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Catholic Heroes… St. Simon De Rojas

September 12, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

The subject of this article lived in a time of great saints, great Spanish saints, so it is not surprising that he is little known. St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) who wrote the Spiritual Exercises, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) who reformed the Carmelites and wrote The Interior Castle, and St. John of the Cross who wrote The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul (1542-1591) all lived during the lifetime of St. Simon de Rojas. While they focused on the spiritual formation of souls, St. Simon focused on organizing the laity to play a more active role in performing the corporal works of mercy.
In the year 1552 there was a Catholic couple deeply devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary: Constanza and Gregorio. They lived in Valladolid about 100 miles north of Avila in the kingdom of Castile. On October 28, 1552, they welcomed their son, Simon de Rojas, into the world and had him baptized.
The boy, a slow learner, also had a speech impediment; but at the age of only 14 months he spoke his first two words. Not surprisingly they were “Ave Maria.” Eventually this boy would become a priest and become known as “Fr. Ave Maria” because he repeated those words so frequently throughout the day.
In 1564 Simon entered the Trinitarian monastery in Valladolid. On October 28, 1572, his 20th birthday, he made his religious profession in the Trinitarian community. His studies and activities revolved around Mary, the Mother of God. He frequently visited Marian shrines, making his life’s goal to imitate her virtues and to sing her praises, and to contemplate the Virgin’s mysterious relationship with the Triune God.
While at the University of Salamanca, about 60 miles southwest of Valladolid, he studied the life of Mary and her cooperation with the Blessed Trinity in order to save humanity through her beloved Son.
From 1581 to 1587 he taught theology at Toledo, located about 60 miles southwest of Madrid. Then from 1588 until 1624 he served the Trinitarians as a superior in various monasteries in the Province of Valladolid as well as in Andalusia. Several times he also served as apostolic visitor in his home province of Valladolid.
Like many saints who lived before him and after him, Simon realized the important role that Mary played and continues to play in salvation history. He, like Pope St. John Paul II, held up the motto, Totus Tuus, as a model for giving oneself totally to Mary for the greater glory of God. Only then could a person be intimately close to Christ and through Him be close to God the Holy Spirit and God the Father.
Nearly 100 years before the time of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Simon taught that for anyone to be surrendered to God, he must first become a slave of Mary. Hence, on April 14, 1612, he founded the Congregation of the Slaves of the Sweet Name of Mary. Their mission was to praise the Blessed Virgin Mary by their service to the poor.
Centuries before the Second Vatican Council encouraged the participation of the laity in the work of the Church, this congregation was for the laity. Any person regardless of wealth, education, or social standing was welcome to join the congregation. Persons from all walks of life joined in this work, including the king and his children who consecrated themselves to serving the poor.
To assist the members of the congregation in their spiritual formation, he wrote The Greatness of Prayer. Being a great contemplative, he deeply yearned to have others join this dimension of the spiritual life which is the foundation of any works of mercy. Such works of the congregation included helping the poor, ransoming captives, and nursing the sick. In short, the members were dedicated to assisting any marginalized members of society, and thereby bringing them closer to Christ by being channels of His grace.
On May 12, 1621, St. Simon de Rojas accepted the role of provincial of Castile. He also accepted the duties at court under the condition that he could still work with the poor. He tutored the princes of Spain and served the Spanish queen, Margaret of Austria.
Then, after Margaret’s death, on January 1, 1622, he served as confessor to Queen Isabella of Borbon. So great was his influence with Queen Isabel (daughter of King Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici), and so ardent was his love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he managed to have “Ave Maria” inscribed on the entrance to the royal palace.
Another part of Simon’s prayer life in honor of Mary was reciting the “Rosary of Mary.” This rosary consisted of 72 blue beads on a white cord. Fr. Simon also composed a liturgical text in honor of the Sweet Name of Mary which was approved by the Holy See in 1622 by Pope Innocent XI. (In the United States, September 12 is the optional memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary.)
After serving the Trinitarians for more than 36 years, Simon de Rojas died on September 29, 1624. For nearly two weeks following his demise, the most renowned preachers of Madrid praised his holiness and charitable works.
Pope Clement XIII beatified Fr. Simon de Rojas on March 19, 1766, 142 years after his death. About 222 years later, Pope St. John Paul II canonized Simon on July 3, 1988, during the Marian Year. His feast is celebrated on September 28.
Dear St. Simon de Rojas, help us by your intercession to obtain the divine graces of Marian contemplation. May we imitate her love, prayer, and devotion to the Blessed and Holy Trinity. By the merits of these graces may we also love our neighbor, especially the most destitute by not only giving alms but also giving our love, sharing our faith, and lifting them up when they are down. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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