A lot of times when we think of the saints, we might picture lives that are very different from the lives we live today.
We might picture serene lives spent in a monastery, or heroic martyrdoms at the hands of evil rulers. We probably don’t think of saints living in difficult romantic relationships.
But St. Rita, whose feast day we celebrated May 22nd, lived a life that might be quite relatable to those of us who’ve had our share of trials in love.
Her Holy Early Life
St. Rita was born in 1381 in Italy to pious parents who were members of the nobility.
The day after Rita was baptized, a swarm of bees entered and flew out of her mouth without hurting her. Rita’s parents believed that this was a sign that she would grow up to be virtuous and devout.
But despite her parents’ piety, they did not recognize her religious vocation. From a young age, Rita desired to devote her life to God as a nun, and she begged her parents to allow her to enter a convent. But instead, they arranged a marriage for her.
A marriage filled with suffering
St. Rita’s marriage was anything but a happily ever after.
As was custom in her time, she married very young. Her husband’s name was Paolo Mancini, and he was a violent, immoral man.
Paolo abused Rita both physically and verbally. He was unfaithful to her, and he had many enemies.
As a young bride in the middle ages, Rita had no recourse as a victim of domestic abuse. With no means to escape, she bore her sufferings patiently. Her holy example eventually helped him to begin reforming his life.
During her marriage, Rita had two sons, and she did her best to raise them as pious Christians.
Because of the difficulty she had in marriage, St. Rita can be a great saint to turn to for anyone who has had a troubled past marriage.
In our own day and age, we typically have many resources and means to escape from spousal abuse (and the Church would never want us to stay in an abusive situation). But we can definitely look for inspiration and encouragement from this holy woman who had no choice but to endure abuse in her marriage.
A scandalous turn of events
Rita’s difficult marriage did not last her whole life.
Matters with her husband’s many enemies continued to escalate for many years. Even though Paolo eventually chose to step back from a feud he’d been a part of with a rival family, the feud became vicious and he was killed by his former enemies.
Rita publicly forgave her husband’s murders, but her husband’s brother was not so forgiving. He encouraged Rita’s two sons to enter the feud and avenge their father’s death.
Rita greatly feared for her sons’ souls and tried to convince them not to go down this sinful path.
When realized she couldn’t stop them from committing the mortal sin of murder, she prayed for God to take them before they could commit it. They both died a year later of dysentery.
After her sons’ death, Rita at long last thought that her way was clear to enter the convent as she had always wished.
But instead, she was turned away. The convent was afraid of being associated with her, because of the scandalous circumstances of her husband’s death.
Rita did not give up, and finally she was told that she could enter if she were first able to bring about reconciliation between the two families whose feud had led to her husband’s death.
Patroness of Impossible Cases
Rita’s task to reconcile these two factions must have seemed truly insurmountable. But she called upon her three patron saints for help: St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino.
As she was attempting to bring about reconciliation between the families, the bubonic plague broke out in the area.
The head of the Mancini family became infected with the plague. Realizing that he would die soon, he called for an end to the feud.
Once the feud was ended, Rita was allowed to enter the monastery. She lived out the rest of her days piously, with a deep devotion to the Passion of Christ.
She asked Christ to allow her to share in His physical sufferings, and He gave her a wound on her forehead like He received from His crown of thorns.
Throughout her life, St. Rita remained faithful to God throughout a marriage filled with suffering, an unjust prejudice against her due to the sins of others, and even through a task that seemed impossible.
St. Rita is often invoked as a patron saint of impossible cases. So when we begin to feel hopeless or start to think that what we long for is impossible (even if in our dating life!), she is a great saint to turn to in our seemingly impossible needs.
St. Rita of Cascia, pray for us!