The saints are fascinating people. Each has his or her unique gifts to offer and lessons to teach, but to come to know them we have to get beyond the surface and see them as people not unlike ourselves, with similar problems, sufferings, joys, and triumphs. One of these, St. Rita of Cascia, is especially interesting because of how she responded to the difficult circumstances she had to endure. On first glance it appears that she was holy because of her long suffering since everything she prayed for seemingly went unanswered as she bore one dreadful blow after the next. But upon a closer look one can see that it was love which fueled her holiness and therefore, her response to her circumstances. Through her love for Jesus Christ she developed an incredible intimacy with Him, and so powerful is her prayerful intercession that since her death she has come to be known as the “Saint of Impossible Causes.” Her life was heroic, but it was based on deep love of God, both given and received. And as such, by her example St. Rita is also a powerful teacher.
St. Rita, whose feast day is May 22, was born near Cascia, Italy, in 1381 and died there in 1457.* She rose above some harrowing circumstances, bearing it all with grace. But because she is a saint let us not be fooled into thinking that somehow she was impervious to pain; rather, how she dealt with the pain is what made her holy. Each of the disappointments in her life was an immense challenge to overcome. First, she had to marry even though she was deeply attracted to religious life, and as if that was not enough, her husband turned out to be a cruel, dangerous man. She came to truly love him, though her love was often tested. They had two sons who became much like her husband, and though she always offered forgiveness she never stopped trying to help them see the error of their ways. When her husband and both sons died within a short period of time, her heartbreak was real, total, and intensely painful.
After these losses, Rita unsuccessfully tried to enter the convent where she originally had desired entrance as a young woman. Her attempt was not an effort to hide away, nor was she feeling like she was ‘finally free’ as if experiencing some kind of relief; she carried the pain of loss with her for the rest of her life. However, Rita’s pain fueled a deeper sense of mercy and understanding for all those who suffered, and therefore her desire to enter religious life was to immerse herself in prayer and service. She spent hours in contemplation before a crucifix, so that she could continue to grow in love for the God she knew had never left her side through every disappointment and setback.
Reflection upon the life of St. Rita brings up the issue of ‘unanswered’ prayer. When prayers are not answered the way we had hoped it is easy for us to feel let down, or even abandoned, by God. We may have prayed our hearts out, called upon living friends as well as our heavenly ones asking for their aid through intercession, and we know what we are asking for is good or is just, yet our pleas seem to go unanswered. This can be so painful it feels soul-crushing, and it can rock our sense of faith and hope to the core. In honesty, the reasons why this happens are too complex to be explained, (something we can come to learn about in the Book of Job),** but we can look to the inspiration of holy people like St. Rita to learn how to cope with this reality and to recognize that we are never alone. Her example points us to Jesus who underwent suffering in order to free us from the awful power of sin and death. Being God, He could have chosen to simply speak a word and it would have been accomplished, but instead He chose the most difficult path so that we might see the depth of His love. St. Rita knew something of this love because she spent hours contemplating His suffering, and she also chose to enter into it by accepting a form of the stigmata offered as prayer to alleviate the suffering of others. In so doing she cultivated an ever deepening relationship with Jesus, but she also grew in her own capacity for mercy and compassion by entering into her own suffering rather than trying to avoid it. Granted, hers was a unique ‘calling’ and we should not imitate it as if suffering is a good thing. Rather, what we learn is that if suffering should come our way, and it will at some point, we can ask God to help us walk the road with grace, offering our burden as prayer for others as well as for ourselves.
God has a wisdom which we do not possess. He sees clearly from above; we only see obscurely from below. It is important to remember that God does not cause the misery and losses we endure. On the contrary, He allows people and things to have freedom which is built into the way things are, a reality too complex for understanding. In other words, we will never be able to understand why sometimes our prayers for a particular intention do not seem to be heard, why some people seem to get away with evil, and others who are good, end up suffering. But what does help is to know that without a doubt, all of our prayers are always heard: God never turns a deaf ear to any of His children and He always responds. Sometimes the response is not what we had wanted and sometimes the answer is simply “no.” But we must not let the disappointments cancel out the times when He gave us many gifts which we never asked for yet enjoy, such as friends, health, family and even protections we will not know about until after we see Him face to face. And we must acknowledge the gifts we do ask for and ‘visibly’ receive. Gratitude for these gifts is our gift to God, but it can help us remember God’s generous love at another time when we experience a trial or disappointment.
