May 22, 2020
Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
(Optional Memorial of St. Rita of Cascia)
First Reading: Acts 18:9-18
Responsorial: Psalm 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Alleluia: Luke 24:46, 26
Gospel: John 16:20-23
Today the Church celebrates St. Rita of Cascia, a remarkable woman born in late 14th century Italy. At a young age she was married off by her parents to a wealthy nobleman, Paolo, despite her wish to enter into religious life. Her husband was a man of poor morals, often abusing her and engaging in affairs with other women. He and his family were also involved in shady business dealings; as a result, Paolo became intertwined in feuds and reprisals with other criminal families and made many enemies.
The couple was blessed with two sons and Rita made great efforts to raise them as Christians despite the poor example of their father. Eventually, her steadfast witness to the faith won even Paolo over, and he began to reform his conduct. Sadly, however, his past life caught up with him: He was murdered by the Chiqui family in a vendetta killing.
At her husband’s funeral, Rita publicly forgave the Chiquis, hoping to end the cycles of blood-feuding common among rival Italian families in that time. Paolo’s brother Bernardo had other ideas, however. He encouraged Rita’s two young sons, Giovanni and Paolo Maria, to move in with him at the family’s ancestral home. There, he raised the boys with a view that they would avenge their father’s death by killing members of the Chiqui family. Rita, for her part, prayed that her sons would turn away from this path, which prayer was granted even if in a tragic way. Both sons died of dysentery before they could take revenge for their father’s death.
Now widowed and childless, Rita sought to join an Augustine convent. However, the sisters were wary, given her connection to the infamous Paolo and his family. They agreed to accept her, however, on condition that she find a way to bring to a close the wider feud between her husband’s family and the Chiqui family. Through fervent prayer and appeals to both clans, Rita eventually brought about a truce between the warring parties. She was then accepted into the convent at the age of 36 where she lived out the rest of her days. During her conventual life, she was graced with a partial stigmata – a perpetual bruise on her forehead signifying her share in the wound that Christ received from the crown of thorns.
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus says: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.”
Christ’s words remind us of the importance of seeing life along the supernatural horizon of faith, as exemplified by the witness of St. Rita. That her husband was murdered was tragic, but more importantly, he had repented of his past life and was living in a state of grace by the time he died. That her sons died so young was also tragic, but more important was the fact that death interceded before they could commit the mortal sin of murder, thereby saving them from the hellfires of eternity.
Living our faith is not meant to be a miserable experience. Suffering is not something that a Christian seeks out just for the sake of suffering. But suffering is a fact of life, and everyone will encounter it, to a greater or lesser degree. The important thing, then, is being able to counter suffering with an abundance of faith, hope, and love. Ultimately, if our hearts and minds are fixed on heaven, the difficulties of this life, while real, begin to recede. We begin to see the working of God’s providence even in the midst of tragedy and challenge. We know that anything taken away from us will be given back to us, and more, in eternity.