Thought for the Day – 28 September – The Memorial of St Simón de Rojas O.SS. (1552-1624) known as “Father Ave Maria” and the “Apostle of the Ave Maria”
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 founded the Jesuits and 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 organising 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 28 October 1552, they welcomed their son, Simon de Rojas, into the world and had him baptised.
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.
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.
Like many saints who lived before him and after him, Simon realised the important role that Mary played and continues to play in salvation history. He, like Pope St John Paul II (1920-2005), 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 (1673-1716), Simon taught that for anyone to be surrendered to God, he must first become a slave of Mary. Hence, on 14 April 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 captive, and nursing the sick. In short, the members were dedicated to assisting any marginalised members of society and thereby bringing them closer to Christ by being channels of His grace.
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 neighbour, especially the most destitute by not only giving alms but also giving our love, sharing our faith and lifting them up. Amen.