Known as the patron saint of the impossible and model of maidens, wives, mothers, widows and nuns, St. Rita of Cascia is a canonized intercessor for challenging marriages, difficult children, feuding relatives, spiritual mothers and multiple vocations. Rita was born in 1381in the ancient city of Cascia, about seventy-five miles from Rome, in the southeastern part of picturesque Umbria. Rita lived her multiple and difficult vocations with her humble heart set on Christ first.
I discovered St. Rita when a friend who became a priest presented me with a beautiful framed picture of St. Rita commenting, “I think St. Rita will be of some help to you and your family.” His statement has proven true. When my friend became a priest and studied in Rome, he received a first class relic of St. Rita that he presented to me. Many times I have pleaded her help! Rita’s life is an amazing example of God’s triumphant merciful love operative in the imperfection of our troubled marriages and families.
Biographers record that Antonio Mancini and Amata Ferri, parents of Rita, were filled with the grace of God and apostolic zeal for saving souls. Their neighbors would murmur against the providence of God for this holy couple because of their poverty. It is recorded that one night, while Amata was praying in their humble home:
An angel appeared to her, in a vision, and told her that it was the will of God that there would be born of her a daughter who would be, from her very birth, marked with the seal of sanctity, gifted with every virtue, and that she would be the helper of the helpless, and advocate of the afflicted, and a guiding star in the firmament of the Church. (Fr. Joseph Sicardo, O.S.A, St. Rita of Cascia, Tan Publishers, pg. 10)
It is recorded that from the moment of her Baptism, little Rita Mancini possessed a mysterious power that inclined souls to God. She preferred solitude, prayer, and going to Church with your parents to attending picnics and parties where other little girls experienced great joy. It was observed that little Rita had a great love for the poor so that when she was served a plate of food, she would eat half and preserve the other half to give to the poor. The people of the town began to see how different Rita was from the other children of the hamlet, “When they observed that as she grew in years her life became more holy and sacramental, they respected and revered her—not indeed as a child, but rather as a person grown old in virtue.” The mothers of the town would tell their little daughters to take Rita as their model. Soon Rita’s reputation for sanctity spread beyond the little hamlet to the many towns and villages of Umbria.
Rita consecrated her virginity to God and built a small but pretty oratory in a corner of her simple home where she remained for one year separated from the world, in union with God, except when her aging parents needed her assistance. During the year of solitude, Rita spent her time meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Passion of Jesus Christ. At the conclusion of that year, Rita saw that her parents needed her constant assistance as they were becoming feebler. Rita thoroughly understood the obligations of children toward their parents and judged that it was the will of God to give up her life of solitude in order to of service to her aging parents.
At that time in Italy it was customary for girls to choose their state of life at the age of twelve. Records indicate that Rita was twelve years of age when she made her choice to be God’s consecrated virgin, a true spouse of Christ by embracing the religious life and becoming a nun. But when Rita shared her desire with her aging parents, they would not agree. With tears and pleading her parents told her that they did not desire the extinction of their family and since she was an only child, they desired her to be married. Rita sacrificed her will on the altar of obedience and consented to enter the marriage state. “In prayer the Lord confirmed that it was the will of God that she should submit to the will of her parents and that she would please God more by her submission than by following her own will.” (Fr. Joseph Sicardo, O.S.A)
The time had come when Rita Mancini would enter a new state of life—marriage. Having agreed to marry as her parents willed, she also agreed to marry whomever they chose for her. Her parents selected for their son-in-law a man named Ferdinando who was the son of well-to-do and influential parents. Ferdinando was gifted, proud, haughty, surly in speech and the very opposite in character and disposition to the modest and gentle Rita. “Ferdinando proved himself an ardent wooer and after a short courtship, he and Rita pledged their marriage vows before the altar of God. The marriage of Ferdinando and Rita recalls to our mind the marriage of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine, who married under circumstances similar to those of St. Rita.” (Fr. Joseph Sicardo, O.S.A)
In a short time, Rita began to experience that her marriage was to be a school of trials and sorrows. Ferdinando began to show his true character and almost inhuman conduct with regard to his wife Rita. His words were harsh and cruel and with the least bit of agitation he flew into a passion against everything that Rita said or did—he was her persecutor, not companion and protector. Rita, however, did not succumb to such persecution but suffered the unnatural treatment of her cruel husband with courage and fortitude. God aided her with grace to be patient and humble. She set to work to conquer the sullen and perverse disposition of her husband. To check the wild rage of his anger, she sometimes observed a strict silence, uttering not a single word. In the end, after years of suffering, St. Rita’s humility and patience converted her cruel husband. Despite his miserable cruelty, she rendered him good and not evil. She would study his temper and find opportunities to help him to understand how great was his offense against God, and “how little he thought of his intelligence to allow himself to become the prey and the slave of anger and passion.” (Fr. Joseph Sicardo, O.S.A.)
