AS WE already know, St. Rita was extremely anxious to embrace the religious state of life, and since she had a particular devotion to the great St. Augustine and his spiritual son, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, she desired to become a spiritual daughter of the Saint by joining a community of nuns that was governed and guided by the same rule which St. Augustine gave to the community of religious he founded when he was Bishop of Hippo, in Africa. At the time St. Rita lived in Rocca Porrena, there were two communities of Augustinian nuns in Cascia. One community resided in the convent known by the name, St. Mary Magdalen, or the Maddalena; the other was named after St. Lucy the Martyr.
One day while she knelt in the little oratory of her house, her eyes fixed on the Crucifix, speaking to Jesus and telling Him how anxious she was to enter the cloister and become a nun, a ray of Divine consolation penetrated her heart and soul. St. Rita arose from her kneeling posture, and prepared to go to Cascia. Once on the highway, that ray of Divine consolation gave haste to her footsteps which brought her direct to the very door of the convent of the Maddalena. With a trembling hand she knocked at the convent door, and in answer to her call, the door was opened by the sister-portress, who, learning that St. Rita desired to speak with the prioress, politely ushered her into the guest chamber. When the prioress, a sweet-faced venerable nun, came, St. Rita made known in as few words as possible the object of her visit.
She told the prioress that from the time she was a child, she had desired to consecrate her virginity to God; that she would have done so had not obedience to her parents prevented her, but being free now, she coveted the Augustinian habit, so that she might better serve the Lord, though she recognized she was unworthy to become a spiritual daughter of the great and glorious St. Augustine. The prioress listened with attention to the humble but earnest petition of St. Rita to be admitted into the community, and kindly told her that she would present her application for membership before a Chapter Meeting of the nuns of the community. We must observe here that it is a rule of the Augustinian Institute of nuns not to admit to their communities any but young girls whose vocations are certain, though widows may also be admitted, but only by special dispensation.
We must, therefore" not be surprised that the nuns of the Maddalena Convent of Cascia refused to admit St. Rita into the community, and indeed, a majority of the nuns hinted that since no widow had been received into the convent from the time of its foundation, it would be a blot on the Maddalena were they to admit St. Rita as a member of the community, though they knew her to be a person of the most irreproachable character and possessed even of eminent piety and sanctity.
When the prioress of the convent told St. Rita that the nuns had, in public chapter, voted against admitting her as a member of the community, she received the news with a calm exterior, though in her heart she was very much disappointed. Instead of returning to Rocca Porrena, St. Rita remained in Cascia in the house of a friend, and after a short lapse of time made a second application, only to receive a second refusal. She applied a third time" and most eloquently besought the nuns to admit her into their community, even as a servant, alleging that she did not consider herself a worthy companion of the spouses of Jesus Christ. Her pleading was all in vain, and because God wished to try further the patience of Rita, He permitted the nuns to remain firm in their decision, and thus St. Rita was told for the third time by the prioress that it was impossible to admit her as a member of the community, and that she should cease further importunities.
When the door of the Maddalena was closed against
her, St. Rita returned to Rocca Porrena, judging that the time had not
yet arrived for her to obtain that happiness to which she aspired. Yet
deep down in her heart, she felt that God would soon come to her aid
by His omnipotence help her to overcome what the prioress of the
Convent had said was impossible.
When St. Rita returned to Rocca Porrena from Cascia,
she began what proved to be her first successful trial against the
With the words of the prioress of the Maddalena ringing in her ears:
dear woman, it is impossible for you to become a member of our
St. Rita determined to use every holy means to make possible what human
lips had told her was impossible. With this determination dominant in
mind, St. Rita spent nearly all her days, and a goodly portion of her
supplicating her beloved Jesus to shorten the time of her anxiety, and
admit her as one of His brides within the enclosed walls of the
Not content with importuning Jesus
with the most fervent prayers and
exercises of penance and
mortificiation, St. Rita also implored
the aid of her patrons, St. John the
Baptist, St. Augustine and St.
Nicholas of Tolentine, firmly
believing that their poweful intercession God would hasten the fulfillment of the only desire her heart sought in this world. St. Rita was not disappointed in her confidence and hope, and she, who preferred to be the lowliest among the brides of Christ than to be the most honored of the highest ones of the earth, was soon to taste that happiness she had sought from the time she was but a little girl. Yes, the time had come when St. Rita was to make her entrance into the cloister in a most miraculous manner.
One night while engaged in prayer and meditation,
she heard a loud knock at the door of her house and a voice which
"Rita! Rita!" As the hour was late, naturally a slight feeling of fear
overcame her for a moment, but a whispered prayer to Heaven gave her
courage to approach the window, which she opened and glanced out to
who called her. Seeing no one at the door, St. Rita thought that what
heard might have been an illusion or perhaps a ruse of the Evil One to
divert her from her prayers.