It seems ironic that St. Rita would become such an incredibly powerful intercessor that she is now given the title of “Saint of Impossible Causes.” We have in her an ally who understands our struggles and thus, brings our requests faithfully to the Lord. The testimony of many people about her effectiveness when they have requested her intercession throughout the years is great; it has also been my experience. But when it does not go as we hope, we can trust that perhaps persevering through a difficult situation or personal suffering is our own road to holiness, as it was St. Rita’s, and that without the suffering, we might not grow, we might never come to understand more deeply the mercy and love of Christ, nor would we be a witness to someone else who might be needing our inspiration to get them through their own difficulty. Let us trust in God’s mercy, as did St. Rita, that we might persevere in this life until we are ready for the joy of the next.
May we come to appreciate God’s gifts and the times of joy in our life more deeply, and may we be moved to gratitude for them! May we turn to the intercession of St. Rita when praying for the alleviation of our own suffering or for that of another! May reflection upon the life of St. Rita move us to deeper imitation of Christ in the unique way we have been called! May we come to trust in the love and mercy of Jesus, knowing that even when prayer does not seem to be answered, He is with us! May we come to greater insight into the suffering of Jesus and the great love for us that empowered Him to accept it, so that we might be filled with joy and gratitude for such a gift! And may we never lose hope in the promise of the life to come in Heaven! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* I have written about St. Rita before. Last year at this time she was the topic of a post in which there is more about her life. Therefore I will not repeat what was said there, but rather refer readers back to that post if more information is desired. It can be found in the Archives on the right side of this page: click on May, 2017 and then on May 22, or click here.
** You can find more on Job by also going to my Archives. I wrote about Job on August 22, 2013. My style has evolved since those early days, but the information on Job midway through the entry might be helpful. You can click here to find it.
Note: Next entry will be June 4.
1. This is one of my photos, taken in Big Bend National Park, TX. I chose it for the beginning of the post because the location of the bird nest in the cactus seems like an impossible situation. It seemed to me that it was a good example of how we persevere and even can thrive in the midst of a tenuous situation.
2. This icon is called St. Rita of Cascia Patroness of the Impossible by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I especially like this icon because it depicts her suffering by the wound on her forehead as well as the crown of thorns behind her. But while it is clear she has suffered, her posture shows her receptivity. Her gratitude is observed in her hand which is raised in praise and prayer. You can find this icon at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/st-rita-of-cascia-patroness-of-the-impossible-206-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
3. This is another of the works of Fr. William Hart McNichols: Holy Prophet Job. It presents Job as stripped of everything, yet in a prayerful, reflective pose. He is trying to understand, and though he cannot, he has learned to accept with gratitude everything God sends. One can almost hear him saying: "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21) You can find this icon at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/holy-prophet-job-264-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
4. I took this photo on the beach at Port Aransas, TX. It is one 'lonely' little shell persevering in the rushing tide. It reminded me of how some things seem insurmountable, but that we can 'hang in' with the help of God's grace, even if we think we are being battered by the tides of life.
5. This is a painting by Frank Johnston (1951) called The Fire Ranger. I chose it for this place in the entry because it reminded me that God sees the big picture, just as the plane is seeing if there is any fire in the immensity of the wooded area. He can see from above what we might not see readily from below. Johnston was a Canadian artist, a member of the famous Group of Seven. You can find this work at https://www.wikiart.org/en/frank-johnston/the-fire-ranger-1920.
6. Finally, this is one of my photos of a lily pond taken at a public garden, a hidden gem in the middle of Washington DC. It seemed appropriate to have something beautiful at the end of this post. It shows a few flowers in the midst of all the lily pads, which could be seen as symbolic of beauty in the midst of all the water. We have brothers and sisters nearby, and thus we are not alone. And we can find Christ in them, just as we can in the saints.
Heart Speaks to Heart