St. Rita

(1381-1457)

Rita (i.e. Margherita) of Cascia was born to an elderly Italian peasant couple. Partly, perhaps, because her parents were elderly, Rita matured early. She loved prayer and soon decided to enter the convent of Augustinian nuns in Cascia.

However, her parents had other plans: she must marry to insure her support. Reluctantly but obediently Rita consented. Unfortunately, the mate they chose for her proved to be violent and unfaithful, and the two sons she bore seemed cut from the same cloth. For 18 years Margherita patiently bore the brutality of her husband and the irresponsibility of her children, offering for them secret prayers and tears.

God finally granted her petitions. The husband received the grace to see how badly he had acted and to beg her forgiveness. Soon afterward, his dead body was brought home, the victim of a swordsman. Now, his sons believed that he had been slain in cold blood, and vowed to kill his murderers. When Rita learned of their bloody vow, she prayed anxiously that they might die rather than carry out this vendetta. Once again, her prayer was answered, very literally. Before the young men were able to lynch their father’s killer, they were both struck down by a fatal ailment. The mother nursed them tenderly and had the joy of bringing them back to a more Christian outlook before they died.

Once her family was dead, Rita was at last able to seek admission into the Augustinian sisterhood. At first the nuns rejected her because their rule allowed them to accept only virgins. But at length they decided they could make a concession and admit a widow.

The convent superiors never had any reason to regret their decision. Rita was a model nun. She passed every test of obedience. In self-denial she exceeded what the rule required. Lavish in charity, she volunteered to nurse whatever sister fell ill. Meanwhile, she carried on an apostolate of prayer and persuasion for negligent Catholics. No doubt her worldly experience helped her to confront these slackers successfully.

St. Rita also received many mystical graces. The most famous was the thorn-stigma.

She received this mystical mark in 1441. She had just listened to a sermon on the crown of thorns preached by the great Franciscan home missionary, St. James of the Marches. As she knelt afterward in prayer, she felt a sharp pain in her forehead. A thorn had detached itself from the crown on the crucifix before which she was praying and implanted itself in her brow. This wound would not heal. Indeed, it festered constantly, and the intolerable odor forced her to live apart from the rest of the sisters. True, the wound was healed in 1450 at her request, for she wanted to make a pilgrimage to Rome to celebrate the Holy Year. But once she returned to Cascia, it broke open again and remained with her the last seven years of her life.

This and other trials Rites bore with perfect resignation. Furthermore, she never used them as an excuse to discontinue her own chosen acts of self-denial. She wanted to share fully the passion of Christ. When St. Rita lay dying, it is said, she asked a visitor to go into the garden and pick a rose for her. The visitor was puzzled. It was late spring, long before roses are in season. Still, when he went out to the rosebush he found it in full summer bloom. Rita had a way with God!

Because of the effectiveness of the saint’s prayers for her husband, her sons and other problem cases, St. Rita of Cascia has long been prayed to as “the saint of the impossible”. In recent, years, St. Jude the Apostle has taken over some of her popularity as intercessor for desperate causes. But Rita has by no means lost her influence. I commend her to all as an intercessor, particularly for the family problems that are so numerous in our day. She will be more than sympathetic!

— Father Robert F. McNamara

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