May 22, Feast of St. Rita of Cascia, patron saint of impossible causes… and so much more.
Friends, I have truly been blessed to have the readership I have. Over the past year I have gone mini-viral a few times. The reasons are not important (but they kind of are and I will address them momentarily). What is very important is that God gave me an audience. A few days ago I wrote of how wonderful it is to have people reading the things I write on a daily basis. When I was a classroom teacher I used to tell my students that if they hadn’t shown up to class I would have simply talked for 90 minutes to an empty room. And I really have been blessed to have developed such a warm relationship with so many like-minded traditional Catholics over the past year. It is so good for me to see that I am not alone. I hope the feeling is mutual.
The best – without a doubt – aspect of this relative exposure, to me at least, is that I have gotten the opportunity to share with anyone who will listen the beautiful story of the life of a simple woman from Umbria. I fell in love with this woman many, many years ago. It was not love of a romantic kind, but true devotion. Let me share the story with you now.
When I was a homeschooled 8th grade student in New Jersey in 1990, I remember reading a story in a book called Catholic World Culture. The story was about the life of St. Rita. To this day, I couldn’t tell you why the story made such an impact. Let’s call it a grace. It’s as if God knew (imagine that) that I would need this devotion throughout life. He gave me the first taste of it when I was 12. I told my mom of the story I had read. “That’s so funny,” she said, “because my confirmation name is Rita.” She then told me how she had no particular devotion to the saint but that her aunt Rita had come for a visit when Mom was 7 or 8 years-old and, in a bid to please her own mother, she decided to take the name Rita. So she too had no clue why she should have a connection to this saint.
I remember reading the following details which I will include here from memory so that you know her story.
Margherita Lotti was born in 1381 in the village of Roccaporena (Umbria region, Italy). She was the only child born to her parents, Antonio and Amata. They were the town’s notaries or peace keepers. As an infant, little Rita (as she was called) was the locus of a miraculous event. Her parents had left her in her cradle by the door to the house as they worked in the field. A swarm of white bees – very rare indeed – swarmed the young child’s face. By all accounts the bees darted in and out of the child’s mouth but caused her no harm. This was to be seen as a sign of the sweetness with which Our Lord regarded her (bees make honey and all). Rita desired from a young age to join the nearby Augustinian monastery; yet in obedience to her parents who wanted to see her safe and sound amidst all the violence in that area, Rita entered into marriage with the dashing young Paolo Mancini. The story is a little murky at this point but it seems that Rita and Paolo produced twin boys – Paolomaria and Giangiacomo – and lived a relatively quiet life. Some later accounts state that Paolo was a violent man and that he abused Rita physically. This appears to be due to a mistranslation from Rita’s original sarcophagus. Regardless, the marriage might not have been completely rosy. Paolo was murdered when their sons were just 12 or 13 years of age. Rita was devastated. But Rita had bigger things to worry about. Her sons were intent on avenging their father’s killer. Apparently the law of vendetta in effect at that time would have permitted them legally to kill the killer. Rita, however, knew that this was against God’s law. She prayed fervently that God prevent her sons from staining their souls with mortal sin. God heard her prayer. Both boys died within the year. Now completely alone, Rita finally sought entrance into the convent. The sisters, fearing the violence that surrounded Rita, refused her admission. So once again, Rita prayed. Miraculously, she was transported inside the locked walls of the convent. She remained there for forty years, helping tend to the sick and praying for peace. Toward the end of her life, Rita prayed before a crucifix. It was Good Friday. She wanted more suffering and Our Lord complied. Out of love for His precious daughter, He bestowed upon her the stigmata of a single thorn wound in her forehead. Rita is said to have subsisted on the Eucharist alone for the final years of her life. Near her death, she asked a friend to bring her a rose and a fig. Both of these organism should have been completely unavailable. And yet, as Rita reminded her friend, “With God, all things are possible.” The rose bush was in full bloom and a dying Rita once again proved that God works miracle for those who believe.
Now to my own story.
I had started visiting the National Shrine of St. Rita in Philadelphia when I was in my early 20’s. It was about an hour and a half away and I had some impossible things to ask. There was the family member who had disavowed every one out of anger and jealousy. There were the next door neighbors who had separated over an affair. I heard that the shrine was close by. I remembered her status as patron of the impossible and of family peace. I went and I prayed. And I saw that peace was restored in broken relationships. I was mystified. It was almost like I asked for miracles and God gave us miracles. But this was just the beginning. A few years later I had determined to find a wife. Anyone who’s tried looking to find a truly Catholic woman to marry in the past decade or two will know how difficult, almost impossible, this task is. I figured I would give Rita another shot. I started a novena. I asked that she would arrange for me to meet a beautiful woman who shared my faith and would laugh at my jokes. On day 9, I found myself knocking on the door of an old friend’s house and the woman who answered that door took my breath away. This was 300 miles from home and the circumstances are as bizarre as one can imagine. In my mind: “Why of course it’s her! This is going to be my wife!” The circumstances that led us to each other were as star-crossed as they come. It didn’t take too long and we were married at the Shrine of St. Rita. We named our first (and only) daughter Rita. I will always be grateful for that one prayer answered that I figured I should just keep taking shots and seeing if she’ll still take pity on me.
And that is, as they say, that. So please turn to her. Ask the “Precious Pearl of Umbria”, the Patron of the Impossible to carry your most impossible needs to God. You will soon come to realize what she knew. With God, nothing is impossible. But remember that she suffered greatly in her life. The ones who are beloved of God, He also allows a greater share in His Passion. I won’t say it’s a tradeoff but it is something to keep in mind. In the end, though, it is a truth we know well as Catholics and it is a consolation beyond measure. Still, ask of her. Ask her to obtain peace. Ask her to obtain that you become an instrument of peace as she was. Ask for your impossibles. Ask for greater understanding and for greater charity. And for heaven’s sake, ASK FOR THE IMPOSSIBLE!
Ask today. It is the feast of a great saint. On a side note, one of the reasons she is called “saint of the impossible” is because her own canonization cause was stalled for three hundred years. Rita died in 1457 but wasn’t canonized until 1901! Seems her “paperwork” got lost in the Vatican.
A year ago I found myself on a whim deciding to write my blog again. I prayed to St. Rita asking her to help me make the endeavor worthwhile. That very night I found my post linked on Canon212. Impossible? You haven’t been paying attention.
I knew that I had to do what I pray in my daily St. Rita novena – to make known her favor and to glorify God for His gifts!”
Her body is incorrupt
St. Rita of Cascia, pray for us!