Those of you who read me on a regular basis know that I have a long-standing devotion to St. Rita of Cascia (1381-1457). Wife, mother, and after her widowhood and the death of her children an Augustinian nun, Margherita Lotti de Mancini lived a life full of both emotional and physical suffering, but remained steadfastly devoted to Christ, and bore her crosses as best she could. Along with St. Jude, her prayerful intercession is often sought by those facing an impossible situation to which there seems to be no remedy. Yet despite knowing much about her, I find there is always more to discover, making me ever-more convinced that she was a good friend to fall in with.
I was deeply touched at my birthday party recently to learn that a group of my friends had agreed to pray a Novena to St. Rita on behalf of my intentions. For my non-Catholic readers, please note that this is not worship: Catholics draw a distinction between worship, which is confined to God alone, and prayers asking for intercession. The belief that the Church on Earth is united with the Church in Heaven, i.e. those of us who have “made it”, as it were, means that we are asking those who are already in God’s Presence to add our prayers to theirs, just as you might offer to pray on behalf of a friend of yours who is going through a rough time. In this case, over the years I have asked St. Rita to pray for me on many occasions, not because I was not already directly asking God for help, but because I felt that she would take up my pleading my cause as well.
There are many pious stories about the life of this particular saint, but one which I only recently became aware of involves her life-long devotion to St. John the Baptist, one of her patron saints; in fact she was baptized in the church named after the Baptist in her native Cascia. Now as it happens, I have for many years thrown a party in June to celebrate St. John the Baptist’s birthday, which is a favorite custom in Catalonia. However his unexpected connection with one of my favorite saints, who lived many centuries after him, was previously unknown to me.
St. Rita’s husband was one of the victims of the long-standing feud between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the two prominent political factions of Medieval Italy. In Umbria, as indeed as common throughout Italy in this period, there were assassinations and resulting vendettas that led to a great deal of bloodshed in an endless cycle. With the murder of her husband, and the subsequent death of both her sons from the Plague, St. Rita wanted to fulfill her childhood hope of becoming an Augustinian nun, a hope which she had not been able to fulfill because her parents had instead arranged her marriage. However the convent refused to take her, partially because they were worried that the vendetta which surrounded St. Rita’s husband’s family would be brought to their doorstep.
Through prayer to St. John the Baptist and her other patron saints for their intercession, and despite her being a widow with no political power, St. Rita managed to bring about a peace agreement between her husband’s family and the family that had ordered his assassination. This document was signed before Cascian officials in a public ceremony, and permanently put an end to the local feuding and revenge murders. Now St. Rita was at last able to successfully return to the convent and ask for admittance. In fact it is said that the gates of the convent were opened for her in a vision by St. John the Baptist and her other favorite saints.
Having friends in high places is always a good thing, whether you are trying to get a table at a good restaurant, or whether you want to be bumped up to first-class on a flight. So having a friend in the ultimate high place of all is a very good thing indeed. I would encourage all of my readers to learn more about this wonderful saint, who understood human suffering so well and united herself spiritually in prayer to the sufferings of Christ, to serve Him, her family, and her community. She is a dear friend whom you will very much love getting to know.
Detail of “St. Rita of Cascia” window (19th Century)
Cathedral of St. Mary, Austin, Texas