Ferdinando became a changed man and God blessed the marriage of St. Rita with two beautiful sons. Rita was a joyful mother bestowing all her affection and love on her little sons and their father. Joy and happiness filled the atmosphere of their home and Rita instructed her family on the science of salvation.
Also, Rita practiced the corporal works of mercy, and employed much time in caring for the spiritual needs of her neighbors. Reportedly, Rita restored many sick people to health by reciting one single “Hail Mary” by their bedsides. Rita would console the suffering:
Place all the weight of your trials and tribulations on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. He will carry them for you. Remember, He once carried a heavy cross.
Rita dissolved enmities and hatred among her neighbors and was known as a peacemaker.
Fr. Joseph Sicardo reports, “Though Rita had reformed her husband and had also made him a man of peace, Ferdinando had not a few enemies in Rocca Porrena. Before his marriage, and for some years after, he had engaged in many disputes and contentions with companions as hot headed and impulsive as himself, but as he was ready and adept with the dagger, he was generally the victor over his adversaries. These persons became Ferdinando’s enemies; a poisonous hatred rankled in their breasts. Eventually, they attacked him, stabbed him to death and left his lifeless body lying by the roadside, bleeding from a dozen wounds.”
When the dead and bleeding body of her husband was brought home, Rita was full of grief and sorrow until her tears tried up when the Lord consoled her. Her two adult sons desired to avenge their father’s death. As the sons grew up, Rita noticed that a change was taking place in their character and they became irritable like their departed father. Naturally Rita desired to stifle her son’s desire to avenge the murder of their father. When she saw the desire for vengeance growing in her sons, Rita fled to the crucifix and related the whole affair to Christ beseeching Him to change her sons, or no longer spare their lives from their father’s enemies. God answered her prayer and both her sons died from illness within a year, well prepared to go before God. A mother’s sacrifice of love!
Alone in the world now, Rita prayed, “O my dear Lord and Master. Since I am free now, when will the time come when You will admit me into the haven of religion?” Christ is not respond. In this difficult time she would say to herself, “My loving Savior drunk to the very dregs the bitter cup of abandonment, to animate and teach that all who would walk on the sorrowful way of the Cross must, at least, taste of one drop of His bitter chalice.” Rita made up her mind to keep knocking on the door of the Sacred Heart. One day she heard, “Arise, Rita, make haste my beloved spouse and come.” Rita applied for admission to the convent but her request was refused. Eventually she would enter the Maddalena Convent in a miraculous manner.
St. Rita’s life exemplifies authentic discipleship summed up in self-emptying love. Her life was an adventure in faith, hope and love. So is ours!
God made a provision for the sin-sickness and imperfect virtue of our families. The Cross in the center of our homes is not for our destruction but for our construction. Like Christ on the Cross, our hearts are pierced for our families. Like Christ, we are poured out in the service of one another since all love consists in self-sacrifice. Christ never abandons the family and is constantly working all things for good.
The Church anticipates the imminent World Meeting of Families with expectant faith and hopes for aids to the challenges that families face in the modern world. St. Rita lived in a different age and culture but many of the challenges she faced are still present in our families—even worse. Yet, the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst to fortify the family. We have every reason to hope for the good of our families since with God nothing is impossible!
St. Rita, patron of the impossible, please pray for our families.
Note: to learn more about “family prayer” please visit www.foundationforpriests.org