There are two saints of impossible or desperate causes – Saint Jude, one of the Twelve, and today’s Saint Rita of Cascia (+1457). Although she wanted to enter religious life, Rita was married off to an irascible, abusive, philandering, feud-fighting nobleman, Paolo Mancini, at the tender age of twelve (things were different back then), bearing him two sons, and, with patience, long-suffering, and heroic virtue, she softened him over the years, so that he became almost pleasant, giving up his vendettas. When he was stabbed to death after about two decades of what we shall not presume to describe as marital bliss, there was hope for his soul.
Rita prayed that her two sons – bent on revenging their father’s murder – would die rather than commit such a grave sin, and, soon enough, they too went to their eternal reward, stricken with dysentery. Such are some prayers answered.
Now relieved of her familial obligations and duties – and that verb is significant in this case – Rita sought to follow her first calling, and applied to enter the Augustinian convent of Saint Mary Magdalene, whose Sisters would only accept her if she could somehow resolve the scandalous and murderous feud between her family and the Chiquis. So she prayed mightily – invoking three patron saints – John the Baptist, Augustine and Nicholas of Torentino – and, sure enough, peace was restored, and Rita, at the age of 36, became the consecrated religious she had always wanted to be.
For the next biblical span of forty years, she lived a holy, hidden ascetical life in the convent, joyful and peaceful, until her death on this day in 1457, in her 76th year.
When she was about sixty, Rita was gifted with a wound in her forehead, much as would be caused by a thorn in a crown made of them, a partial stigmata, which was, as accounts relate, very painful and emitted a foul odour, an external sign of her penitential life. But, as is oft the case for such saints, her prayers were efficacious, often answered miraculously, as they continue to be after her death (hence, her patronage).
Seven centuries have passed since Rita’s entrance into eternal bliss, but her body is still incorrupt, laid to rest in her glorious shrine at Cascia, about 60 miles north of Rome; in that mystery of God’s providence in glorifying His holy ones, she is still one of the most powerful intercessors in the heavenly pantheon, for all those missions impossible – pace, Mr. Cruise, who, now that I think of it, we may pray returns to his youthful Catholicism – that seem insoluble by any earthly means.
Sancta Rita, ora pro nobis…