Saint Rita of Cascia
Saint Rita's promise to her parents, however, did not in any
her determination to preserve inviolate the flower of her virginity,
she already desired to consecrate to God. But seeing that there was
hope of embracing the religious state, at least while her parents
so inflamed was she with the love of Jesus Christ and the most glorious
Virgin Mary that she resolved never to embrace the married state.
made this resolution, a double joy and consolation filled the heart of
Rita; she could remain faithful to her Divine Bridegroom, and at the
time be a loving and obedient daughter. By reason of this double joy
consolation, a Heavenly light illumined continually her countenance,
as she performed, day in and day out, her domestic duties, she cast a
of happiness everywhere around her.
But Rita's joy and happiness were of short duration. Her filial love and obedience were to be put to a further test, a test that was to cause in her soul a real combat between her love of God and the love of her parents. Antonio Mancini and Amata Ferri, overjoyed that their daughter had given up the idea of entering a convent, now determined that she should enter the marriage state. They had already hinted that this was their wish when they had persuaded their young daughter that she was duty-bound not to abandon them. It is certain, however, that in yielding to the entreaties of her parents not to enter a convent, it had never entered into the mind of Rita to have any spouse other than Jesus Christ. We can therefore imagine, first the surprise and then the inexpressible anguish to which Rita became a prey when her parents told her they were going to choose a husband for her, as it was their wish that she should marry. Their age added eloquence to their words as they insisted that she should consent to their wishes. They reminded her that she had been given to them in their old age, long after they had almost given up all hope of offspring, and they emphasized that she, by her marriage, would be the cause, not only of saving their family from extinction, but also of making their declining years happy and comfortable. We would, indeed, be tempted to condemn Antonio Mancini and his wife Amata for arrogating to themselves the right to force the vocation of their daughter, and thus making her the prey of human calculation, did we not believe that God, in His profound and impenetrable wisdom, permitted this, so that His chosen servant Rita, after having been a model for Christian maidens, should also, like Saint Monica, become a model for Christian wives and mothers.
The unexpected announcement of her parents wrung tears from the eyes of Rita and nearly broke her heart. A sort of paralysis seized her, and for some moments she could not find her voice. When the martyrdom that was taking place in her pure soul had somewhat subsided, Rita recovered the use of her tongue and firmly, but with dove-like simplicity, said: "My parents, I do not wish any spouse but Jesus Christ. Years ago I dedicated my whole body, heart and soul to His love and holy service. Because you wished it, I gave my promise not to enter a convent. I feel sure, with the help of God, without embracing the marriage state, that I will be able to console and comfort you, and provide for all your necessities, until God calls you to a better and a happier home."
But Antonio and Amata, who had made up their minds that their daughter should marry, turned deaf ears to the heartfelt words of Rita, and the poor child, judging that further speech would be useless, in her desire to be alone with God retired from the presence of her parents and hurried to the solitude and quiet of her beloved oratory. Once within its walls she fell upon her knees, and raising her eyes, with hope and confidence, to the crucifix, asked her crucified Lord to relieve her of that poignant perplexity which had begun to tear her very heart, from the moment her parents told her that it was their will that she should marry. She also implored the Queen of Angels and Virgins, and asked her to be so kind as to obtain for her from God the lights which were necessary for accomplishing what would prove most acceptable to His Divine majesty and conducive to her soul's salvation, expressing to her merely the ardent desire she felt of embracing on earth an angelic mode of life.
Without any doubt, Rita knew it would be no sin to marry in obedience to the will of her parents, but since she felt that God had called her, even from her early years, to be His spouse, and since she had responded generously to this summons, by desiring to vow to God the jewel of her virginity, Rita now awaited on bended knee the voice and decision of God, which would tell her if she should and could obey the will of her parents without offending the will of her Jesus whom she loved with her whole heart and soul.
It is very certain that the fervent prayers which Rita offered in her little oratory were graciously heard by God, who soothed and consoled her aching and troubled heart. And we may believe that God made known to His servant Rita that she should conform and submit her will to the will of her parents, and that by so doing, she would obey His holy will without losing any of the merits already gained by the ardent desire of consecrating her virginity to Him as the sole Lord and Spouse of her heart and soul.
As soon as Rita had learned that it was the will of God that she should submit to the will of her parents and that she would please God more by her submission than by following her own will, she resolved, then and there, to obey the voice and will of God and offer no further opposition to the will and desires of her parents. Accordingly; Rita returned to her parents, and prostrating herself at their feet, humbly asked pardon for the repugnance she had hitherto manifested to their will, and told them she was disposed and willing to embrace whatever state of life they wished her to enter.
ST. RITA, before and especially after her marriage, had made a honeycomb of her heart, so to speak, filled with the odor and sweetness of virtues. Each virtue represented, as it were, a beautiful and fragrant flower, bound together by the girdle or cincture of charity, and formed the most exquisite bouquet she could offer to her Divine Lord after she had calmed the boisterous winds that had howled threateningly around her, during the time her husband was an easy prey to the ungovernable impulses of his violent passions. But alas, the days of harmony and peace were soon to be followed by a tragedy that was to cause grief and sorrow in the heart of St. Rita.
Though St. Rita had reformed her once violent and gambler husband and had also made him a man of peace, Ferdinando had not a few enemies in Rocca Porrena. Before his marriage, and for some years after, he had engaged in many disputes and contentions with companions as hot-headed and impulsive as himself, but as he was ready and adept with the stiletto or dagger, he was generally the victor over his adversaries. These persons became Ferdinando's enemies; a poisonous hatred rankled in their breasts, and though he avoided their company, they sought the occasion to avenge themselves. His enemies not daring to encounter him singly, banded together, as cowards generally do, and meeting him one day outside of the walls of Rocca Porrena, attacked him, stabbed him to death and left his lifeless body lying by the roadside, bleeding from a dozen wounds.
