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St Rita of Cascia
(in central Italy) Widow and Nun (entered heaven on this day, 1457)
I have to admit that your last note caught me by surprise – not in a bad way, mind you. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting your boyfriend to propose marriage just yet, though I like his style: proposing on graduation day. He obviously has a sense of romance, drama, and humor. Warning: you may receive snooty looks from some of your secular peers, who think marriage as a rule ought to be delayed until one’s youth has been squandered. Ignore them. You have dated sensibly (that is, for courtship and not for entertainment) and responsibly (after having actively discerned your vocation and without putting yourself in tempting situations), and God will reward you. Just make sure you live your engagement properly. To do that, I suggest you take today’s saint as a patron. She can teach you a lot.
Rita grew up in a little town in Central Italy during the early Renaissance. As all Italian towns at the time, hers was torn by civil and political strife. But adverse conditions didn’t impede the seed of faith from putting down deep roots, and early on she discovered her vocation to the religious life. Her parents, however, disagreed, and betrothed her to an abusive, violent, cantankerous man named Paolo, whom she married when she was 12. For 18 years she loved and served him faithfully, in spite of his infidelities and abuses. She bore him two sons, who spent their youth learning their father’s ways.
These conditions tried her faith, and in the end strengthened it, as she saw that God had sent her this family in order to pray and sacrifice for their salvation. Just before Paolo died (stabbed to death in an alley), he repented and begged his wife’s forgiveness. And when the two sons vowed vengeance on their father’s assassins, Rita prayed that they might die rather than committing murder. They fell ill (see how powerful prayer is?), and as their mother tended them, their hearts softened, and they too died in peace with God and man.
By the time she was 36, therefore, Rita was free to pursue her heart’s desire of dedicating her whole life to God. She applied various times for entrance into the local Augustinian convent. She was denied on multiple grounds (the Order only admitted virgins; some members of the convent were relatives of the men who had killed Paolo…), but she never gave up hope. In fact, she took action. She resolved the most salient family feuds in the town, achieving sufficient peace that it was considered safe to have her join the sisterhood, wherein she lived pursuing (and reaching) holiness for the next forty years.
Her love for Christ led her to a deep desire to share Our Lord’s sufferings, a desire he granted in a rather unique way. One day in prayer she was contemplating his Passion when she felt one of the thorns from his Crown of Thorns pierce her own forehead. The wound turned out to be real. It bled and festered for the last 16 years of her life, so much so that she had to live in seclusion in order to avoid revolting the other sisters, though during her final, bedridden years, the younger ones often stayed at her side to absorb her wisdom.
And that’s why I recommend that you take her on as the patron of your engagement – so she can teach you true wisdom. Let’s face it, you simply don’t know what the future holds. But even so, I am sure you are already building plenty of castles in the sky – as if you could design the perfect marriage and future all by yourself. That’s OK, but don’t get carried away; don’t get attached to your necessarily flawed day-dreams. Stay close to St Rita, and ask her to teach you the lessons of authentic love, which always involves suffering in this life (though it may involve castles too). Ask her to teach you to love Christ above all, and to find him in everyone, most especially your fiancée.
Your loving uncle,