Signing herself with the Sign
Cross, she resumed her prayers
with a redoubled fervor. Again she
was interrupted in her prayers by the same voice which said:
"Rita! Rita! Fear not. God will admit
you into the cloister as His spouse."
This time St. Rita understood the true meaning of the double call that had fallen on her overjoyed ears, and, inflamed by the fire of Divine love, her heart gave itself up to so fervent a prayer, that she became rapt in ecstasy and saw in a vision the three Saints whom God had sent to aid her. They were St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine and St. Nicholas of Tolentine. And scarcely had they given her to understand that the cup of her heart's desire was to be filled to overflowing, than she heard a celestial voice, the voice of her Jesus, who called and said to her: "Come, Rita, My beloved. It is now time for you to enter the Maddalena Convent whose door was so often closed against you."
Awakening, as it were, from a profound sleep, St. Rita rose from the prie-dieu on which she had been kneeling, went to the window and saw a person of venerable mien and aspect standing at the door. He wore a garment of camel's hair, cinctured with a leather girdle, and he made signs that she should follow him. St. Rita, recognizing that the person who beckoned her to follow him was no other than her patron St. John the Baptist, whom she had seen in the vision, left her house at once, and with her heart filled with spiritual joy and gladness, she followed her holy guide. They climbed together the rugged steeps of the reef called Schioppo, on whose skirt Rocca Porrena is situated. When she had arrived at the summit of the reef, there appeared to her St. Augustine and St. Nicholas of Tolentine, and she felt as if she were standing, so to speak, on Mt. Thabor, so refulgent was the light which radiated from the countenances of her three patrons. Dazzled by the spectacle, St. Rita prostrated herself at their feet and thanked them, with humble and devout reverence, for all the favors they had obtained for her, and again she recommended herself to their protection.
They commanded her to arise and follow them. She obeyed immediately and walked behind them as they directed their steps in the direction of Cascia. Every step she took told St. Rita that she was drawing nearer and nearer to the long-desired goal, and her heart was filled with indescribable joy, as she listened to the heavenly words of her guides as they conversed with one another on the way. It was indeed a memorable journey, and St. Rita must have felt as did the two pilgrims who conversed with Christ on the road to Emmaus; for when she arrived at Cascia, yea, even at the very door of the Maddalena Convent, the desire of consecrating herself, body and soul to her beloved Jesus, was more ardent than ever.
Finding, as was natural, the door and the windows of the Maddalena closed tightly, her guides nevertheless led her into the cloister, and then addressed her these words: "Rita, remain a rational bee in the garden of the Spouse whom you have so long and ardently loved; so that, collecting the flowers of virtues, you may build a sweet honeycomb. You are now in the house of your Spouse, Jesus. Love Him with all your heart and soul, and your eternal salvation is secure. Return thanks to God for so great a favor done in your behalf. Praise His infinite mercy, and publish that there is nothing impossible to God. Rita, the impossible is overcome in your behalf." Having said these words, the three Saints disappeared. St. Rita, overcome with happiness because she was now within the cloister, spent the remainder of the night in giving thanks to the Lord for the singular favor He had bestowed upon her.
When the morning was come, and the nuns of the Maddalena discovered that a secular was within the cloister, they were both surprised and astonished. Who is she? How did she get in? ran from lip to lip, as with wondering eyes the nuns fixed their gaze on St. Rita. Some of the nuns began to suspect that one of the community had secretly allowed her to enter the cloister, while others thought that perhaps through negligence the door of the convent had been left unlocked. However, when some of the surprise that attended the discovery of St. Rita in the cloister had passed away, the nuns, in a body, approached her and asked: What manner of person she was, and by what means she had entered their cloister?
St. Rita with humility written in her gladsome eyes, and with humility guiding the sweet and convincing eloquence of her eager lips, thus answered them: "I am that poor widow of Rocca Porrena who many times asked to be admitted as a member of your community, and was as many times refused as unworthy of so great a happiness. But know, beloved Superioress and Sisters, that God, wishing to do me a singular favor, sent, last night, to my house in Rocca Porrena, His precursor, St. John the Baptist, accompanied by that Sun of Heaven, St. Augustine, and that Star of Heaven, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, to conduct me into your midst. Nevertheless, I ask you, in the name of that God who has favored me with His mercy, to accept me as a member of your community."
The nuns of the Maddalena listened with amazement while St. Rita related how she had been conducted into the cloister, and when she had concluded her story, all the nuns, with one voice, cried out that they accepted her as a companion, and then humbly besought her pardon for having refused, so many times, her request for admission into their convent home.