Some historians say that Ferdinando was not murdered in cold blood, as the saying is. They claim that he himself, in a fit of anger, provoked the quarrel and even struck the first blow of the altercation in which he lost his life. Others say that the violent death of Ferdinando was a visitation from God, in punishment for his extreme cruelty to St. Rita during the early age of his marriage, but that we may piously believe, though he did not have the sweet consolation of receiving the last Sacraments, that God had mercy on his soul on account of the ocean of merits which his holy wife had treasured in Heaven.
When the news of the death of Ferdinando and all the
with it reached the ears of St. Rita, she was thrown into a paroxysm of
grief. She wept as if her heart were breaking, and though her friends
kind neighbors tried as best they could to console her, she would not
consoled. Naturally, St. Rita felt as every good and holy wife must
with the sudden taking away of her husband. But what grieved her heart
and soul most was that he passed from this life to the other without
fortified with that Viaticum which gives the dying Christian the happy
assurance of a safe journey from time to eternity. In her grief and
St. Rita prayed to God from the altar of her heart and said to Him: "O
God, enter not into judgment with Thy servant Ferdinando, for in Thy
no one will be justified." She also prayed to Jesus, her divine Lord
Master, the Judge of the living and the dead, and implored Him to grant
that His precious Blood, shed for the Redemption of mankind, was not
in vain for the soul of her husband, Ferdinando. And out from the
heart of that sorrowful widow came so loud and plaintive a cry for the
pardon of her husband's faults and failings, that the cry must have
heard in Heaven, and as it penetrated the bowels of God's love, it
Him to mercy. Nor did St. Rita, in the Gethsemane of her grief and
forget to have recourse to the Blessed Virgin, the mother of the seven
Dolors, the sweet Comfortress of the afflicted, to whom, according to
great St. Bernard, no one ever has recourse in vain.
Not satisfied with that act of resignation to the will of God, who saw in the crucible of her patience the carats of the gold of her fortitude, she adorned and embellished her resignation with the most precious stone of pardon; for, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, when dying on the wood of the Cross, asked His Heavenly Father to pardon His executioners, so also did St. Rita plead for the murderers of her husband. She herself pardoned them from the bottom of her heart, thus putting into practice that holy doctrine which Jesus Christ taught from the pulpit of the Cross.
After the funeral ceremonies were over and the mortal remains of her husband were placed in the cemetery of Rocca Porrena, St. Rita continued the exercise of those virtues which she had already been in the habit of practicing, and free from many of the cares of her married life, she determined to live solely for God, the only Lord and Master of her soul.
THE DEATH of her husband, Ferdinando, made St. Rita a widow, but she was not left alone. God had blessed her, as we have already observed, with two handsome sons who were now grown up, and on these she centered her utmost care and attention. She daily implored God, with the most fervent prayers, to preserve their innocence and aid her to guide them in the path of His holy law in which she had instructed them. Giovanni and Paulo, the children of St. Rita, became what their Saintly mother molded them. They grew up God-loving and God-fearing children. They loved their good mother with all the fullness of their boyish hearts, and no boys could be more respectful or obedient to a mother than were Giovanni and Paulo.
As they advanced in years, St. Rita, with the quick perception of a mother, noticed that a change was taking place in the characters of her sons and that sometimes, not unlike their departed father, they appeared to be sullen, morose and irritable. Especially did she observe a notable change in Giovanni, who was scarcely sixteen years of age. Young as they were, and even in spite of the religious training they had received from their mother, Giovanni and Paulo had become somewhat imbued with that false idea of honor and justice which made it incumbent on the nearest of kin to execute vengeance on the slayer of a relative. This criminal and unauthorized right of revenge was much in vogue in Italy at the time St. Rita lived, and was called: La Vendetta.
Though St. Rita had observed that from time to time her sons made remarks relative to the murder of their father, it never entered her mind that they had any thought of avenging his death. One day, however, from a conversation she overheard between her two sons she learned, to her great surprise and sorrow, that they were inclined to revenge the assassination of their father.
Like the good and saintly mother she was, St. Rita determined to destroy and stifle so heinous and criminal a desire. Summoning Giovanni and Paulo to her side, she told them what she had heard and begged them, with tears and supplications, to erase from their minds all desire of revenge, and to forget that their father had been assassinated. She also placed before their eyes the example of Christ, who asked pardon for those who had crucified Him and for whom He suffered to give them eternal life. By means of this beautiful example, she sincerely hoped she would be able to persuade her sons to pardon the murderers of their father. She furthermore reminded them that though they had lost their earthly father, they would gain a heavenly one if they would pardon from their hearts. And finally she represented to them the terrible sin the homicide commits, and plainly told them that they themselves would be murderers if they avenged the death of their father.
In this manner did St. Rita try to keep and guide her sons in the path of the fear of God. After some time, as we may read in the Decree of her Canonization, when she saw her sons persist in their desire for vengeance, she fled to the crucifix and related the whole affair to Christ, fervently beseeching Him either to change the desires of her sons, or no longer spare their lives. God heard the prayer of St. Rita. Both her sons died within a year, well-prepared to go before the judgment seat of Almighty God.
O glorious St. Rita! The fame of your sacrifice will never die. The pages of history make mention of no sacrifice more generous than your sacrifice. It is true Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, but he was commanded by Almighty God to do so. Your sacrifice was an exact copy of the sacrifice which the Eternal Father made of His only Son on the Cross; for you, not satisfied with pardoning the murderers of your husband, even saved their lives by offering to God the sacrifice of the lives of your two beloved sons, Giovanni and Paulo.