22 May 2014

Lovely Rita

22 MAY 2014. Saint Rita of Cascia. Re-posted from Dominica. By Br. Joseph Martin Hagan, O.P.

Lovely Rita

The life of St. Rita can read like a Shakespearean tragedy.  As a young woman, Rita desired to enter the convent and consecrate herself to God alone, but her parents had other ideas.  They arranged for Rita to marry a nobleman, Paolo, and she humbly obeyed their wishes.  Sadly, her husband was an abusive, violent man who treated Rita with little dignity.  Paolo, however, died a sudden death when he was ambushed and stabbed by members of a rival family.  Rita was left a widow with two young sons.
At her husband’s funeral, Rita forgave his murderers and pleaded for peace between the feuding families.  So strong was her family’s vendetta that she asked God to take her sons’ lives rather than allow them to commit murder.  Her prayers were answered rather brutally: both of her sons died of a fatal illness before they could seek vengeance. Rita was now a widow and childless.
Returning to her childhood desire, Rita again sought to enter the local convent of Augustinian nuns; however, the nuns objected to her entrance.  Many of the nuns were related to the murderers of Rita’s husband, and they were wary of inviting dissension if they accepted Rita.  Before allowing her into the convent, they required the impossible of Rita: bringing peace to the rival families.
By this point in her story, we get the message: Rita, though innocent, had a tough life.  Is this what made her a saint?  Was her holiness merely a matter of patiently suffering the tragedies of her life?  No.  Surely suffering is part of every Christian’s journey with the Cross of Christ, but a saint suffers without the usual pessimism of a tragedy.
The life of St. Rita can also read as a song of hope.  She met adversity with an anthem of God’s unfailing mercy.  Rita did not merely endure her husband; she met his abuse with her love and kindness.  She was a mercy to him, and many accounts record that by the time of his death, he had become a good, peaceful man.  His violent death came not by his instigation, but by the betrayal of his trusted allies.
Her sons’ premature deaths too were a sort of mercy.  No good parent desires their child’s death.  And we do not know if Rita’s sons would have grown up to seek violent revenge.  But what is worse: the death of the body or of the soul?  Our dead bodies will be resurrected, but a dead soul in hell awaits no return.  Rita’s prayers potentially saved her boys from murder and from losing their souls by attempting to fulfill their inherited vendetta.
In response to the convent’s initial rejection, Rita worked one of her greatest miracles: bringing peace to a town torn by family feuds. First, she invoked the intercession of St. Augustine, St. Nicholas, and St. John the Baptist.  Then, she successfully exhorted her family to accept peace, and subsequently the rival family.  For this, she received the title the Peacemaker of Cascia.
Then, as a nun, she committed herself to a life of prayer and penance. She entered into mystical union with the Crucified Christ and received a thorn in her forehead—a suffering born of love.  Offering herself to God, her life was a blessing to all of Cascia, to all of the Church.  Even unto today, St. Rita is invoked as the saint of the impossible.
This second reading of St. Rita’s life emphasizes an important point.  Saints do not just suffer through life, waiting for it to be over.  Rather, they raise a song of hope in the midst of life’s suffering.  And even more, this song is not a solo but a chorus.  St. Rita’s holiness was contagious, bringing others closer to God.
To rightly praise St. Rita and her love of God, the words of Psalm 84 seem fitting:
They are happy, whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.
As they go through the Bitter Valley
they make it a place of springs.
The autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Zion.
By her intercession, may we go through the Bitter Valley of our life and make it a place of springs.  May the roads to Heaven be written in our hearts, and may we travel with ever growing strength.
St. Rita, pray for us.
Image: Frederic Leighton, The Reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets over the Dead Bodies of Romeo and Juliet

03 May 2014

Pope Saint Pius V

Pius v

Born in a town called Bosco in Northern Italy, and raised in the humblest surroundings of poverty and obscurity, Anthony Ghislieri was born to poor parents in the year 1504.  His Baptismal Name was Anthony, as he was born on the Feast of St Anthony of the Desert (Jan 17th).

After entering the Order of Preachers as a young man he became renowned for his holiness, and Fr Michele Ghislieri soon attracted the attention of the hierarchy in Rome. In 1566 he was elected Pope, taking the name Pius V. The new Pope led the Church with the deepest sanctity; a holiness of life that would inspire all those who encountered him. Pius V was a man intent on interior spiritual renewal of the Church. In this desire we see many similarities between him and our present Holy Father, Pope Francis. Pius’ first public act as Pope was to give all the money that was received for the installation ceremonies of the new Pontiff to the poor and neediest. The thousand crowns usually given for the banquet for the Cardinals and ambassadors were sent to hospitals and the poorest convents in the city: “For I know,” said the Pope, “that God will not call me to account for suppressing a feast for the wealthy, but he may punish me severely if I neglect His poor.”

From the first moment of his election Pius V saw as his top priority not so much the battle from without but the need for spiritual renewal within, starting with the hierarchy. Leading by example he endeavored to inspire the Cardinals to a renewed life of Christian simplicity and fervor.  He established regular life in the apostolic palace, gave conferences to his court and the Cardinals on the life of virtue that would be needed to reform the Church. Always clothed in his Dominican habit, he slept on a hard pallet and he kept continual fasts according to the rules of the Order, knowing that only sacrifice and a life of holiness would draw down the graces necessary for the re-invigoration of the Church. His table was characterized by its extreme frugality so all saw in him a man devoted to the imitation of the life of Christ shown by his Holy Father Dominic. He had a deep love for the Rosary and for this he was called ‘The Pope of the Rosary.’ Likewise he was called the “The Pope of the Crucifix” loving with all his heart the Sacred Humanity of Christ crucified. In the Saviour’s crucified humanity he saw the deepest expression of Divine love.

On May 1st 1572,  Pius V clothed in his old Dominican habit, and clutching his Rosary beads made one last request of his Lord: “Increase my sufferings but also increase my patience.” This saintly Dominican Pope shows us that the path of renewal remains the same in our day; interior conversion of life and the life of holiness practiced by all the faithful who are called by their Lord to be light to the world. He challenges us not to settle for mediocrity but to strive to be the saints of the third millennium, echoing the challenge given to us by Pope St John Paul II.

RE-POSTED FROM Domincans Interactive, Irish Province.