SAINTS FOR ALL SEASONS
EPISODE 4 – ROSE OF VITERBO
By Cliff Garvey
Viterbo is an ancient city in the Lazio region of Italy. Since ancient times, people have traveled there to bathe in the thermal springs that are believed to have healing powers. These springs were favored by popes during the Renaissance, and even now retain the name: the Baths of the Popes. Viterbo is also the hometown of a saint — who lived a short life, who accomplished little in the eyes of the world, but whose legacy endures.
Saint Rose of Viterbo was born in 1233, six years after the death of Saint Francis of Assisi; and she died in 1251, four years before the death of Saint Clare of Assisi. Rose was born into a poor and pious family. As a young girl, her faith, charity, and purity of heart were common knowledge around town. At nine years old, Rose experienced a vision-encounter with the Blessed Mother. Mary told young Rose to wear the habit of the Third Order of Saint Francis; to preach penance; and to serve the poor. Her habit represented her embrace of poverty and simplicity; and her devotion to the Poor Christ. Her preaching embodied the apostolic ministry of Saint Francis, who traveled the known world to share God’s love and mercy. And her small gifts to the poor concretized the Christian commitment to love and serve one’s neighbor with counting the cost.
In the Franciscan Book of Saints, we read: “The child, Rose, maintained a great compassion for the poor…One day when she left the house with loaves of fresh bread in her apron, she met her father along the road, and he sternly asked her what she was giving away now. The anxious child opened her apron and fragrant roses [not bread] spilled out from inside of it.” This and other small miracles exemplified Rose’s selfless witness in and around her hometown. Perhaps the only thing that Rose did for herself was to find quiet corners where she could pray in silence. Perhaps the only thing that Rose wanted for herself was to enter the local convent of the Poor Clare Sisters. But Rose was rejected because her father could not afford the dowry required for her care and support. In response, Rose said: “You may not receive me now in life, but you will receive me later in death.”
She and some friends then tried to establish their own religious community, but permission was denied by the local bishop. And less than two years later, Rose died. She was only seventeen years old. It took the Church two centuries to canonize her, but Rose of Viterbo was revered as a saint almost immediately after her death. She was venerated by the people who knew her best: her friends, neighbors, family members, and fellow parishioners. In 1257, Pope Alexander IV ordered that Rose’s remains be moved to the convent that she had wanted to enter, which he then renamed in her memory. Fulfilling her prophecy, Rose was not accepted there in life, but she was embraced there in death.
During the relation of her relics, it was discovered that Rose’s remains were incorrupt. Her skin was darkened, but not deteriorated. Her organs, especially her heart, were uncorrupted by death. Each year on the Vigil of the Feast of Saint Rose, her holy heart is placed in a 98 foot tall reliquary and carried in procession throughout the city. More than 800 candles and now more than 3,000 electric lights are arranged in an ascending spiral that inspires cheers of joy and songs of praise among thousands of pilgrims who gather to venerate the relics. This centuries old tradition reminds us of the deep faith, good example, and pure heart of one young woman. It reminds us of the miracles that have been brought about by her prayers. And it reminds us that she did only one thing during her short life.
Rose of Viterbo gave witness. She gave living witness to the Good News of Christ at home, with her friends, and in her hometown. Rose was not a bishop. She was not a martyr. She was not a visionary. She was not a theologian. She is not remembered for books or valor or wise sayings. She is remembered only for her way of life. Saint Rose of Viterbo was simply a Christian witness. She was a true disciple of Christ: pure, humble, and absolute. For this reason alone, she was named a saint. She heard the call to holiness. She answered it. She lived it with her whole heart. And now she lives among the holy ones in heaven.
Again, in the Franciscan Book of Saints, we read: “Almighty God did marvelous things in the soul of Saint Rose…As long as she lived, she blossomed like a sweet-smelling rose in the garden of the Church, and in fullest bloom, she was transplanted to Paradise.” There must be a rose like her in our garden. There must be a disciple like her in our midst. There must be a living witness like her among us here and now: in our church, in our parish, in our own time. Who is the holy rose among us? Could it be you? Should it be you? Searching for answers, we pray:
Most High God,
source of all goodness,
you inspired Rose of Viterbo
to preach the gospel
during uncertain times.
Fill us now with the same spirit
of love and kindness
as we seek to live the Gospel
and share your love and mercy
with the world. Amen.
Glory to the Father,
to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
Saint Rose of Viterbo, pray for us!
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
Saints for All Seasons 2022
Episode 1 – Saint Ann: Grandmother to the World
Episode 2 – Saint Mary Magdalene: Apostle for the Rest of Us
Episode 3 – Saint Clare of Assisi: Consumed by Love
Episode 4 – Saint Rose of Viterbo: Living Witness
Episode 5 – Our Lady of Sorrows: Model of Faith
Episode 6 – Our Lady of the Angels: Lean In
About the Author & Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to Saint Rose of Viterbo: Living Witness. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Photo 170483113 by Soniabonet | Dreamstime.com
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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