January 2014 Print

Saint Rita of Cascia - Saint of the Impossible

by Fr. Anibal Götte

Why do we call St. Rita the patron saint of impossible causes? St. Rita is traditionally known as the patron saint of impossible causes and an advocate in desperate cases.

If we take a look at her life, every step of the way she is driven by the desire to reach her own “impossibility”: to consecrate herself to God in the religious life. We say “impossibility” because all the events through the years are going to push her farther away from her never-forgotten holy intention, a crown she will finally be able to reach when all seemed opposed to her vocation.

Throughout the life of St. Rita, we witness the mysterious designs of God’s will; a succession of “impossible” events that bring her—contrary to all human expectation—ever closer to Our Lord. We see her confidence in God and the desire to surrender herself completely to His holy will triumph in the most difficult circumstances.

St. Rita’s Conception

The first “impossible” episode in her life is her conception. We read in Sacred Scripture several stories of barren women, advanced in years, who, after many prayers, gave birth to persons distinguished by the sanctity of their lives and the mission entrusted to them. Such is the case of Samuel, St. John the Baptist, and, as affirmed by Tradition, our Blessed Mother herself.

Antonio Lotti and Amata Ferri married late in life, and years went by without the blessing of children. The venerable wife was turning grey, and the hopes of becoming a mother were fading, although she never ceased to pray to God.

Our Lord intended with this long trial to make her worthy of receiving a precious gift. Amata’s prayers were heard, and, after twelve years, an angel communicated to her in a dream that she was to have an only child, whom he called Margarita. Margarita will be known in history by the nickname used by her parents: Rita.

From early childhood, Rita was attracted to virtue and had a strong desire to offer herself to God in the religious life. As mentioned, that will be the main ”impossibility” in the life of this saint. Her example teaches us to always trust God if we truly want to do His will. Before accepting her as a religious, Our Lord wished to test Rita by difficult trials in order to purify her. The first of these trials will be the great obstacle opposed to her vocation: a marriage full of sufferings, which she endured with the most admirable patience.

Conversion of Her Husband

At that time in Cascia, there were many confrontations and social tensions, especially political struggles. There were two main parties in Cascia that were mortal enemies: the Guelphs and Ghibellines. These social tensions ended frequently in bloody confrontations, exacerbated by successive retaliations legitimized by law. The Mancini and the Cicci families were the most influential Ghibellines. They were united for political reasons, but hated each other because of their greed for power.

As they saw the end of their lives approaching, Rita’s parents were afraid to leave her behind facing alone the dangers of a corrupted world, and they resolved to protect her by means of an arranged marriage. Through Divine Providence, Paolo Mancini was chosen. He was the son of Fernando Mancini, an officer in the Collegiacone castle, belonging to the wealthy family of the Ghibellines. Paolo was well known for his quarrelsome and brutal character.

On the other hand, Rita was born to a family of the so-called “peacemakers of Christ” who intervened to reconcile the disputing factions, so the families could live in peace without fear of vengeance.

Rita and Paolo had twin boys: Giangiacomo Antonio and Paolo Maria. During the eighteen years of marriage, Rita patiently put up with the roughness and violence of her husband, never giving him the least motive for displeasure. It cost her many tears and sorrows to convert her husband’s soul. To soften his heart, she continuously offered to God prayers and supplications and engaged in fasting and works of mercy.

Heaven heard her ardent prayers; the supernatural means triumphed over the heart of her husband; the “impossible” was achieved. Paolo repented of his old crimes, abandoned the party of his family, and went to work in a flour mill with his wife and children.

His past fits of rage, however, had made him many enemies among his fellow countrymen, who now considered him a traitor. He was persecuted for several years, and was eventually murdered in an ambush.

Rita suffered this painful loss with Christian heroism. She mourned bitterly for her husband, but had the courage to forgive his assassins. She tried to encourage her sons to forget the murder of their father, to prevent them from avenging his death upon reaching adulthood. Rita also made them promise that they would never seek revenge; however, her advice and supplications fell on deaf ears. With each passing day, the desire for revenge grew in the hearts of her sons.

