Tuesday, May 22, 2007

St. Rita of Casia: The Saint of the Impossible

My mother, the former Rita Grogan, would often urge me to pray to her patron saint, the female version of Saint Jude, whenever things seemed hopeless. Mom herself became quite devoted, because raising me and my five brothers and two sisters could seem hopeless on a daily basis ...

Rita of Cascia was born in 1377 to an Italian peasant family. The most religious of her brothers and sisters, she yearned to become a nun from an early age, but was obedient when, for economic reasons, her parents told her she must marry. Unfortunately, her folks proved to be horrible matchmakers, as Rita's husband turned out to be not only extremely violent but repeatedly unfaithful; as Butler's put it, "the terror of the neighborhood." Moreover, their two sons added to her sorrows by following in their father's footsteps as village hell-raisers. Rita prayerfully (and tearfully) endured this troublesome union for eighteen years, until one night her husband met his match and came home with multiple stab wounds. These wounds wound up being fatal, but not before Rita's prayers prompted his repentance and deathbed conversion. As expected, her sons went out to avenge their father's death, but after Rita prayed that there be no further bloodshed, the boys soon fell ill and died—both also converted.

Free of family ties, Rita now pursued her original vocation, only to have the Augustinians turn her down three times due to the requirement that their nuns must be virgins. But they finally made an exception, and Rita became a model nun, both in obedience and mortification. She often meditated on the Passion of Christ, and while doing so, one day developed a wound on her forehead, which replicated an imprint of the crown of thorns. This would remain with her for over thirty years, but despite the pain, she never let it interfere with her devoted caring for the sick or skillful counseling of the convent's many visitors. Finally in 1450, when on the way to Rome for the Jubilee Celebration, the wound miraculously healed—by most accounts not reappearing until the moment of her death.

Like St. Bernadette, Rita had the rare combination of dying of tuberculosis and yet having her body remain incorrupt after death. But in contrast to the youthful saint of Lourdes, Rita lived to the ripe old age of eighty, having lived many lives—wife, mother, caretaker, mystic—any of which individually would be considered saintly. Undeniably patient in life, Rita had to be patient in death too; although acclaimed at the time of her death in 1457, she wasn't beatified until 1626, nor canonized until 1900.

While it's not entirely clear how Rita became a patron saint of difficult cases, the legend that she started out as patron of difficult marriages, and gradually took over other hopeless situations makes the most sense to me. And now that you realize that Jude doesn't have a monopoly on impossible cases, also know that St. Therese doesn't own all the heavenly roses either. Rita loved that beautiful-but-thorny flower, and when she requested some on her deathbed and the nuns found some miraculously growing in the convent garden despite being out of season, she earned the right to share that identification with the Little Flower as well.

So, Happy Feast Day, Mom. After a wayward youth, your Thomas Augustine has come home to the Church, and despite the pains I know you now suffer with age, when I'm with you, you're always smiling. You sure were right about Saint Rita, and she certainly has been right by you.

1 comment :

JimAroo said...

Hey! Was the film The Rookie on your famous top ten film list?

It certainly should be! Remember it was St. Rita's intercession that made it all possible.