Jesus could be beaten for me, I can be beaten for Him. I do what He has told me to do and I must obey Him.’ Finally the pope’s side won in Viterbo, and Rose and her family were allowed to return.
On December 5, 1250, Rose foretold of the impending death of the Emperor, a prophecy fulfilled only ten short days later. Soon afterwards, she heard stories of a sorceress who was casting spells over the citizens of Vitorchiano, and causing much harm among the peoples. Rose traveled there immediately and converted many of the people, but the sorceress would not convert. Before leaving the town, she worried that the sorceress would go back to her old tricks, so Rose built a fire and stood atop the burning fire for three hours singing songs of praise to God. Finally, it worked and the sorceress was converted!
When Rose was 15 years old she was anxious to enter the Poor Clares, but for some reason, they refused to admit her. Some historians contend that is was her family’s poverty that prevented her form being accepted, as her family could not afford the required dowry, others contend it was her failing health. Not to be discouraged the young Rose replied: “Well, it is fine, you will not receive me while I am alive, but you will receive me after I am dead.”
Saint Rose returned to her father’s house, and lived there in a private cell. She increased her prayer and mortification, and continued to pray for the faith of the Catholic Church, all the while, demonstrating great zeal for the Lord. A number of young women came to live with her, whom she instructed in the faith. At the young age of 18, Saint Rose died, having prophesied her own death. Her dying words to her parents were: “I die with joy, for I desire to be united to my God. Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening, but sweet and precious.”
Two and a half years after her death, she appeared three times to Pope Alexander IV, who was in Viterbo, and told him to have her body moved to the convent of the Poor Clares. When this was done, her body was found to be incorrupt. It has remained in the same condition for all these years. And many years later in 1921 when her heart was removed to be placed in a reliquary for a procession, it was found to be unblemished. Miracles are constantly reported at her tomb. Pope Callistus III canonized her in 1457.
As we look at the life of this beautiful saint, we find her life to be one of simple grace and a life lived in the presence of the Lord. Even while just a toddler, she showed such remarkable connection to the Will of the Father. Her life was such an inspiration, for even though she did nothing big…nothing grand…she did all things in a grand way...she did all things for the Lord…She did not influence kings and majesty…yet she defended the papacy…the Holy Mother Church, suffering exile for her dedication and support. And while she was never able to establish a religious order, as she had hoped, she was able to unite her life…all her joys…all her sufferings… to the Lord.
The short life of Saint Rose should serve as a reminder to us…the ordinary faithful…that we can…and we should lift up our daily tasks…our daily struggles, to the Lord and consecrate all that we do…so that we too…may grow closer to the one Who made us…and unite ourselves with Him …living with the hope that we may also become a beacon of Christ’s Light for others to follow. Saint Rose of Viterbo, pray for us!
in the youthful Saint Rose, Your servant,
You combined wonderful courage of soul
and unsullied innocence.
As we celebrate her merits
may we imitate the example of her virtues.