Beauty and the Soul

A Juxtaposition of the Lives of Holy Judith & St. Rose of Lima

Rose, beautiful yet thorny

The relationship between Christ and His Saints is beautifully typified in the marriage bond, this dignifies the married state. Such dignity is however lesser (in kind) compared to the perfection of Holy Virgins.

“For there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mothers womb: and there are eunuchs, who were made so by men: and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven”, says our Lord, going further, He adds “he that can take, let him take it” [1]. This constriction is not found in the contrasting verse: “for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh” [2]. Indicating the special nature of holy continence, not all can take it.

In all of Sacred Scripture, it is more a less a principle that accounts in the old testament are figures of the the new testament. As we see in the crossing of the Red Sea, away from Egypt towards the promised land, a figure of the waters of Baptism, which cleanses us from sin and orients us towards the promised rest.

These figures are not only in events but in persons, so holy Jacob is seen as a figure of Christ (and of His elect), and many of such examples interspersed in the Sacred Writings.

A compelling personality in the History Books is Judith daughter of Merari, the holy widow of Bethulia. A cursory reading of the Book of Judith reveals the joyful compunction, piety, constancy in prayer and penance, courage and unwavering trust she possessed.

She who by her piety rebuked the ancients who presumed to “set a time a time for the mercy of the Lord” [3]; by her continuous penance exhorts them to penance for their many sins, that “with tears” [4] they beg the pardon of God.

Her trust in God led her into the camp of the Assyrians wielding nothing but the beauty that poured forth on her countenance as from a font which source was a soul adorned with all virtue, so that “the Lord also gave her more beauty”[5] making her appear “to all men’s eyes incomparably lovely”[6].

What but courage would make a woman so tender lift a sword before the ferocious general of the Assyrian camp? Holofernes, on fire with a desire to defile, is overjoyed and drinks himself to a sleep which awakening finds his head in a canopy and his body in a pool of its own blood. Going out as though to pray, she arrives before the threshold of Bethulia with praise of God on her lips. The head of Holofernes was to the watchmen the awaited dawn, for the children of Israel watched, not for daybreak, but on the Lord, with whom there is mercy and plentiful redemption. [7]

Judith showing the head of Holofernes

On this occasion, she obtained that exalted benediction which perfectly foreshadows the one received by the Blessed Virgin Mary from her cousin St. Elizabeth: “Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth” [8]. Rightly then, do the Fathers see in this blessed widow a type of the Blessed Virgin.

Many features in the life of holy Judith find a pattern in the life of the Saint of the Americas: Rosa de Lima.

St. Rose of Lima

Rose was in beauty unparalleled, even from the moment of her birth. The name of Rose bears witness to this fact, for she was Christened Isabel but the beauty of her face earned her the name of that most beautiful flower: a byname she formally adopted upon Confirmation.

As a child she was remarkable for great reverence and pronounced love for all things related to God [9], her constancy in prayer and frequent mortifications follow closely, if we may not say, surpass that of holy Judith. At the tender age of ten, she had already determined to take a vow of holy continence.

After her reception into the Third Order Dominicans, she redoubled the severity and variety of her penances: wearing constantly a spiked crown (concealed by roses), and an iron chain about her waist. She would not feed but on bitter herbs for whole days, and found repose in a bed of broken glass, stone, potsherds and thorns, made by the same hands which in her early years were occupied in embroidery. [10]

The objections of her friends, the ridicule of her family, the censure of her parents, the many temptations against her unstained purity were to Rose what the entire Assyrian army was to Judith. And just as holy Judith made overturned them so to were these oppositions no match for the virgin’s unbending desire, strengthened by prayer and penance, to give herself entirely to her Divine Spouse whom she received daily in the Blessed Sacrament.

St. Rose was a most beautiful virgin even as holy Judith was a most beautiful widow, both spending nights in prayer and penance, conjoined with a mortified life, holy lives adorned with virtues more precious than the treasures of Holofernes, bringing forth, as the Baptist puts it, “fruit worthy of penance”. [11]

In the face of these manifold similitude in the lives of these holy women, there exists an acute disagreement in both. A discrepancy more in the form than in the matter; yet more to manifest the Wisdom of the Giver of all good things.

The lives of the saints reveal a similar characteristic, Holy Mother Church presents their lives to the faithful as a model of sanctity and a guide to follow. She affirms, that these persons whom she has hallowed have arrived at that Eternal Rest for which we hope and now behold Him face to face [12], and this she does with such infallible sureness enjoyed by her alone.

“I am the Way”, says the Lord, “no man cometh to the Father, but by me” [13]. By this we expect all the saints to be a perfect replica of our Lord; aside His Charity and humility common to all the saints (for there can be no saint without these), we find that this is not so. What we find is laid bare when we compare the austerities of St. Simon Stylite with the common way of the Little Flower of Lisieux; the fierceness of the Angel of the Judgement and the gentleness of that Bishop of Geneva, St. Francis de Sales; the exactness of the Abbot of Clairvaux and the humour of St. Lawrence the Deacon.

For the widow of Bethulia, she “washed her body, and anointed herself with the best ointment, and plaited the hair of her head, and put a bonnet upon her head, and clothed herself with the garments of her gladness, and put sandals on her feet, and took her bracelets, and lilies, and earlets, and rings, and adorned herself with all her ornaments” [14].

The virgin of the Americas, on the other hand, blistered her face with pepper, cut off her beautiful hair, wore coarse clothing, for a bonnet she took a spiked crown and found repose in a bed of broken glass, stone, potsherds and thorns so horrible she admitted the thought of lying down on it made her tremble with dread.

Truly, holy Judith was not without mortifications, but for St. Rose, this martyrdom her flesh continued for fourteen unbroken years [15]. The same Lord who increased the beauty of Judith (for all her adornment “did not proceed from sensuality, but from virtue” [16]) filled the soul of St. Rose, by His presence, with peace and joy too heavy for words, hence approving both.

This then is what we discover: in the One and Only Way there are many paths, and not all tread the same. Some saints are alter Christus — another Christ, like St. Francis of Assisi; some others blaze a trail along the Way, while many others simply follow. All in the end arrive at the same Eternal Father: at once Immense and Eternal, Infinitely Merciful, Infinitely Just; not merely beautiful, truthful and good but Beauty, Truth and Goodness Itself. The same attained St. Aloysius Gonzaga by unspotted innocence as St. Mary Magdalena by heroic penance and sincere contrition.

Father Butler perfectly concludes “Rose, pure as driven snow, was filled with deepest contrition and humility, and did constant and terrible penance. Our sins are continual, our repentance passing, our contrition slight, our penance nothing. How will it fare with us?” [17]

References

[1] Matt. 19, xii

[2] Matt. 19, v

[3] Judith 8, xiii

[4] Judith 8, xvii

[5], [16] Judith 10, iv

[6] ibid.

[7] Psalm 130, vi — viii

[8] Judith 13, xxiii

[9], [15] CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: St. Rose of Lima, “http://newadvent.org/cathen/13192c.htm"

[10] ibid.

[11] Matt. 3, viii

[12] I Cor. 13, xii

[13] John 14, vi

[14] Judith 10, iii

[17] Rev. Alban Butler, Lives of the Saints. 1894