This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22 -- Feast of St. Rita of Cascia

Saint Rita is a patron of hopeless causes. Her specialty is hopeless marriages.

The legends about her life make it clear that she was destined from birth to suffer for her faith and eventually be recognized for her holiness. While a newborn, lying in her crib, a swarm of bees gathered over her. They did not harm her, but one by one, they flew down, entered her mouth, and then flew away. No one understood until well after her death, when Pope Urban VIII beatified her. His family coat of arms (Barberini) had three bees on it. See?

Well, the next part is plausible to anyone who has even cursorily looked at the roles of women in western culture. (Why pick on the west? Women were commodified just about everywhere.) At twelve, Rita's parents announced she would be married to a wealthy gentleman named Paulo Ferdinando. She had been asking to be allowed to join a convent, but the parents thought that marrying an older man with a reputation for violence and womanizing would be a better choice. Off she went to fill her teenage years with domestic violence and the shame and frustration of his frequent infidelity.

Here's the lost cause / bad marriage part. She tirelessly prayed that he would be saved, enjoining him to work for his own salvation as much as she worked for it. In the end, she prevailed. He repented, reformed, and together they were raising two sons.

Of course, he had sown a lot of bad seeds and some had sprouted and were still bearing fruit. He was murdered for his previous misdeeds. At the time, revenge killing (La Vendetta) was legal in Italy, but Rita knew it was not acceptable to God. Her teenage sons declared their intentions to get even when they could. Rita prayed that they would not get a chance. Within a year, they were both dead of dysentery. Careful what you pray for.

She decided to enter an Augustinian convent. At the time she determined to do it, the gates were locked for the night. Saints John the Baptist, Augustine, and Nicholas of Tolentino transported her over the convent walls, depositing her safely inside. In the morning, the sisters questioned her, and upon learning of her miraculous entrance, welcomed her among them.

She prayed that she might share some in the suffering of Christ. A wound, consistent with a thorn being pushed into her skin, opened on her forehead. It did not heal for the rest of her life. Speaking of which, she lived to be about seventy-five years old, and as she was dying, a sister asked if there were anything she wanted. She requested a rose and a fig from the garden. It was January, but with Rita, one didn't take chances. The sister went to the garden, where she found a single rose in full bloom and a single, fully ripened fig hanging from the tree.

There's a statue of St. Rita in St. Leonard's Church in the North End of Boston, but as there is also a three-hour movie of her life, the film poster gets the nod as today's graphic.

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