As a child the great mystic Maria Esperanza from Venezuela often played with dolls dressed as priests or nuns and at the age of five (while bidding her mother, who was taking a trip, farewell at the port of Bolivar City), the girl saw a smiling woman rise from the Orinoco River with a rose in her hand.
It was an apparition of St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” and henceforth roses or their fragrance would hover about Maria. The rose St. Therese held was extraordinarily beautiful, a brilliant red flower that was “thrown” to young Maria. Her mother immediately proclaimed the rose a sign from God.
Such claimed phenomena – and soon much more – are difficult for even the seasoned believer to comprehend. They invoke legitimate use of words like “incredible.” In later years many around Esperanza were to witness other phenomena related to roses, including the inexplicable falling of rose petals.
She was quite a mother — and mother-in-law, and grandmother — and her family, including those in-laws, always wanted to be in her presence. That was because she was surrounded by the aura of love.
And the roses?
We are reminded of them on Mother’s Day weekend. They are often the flower that comes to mind when one thinks about the most beautiful of God’s blossoms.
Esperanza’s marriage was typically providential. At first she wanted to become a nun and entered a convent in 1954. That same year, on October 3, at the end of a Mass, she had another implausible experience. Once again, Saint Therese the Little Flower appeared and once more a rose was “thrown” to her. But this time when Maria went to catch it — as she had done as a girl of five — it wasn’t a rose that landed in her hand. Instead there was blood.
It was the onset of Maria’s stigmata.
“Work out your salvation as a wife and mother,” the Little Flower instructed Maria, who indeed sensed that her vocation would be that of a family woman but went to Rome to live at the Ravasco Institute, which was operated by the Daughters of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary at the Vatican.
In 1956 she returned to Rome where she met her future husband, Geo Bianchini Gianni, as had also been foretold to her. The following October 13 – anniversary of the “great miracle” of Fatima – the Blessed Mother told Maria she would be married on December 8, 1956 – yet another feast day, this time the feast of the Immaculate Conception (and Geo’s birthday). They were married that day in the choir chapel of the Immaculate Conception at St. Peter’s Basilica. No one had ever been married there during the holy season of Advent, and it was only after a cleric, Monsignor Julio Rossi, parish priest at St. Peter’s, noticed the incredible aura around Maria, as well as the scent of roses, received direct permission from Pius XII.
Around Maria the bishop overseeing her diocese himself had witnessed phenomena. He had miraculously recovered from an illness after a visit from Esperanza, he once told us, and had smelled the rose fragrance.
Those around Maria – her husband, her seven children, her in-laws – were filled with joy and zeal we have never seen before. They didn’t want to be away from Maria and often the entire family – up to sixty – traveled with her to the U. S. (She died nearly twenty years ago.) “I have seen how petals of roses appear, how there is a materialization of roses, and one smells the roses in the environment,” Dr. Samir Gebran, a doctor of immunology and one of her devoted sins-in-law, testified.
On more than a dozen occasions, witnesses (including doctors, a television journalist, and an American religious broadcaster) were present when an actual rose — thorns and all — erupted from the mystic’s body.
Rare is that, even among saints.
And the meaning?
It seemed connected to birth, to motherhood, to the pain of childbirth that quickly turns into one of life’s greatest joys — thorns and all.
We all have thorns that erupt in our lives. Our chore is to bear them with love for Christ. (“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another” today’s reading, John 15:17).
A rose is at the top of a plant from a stem or vine, and in our lives, there are flowers — we flourish — when our vines are connected directly and open to Jesus.
He is the truth and the life and the vine.
When there is a dead branch, we note that there is no fruit. By their fruits you will know them. When a person bears no fruit, his or her vine has shrunken and withered.
Life is regenerated by simply calling His Name.
[Footnote: the symbolism of a rose can vary widely depending on its color, number, and context, but generally, roses are associated with love, beauty, honor, faith, and devotion. Here are some specific interpretations based on color:
- Red roses: These are traditionally associated with love, romance, and passion. A deep red rose can symbolize a love that is long-lasting and true.
- White roses: These symbolize purity, innocence, and new beginnings. They’re often seen in weddings and can also represent sympathy or spirituality.
- Pink roses: These can symbolize gratitude, grace, and joy, and they’re often used to convey admiration or appreciation.
- Yellow roses: Once associated with jealousy, today they are more commonly associated with friendship, joy, and caring.
- Orange roses: These symbolize enthusiasm and passion, often used to express intense desire, pride, and fervor.
- Blue roses: Since blue roses do not exist naturally, they often symbolize the unattainable or the mysterious.
- Black roses: Though not naturally occurring, they can symbolize death, farewell, or rebirth. In some contexts, they may also represent a deep and transformative change.
Again, these interpretations can vary, especially across different cultures and personal beliefs.
The Virgin Mary is frequently associated with roses.]
[resources: Spirit Daily pilgrimage/retreat, Italy’s holiest sites]