THE FIRST resolution St. Rita made after her solemn profession was to arrive at the summit of religious perfection by a strict observance of the vows she had professed in the Chapel of the Maddalena Convent. Being closely united to Jesus by the sacred bonds of her vows, she began at once to climb the ladder of religious perfection by placing her feet on the step of obedience, which is indeed the first step or rung of the ladder of religious perfection. That obedience is the first step of the ladder of religious perfection, we learn from our holy father St. Augustine, who said: "Poverty is a great virtue, because it rules over riches. Chastity is also a great virtue, because it dominates the flesh. But the virtue of obedience is greater than either poverty or chastity, because it rules and restrains the intellect and the will." The Holy Ghost expresses the same truth when He says: "Better is obedience than victims." Hence obedience is more excellent than poverty, or chastity, because the spiritual powers of the soul, which are sacrificed to God, are more excellent than the exterior goods of sensual gratification which are sacrificed by the two other vows.
To understand the nature of obedience, as regards the religious state, we must observe that there are two kinds or classes of obedience. In the first place, there is an obedience that is called blind obedience. This obedience has no eyes, as it were. It inclines the subject to obey the command of the superior without questioning the command, without taking into consideration the difficulty of obeying the command, or without adverting if the command be unjust or impossible. The expression "Blind obedience" signifies not an unreasoning or unreasonable submission to authority, but a keen appreciation of the rights of authority, the reasonableness of authority, and blindness only to such selfish or worldly considerations as would lessen regard for authority." This blind obedience may be called, and is, perfect obedience.
The second kind of obedience has as many eyes,
so to speak, as the animals and the wheels of the cart that the Prophet
Ezekiel saw in a vision, and the subject who is guided by this
understands perfectly the difficulties of the command of his superiors.
He feels how repugnant it is to the intellect and the violence it does
the will. Yet, notwithstanding this knowledge, he obeys promptly and
considering easy, even that which is impossible. This kind of obedience
is superlative and therefore most perfect.
Jesus Christ Himself gives us an example of this obedience. Being Divine Wisdom itself, He became obedient even to the death of the Cross, though He knew that death was repugnant to His Divinity. And again when He was suffering a terrible agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, did He not cry out? "Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from Me"; and then as if recollecting the task that was before Him, He added: "Yet not My will but Thine be done."
The Angels also practice this kind of obedience, and though they are pure spirits, endowed with superior knowledge, nevertheless they not only obey God with diligence and promptitude, but they even make themselves obedient to the welfare of creatures, though they know the creatures are inferior to them in everything. Now since this most perfect obedience, more worthy of reward, because more meritorious than blind obedience, is truly characteristic of the Angels, we may call those persons angels or angelic persons who, on earth, are imitators of the Angels in their obedience.
Judged by this standard, St. Rita was indeed an angelic woman. So obedient indeed was she that when commanded by her superioress to do anything, even though she knew the command was impossible, she obeyed with the same promptitude as if the command was easily executed.
It is related by many authors of the life of St. Rita that the superioress of the Maddalena, in order to put her obedience to a test, commanded the Saint to water daily a dead and withered plant in the convent garden. St. Rita obeyed without saying a single word about the uselessness of her labor. She watered the plant every day for a year, though she knew it would not revive without a miracle. God, however, rewarded the obedience of St. Rita; to the great astonishment of the nuns, the dead plant revived, put forth leaves and flowers, and was the most beautiful of all the plants in the convent garden.
We will cite another beautiful example of the obedience and resignation of St. Rita. Pope Nicholas V had declared the year 1450 a jubilee year, to which were attached many indulgences that could be gained by those visiting Rome. As some of the nuns had received permission to make the journey, St. Rita prompted by motives of piety and zeal desired to accompany them. She therefore went to the superioress and humbly asked permission to go to Rome with the other nuns, so that she might gain the indulgences of the jubilee. The superioress, looking at the disfigured forehead of St. Rita-----of which we shall speak in another chapter-----did not at first feel inclined to grant the permission. However, after a few moments of consideration, she dismissed St. Rita saying: "Sister Rita, I will permit you to make the journey to Rome, provided the wound on your forehead be healed when the sisters are ready to start on the journey."
Leaving the presence of the superioress, St. Rita went at once to the chapel to ask her Divine Spouse if it were pleasing to Him that she should make the journey to Rome. If so, she supplicated Him to heal the wound on her forehead, but if not, she would resign herself to His holy will and the will of her superioress. God seeing the humble resignation of St. Rita and knowing the obedient spirit of His humble and devout servant heard her prayer, and wonderful to relate, the wound was immediately healed, and St. Rita was granted permission to accompany the other sisters to Rome.
So perfect, indeed, was the obedience of St. Rita that she rather would have died than not to obey the least command of her superiors, whom she considered the representatives of God and her guides and directors. She was like the sheep that always hear the voice of the shepherd and follow him. Free from the slavery of her own will, St. Rita was so perfectly united to the will of God that she had no self-confidence and abandoned herself entirely to God. Hence so Christ-like was the obedience of Sister St. Rita that her every act and all her acts were agreeable to God; for, having once placed her feet on the first step of the ladder of religious perfection, she ascended higher and higher, and nearer and nearer to God, and became what she truly was, a model of the most perfect obedience.