At this time, Rita gave proof of true motherly love: she fell on her knees and, with eyes filled with tears, she asked God to take her children before the horrible crime they were planning could take place. Our Lord listened to His servant’s request, and soon her sorrow increased with the death of her two sons.

Jesus Christ’s Peacemaker

After suffering the death of her husband and two children, Rita set out to pursue peace between the families of her husband and his murderers. Instead of appreciating her efforts, her relatives were indignant and scandalized at her attitude, which they considered abnormal.

During these difficulties, Rita spent long periods of time in prayer begging God for the peace and fortitude she needed. She also spent a great part of the day tending to the sick and needy in the hospitals of the Augustinian Sisters. Immersed in these activities, and free from all ties to this world, the desire to offer herself entirely to God in the religious life returned to her stronger than ever.

Through Rita’s forgiveness, life of prayer, and charity towards the assassins of her husband, the reconciliation of both families was achieved.

A New Attempt to Enter the Convent

The reconciliation having been accomplished, Rita knocked on the doors of the convent of the Augustinian Sisters in Roccaporena. Either because the convent could not take women who had been previously married, or because of the fear over potential trouble with the assassins, Rita was rejected. She prayed constantly to the Holy Ghost for guidance to know God’s will. Without success, she attempted a second and even a third time to request admittance to the convent. That life-long desire, which now seemed possible upon the death of her husband and children, becomes a new “impossibility” for Rita. She did not despair, but accepted with resignation God’s will. It is at that point that the most significant miracle in her life took place. One night, she heard a voice inviting her to the monastery. Rita saw St. John the Baptist going to Schioppo, a high cliff in Roccaporena. There, she was abandoned for a brief period of time, to grasp the height of the peak, the sublimity of religious perfection, and the horror of falling. While there, she was consoled by St. John the Baptist, who arrived in the company of St. Augustine and St. Nicholas of Tolentino. These three saints took her and, in an unfathomable way, placed her in the convent, and then disappeared. The next morning, the nuns found Rita in the cloister and did not know how she had gotten there, since all the doors were locked. With simplicity, Rita told them what had happened, and by Divine disposition the Chapter accepted her as a religious.

Her childhood desire, that “impossible” goal from which any other person would have despaired, became a reality for our saint. In 1417, at the age of 36, Rita was accepted as a religious in the convent of the Augustinian Sisters of Roccaporena.

She was a religious for 40 years. Constant in prayer, she occupied herself in the contemplation of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. She was rewarded for this devotion with the well-known miracle of the thorn of Christ’s crown on her forehead, a stigmata that caused her terrible sufferings till her death. The miracle of the stigmata took place in 1442, when Rita was sixty years old.

Rita spent the rest of her life in solitary prayer and penance; her wound gave off a foul smell that impelled her to keep herself from the community so as to not offend the sisters. She spent the last four years of her life bed-ridden due to a grave illness that caused her a great deal of suffering; this she bore with patience, to the edification of the other sisters in the convent.

The miracle that confirmed her as the patron for hopeless cases took place on her deathbed. In the harshest part of the winter, when all was covered in snow, a relative of Rita came to visit her. Upon her departure, she asked Rita if she would like something from home. The saint replied she would like a rose and two figs from her grove. The good woman smiled, thinking Rita was delirious on account of her illness. When she reached home, she saw on one side of the grove, among the thorns, which were dried and covered in snow, a very beautiful rose, and over the fig tree, two very ripe figs. These she took to Rita.

On May 22, 1457, when she was 76 years old, our Saint surrendered her beautiful soul to God. Her death was crowned by one last miracle. Upon leaving this world, the church bells rang by themselves, giving her sisters in the convent the certitude that Rita was entering heaven.

The life of this saint fills us with trust in the Divine Providence. How many things God has prepared to draw us near Him! Let us go to St. Rita to ask for what seems “impossible” to us, without despairing from attaining God’s help. Although at times we may not understand, He will give us the graces we need for our salvation.

A translation of “¿Por qué Santa Rita de Cascia es llamada la santa de las causas imposibles?” by Fr. Aníbal Götte in Iesus Christus, No. 143, July-September, 2013.