A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet (and hurt as bad)

For the whole month of May, our parish has been observing the Filipino custom of Flores de Mayo, a month-long celebration which involves the daily offering of flowers to Our Lady, culminating in an extravagant pageant called Santacruzan.

An hour before the 6 P.M. mass everyday, devotees gather to pray the rosary, then offer roses in procession to Our Lady while singing Marian hymns. Either a parishioner or the parish (if no one volunteers) sponsors long-stemmed roses for the offering.

Roses for Our Lady

Roses for Our Lady

On one such afternoon, I noted with dismay that the roses made available still had thorns on them. Most flower shops offer the service of “cleaning” the roses (ridding them of thorns) before giving them to the consumer. Carefully lifting the flower by holding it just below the bud (an area almost certainly thorn-free), I quietly judged the person who provided the roses that day. Couldn’t wait the few extra minutes to have the roses cleaned, could you?

But as I waited my turn to place my rose before the image of Our Lady, my thoughts were invaded by the handful of saints I knew who were, in one way or another, associated with roses. Sta. Rosa de Lima. Thérèse of Lisieux. Our Lady of Guadalupe. In particular, I remembered how Thérèse referred to her little sacrifices as flowers to be offered before Jesus, and how these flowers were certain to win over His heart.

And just like that, I couldn’t look at my rose in the same way. Suddenly, it was the perfect metaphor for what I had to offer that day–beauty and pain.

Poetic beauty, and excruciating pain.

The past month or so has seen me wrestling with God over something I believe He is asking me to surrender to Him. “Dying to oneself” pretty much captures the turmoil I’ve been through–cutting off one’s hand, foot, eye (see Mark 9:43-47) can’t possibly be painless, after all. Not a few times, I’ve cried out to God in despair, “This is too much, please make it go away.” It is a pain that rises from deep within, inflicting wounds in its path as it forcibly bursts out of me.

At first, there was so much ugliness (my own ugliness) that faced me every time I would come to pray, I felt like avoiding praying altogether. Crying all the time can get exhausting too, you know. It was only when I started seeing my own attachments being uncovered that I realized God was speaking to me, revealing something to me amidst this pain. I was being purified, and for that, fire needs to be hot enough to burn away all that is needed (or perhaps, not needed).

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this passage written by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. shortly after he suffered a stroke, thereby effectively ending his term as then Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

More than ever, I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands. [emphasis added]

From an early age, this has been my prayer as well: take everything, Lord, I am Yours, I surrender, as long as I have You, I’ll be okay. I’ve always wanted Him to be everything, and always thought that in my heart, He was. But praying this desire is one thing, and God taking the prayer seriously, and actually taking everything, is quite another matter entirely.

Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. — Luke 2:51b

And so I stood up to bring my little offering before Our Lady, before she who has held things both beautiful and painful in her heart. I am far from being a saint–so distant from Thérèse who was able to endure her pain so secretly and so gracefully. I am handling all this with much less grace, much less love and hope and peace…but am facing it nonetheless.

“I will not offer Yahweh my God burnt offerings which have cost me nothing.” — King David, II Samuel 24:24

And because of the cost this particular offering has thus far incurred, I trust that the Lady and her Son will find its bloom breathtakingly beautiful, and its scent sublimely sweet. I trust, even if as yet I cannot see, nor can I smell anything worthy to be called a rose.

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