Saint Rose of Lima

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Roses

Saint Rose of Lima is nearly always depicted in conversation with the Infant Christ. Sometimes she appears to be playing with him. The picture I have been looking at today shows a barefooted Child sitting in what appears to be Rose’s sewing basket and tugging at the rosary beads that she is wearing around her neck. In paintings of Saint Rose there are always roses in abundance: the roses that He offers her, and the roses that she offers him. Rose is also depicted holding the Cross. A lot of things about Saint Rose remind us of Saint Thérèse, the Little Flower: not just the roses, the Infant Christ, and the Cross, but also her youth, her ardour, her stubbornness, her rejection of every compromise.

Friends of the Infant Christ

The place of the Infant Christ in the spiritual experience of the saints would make for a fascinating study. I am thinking of Saint Simeon beaming with happiness at the sight of Him in the temple at Jerusalem and of crusty old Saint Jerome’s tenderness for the Child of the Cave of Bethlehem. I am thinking of Saint Bernard and of Blessed Guerric of Igny, of Saint Gertrude, Saint Mechthilde, and Saint Lutgarde. I am thinking of the Child Jesus sitting on Saint Anthony of Padua’s open book and looking at him as if to say, “Preach me! Preach me!” I am thinking of the Italian Cistercian mystic Veronica Laparelli and of the French Trappist, Dom Vital Léhodey who in the midst of a whirlwind of activities and crushing responsibilities lived in the intimacy of the Divine Child. Even closer to us are Mother Yvonne–Aimée with her Little Jesus, the King of Love, and Caryll Houselander who during World War II wrote a book called The Passion of the Infant Christ.

There are other friends of the Infant Christ too, some of them still living. What do they all have in common? I don’t pretend to have this all figured out but it seems to me that the friends of the Infant Christ share two things: an immense need for love and a need to be taught to let go, a need to learn what Dom Léhodey called le saint abandon, holy abandonment.

A Chat With the Divine Little One

I knew a priest who used to hear the confessions of Yale professors and graduate students at Saint Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven. The church also happens to be the Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague. These very intense, frightfully earnest intellectual types would show up in his confessional with all their sins calculated, analyzed, categorized, de–structurized, alphabetized . . . . You get the picture. Father would invariably give these types the same penance. “Go off to the Shrine of the Infant Jesus and have a chat with the Divine Little One.” What does a professor or a graduate student up to his ears in a doctoral dissertation have to say to a toddler, even if the toddler is the Eternal Logos? Nothing. The abandonment to love begins where every learned discourse gives way to silence.

Playing With the Infant Christ

Another category of people do well to play with the Infant Christ. I am thinking of those folks who absolutely have to control every detail of their lives (and of the lives of others whenever they can do that too) at every moment. These are people obsessed with ruling out every unforeseen thing, people who cannot enjoy a surprise, people who come unwrapped when the unexpected happens. Good order and a reasonable amount of planning are one thing; the inability to surrender, to let go, to allow another to steer the course, is quite another. People addicted to rigid routines need to volunteer in a pre–school day care center . . . or they need to play with the Infant Christ and let Him throw roses at them.

There is that glorious line in the eleventh chapter of the prophet Isaiah: “And a little child shall lead them.” Who are the saints if not men and women who allowed themselves to be led by a little Child? This is the Child Shepherd to whom the Father has entrusted his flock.

Catch the Roses

What does the Child Shepherd say to us today? “I myself will search for my sheep, and I will seek them out. . . . I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the crippled, and I will strengthen the weak” (Ez 34:11, 16). He also says, “I will love the unloved, and I will give peace to the anxious. I will give simplicity of spirit to the complicated, poverty of spirit to the puffed–up, and humility to the proud. Let me love you. Relinquish control. Trust my weakness more than you trust your own strength. Rely on my littleness more than on your greatness. Relax your grip on so many things so that you can embrace me, the One Thing Necessary. Empty your hands of what fills them. Catch the roses I throw your way.”

Time for the Infant Christ

This same Little Child goes out early in the day, not in search of laborers but in search of playmates. He goes out looking for someone who will think enough of Him to spend time with Him. Even if you think that you have come to the eleventh hour in your life, it is not too late to give whatever time remains to the Infant Christ.

With a Laugh like Chimes of Crystal

To the serious grown–ups who are busy calculating what they think should be each one’s due, to the grim–faced folks who resent that He rewards those who show up at the last minute with garlands of roses, He says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Mt 20:15). Like a Child triumphant at the end of a game, He laughs with a laugh like chimes of crystal and says, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Mt 20:16).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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