St Rita of Cascia is often invoked for "impossible situations" - when Anthony has not earned his fiver, or Jude has too many desperate cases on his books, people turn to Rita, the patron of impossible cases. Now Catholic devotional history can be quirky at times, and yes it has been known to verge into the realm of the mad, the strange and the downright heretical. So great care must be taken to keep us on the right road.
The first thing to note on the feast of St Rita is that it is God who answers our prayers - the Saints make intercession for us, and that intercession is most welcome for our lives, as is their friendship, their example and their writings. Saints do have particular patronages, and we should indeed invoke the various Saints under their patronages, but we must be careful not to think that one Saint can trump another when it comes our requests. God may well grant a request when a particular Saint is invoked rather than when another is invoked, but this is because God wants us to look at that Saint for a particular reason - for their example or for a lesson.
St Rita teaches us many lessons, one of the most important being endurance in faith. She had her troubles, and what troubles! An unhappy marriage, wayward children, opposition to her vocation, and then when she finally became a religious other problems emerged through her mystical life. Yet in spite of it all she never lost her faith in God, nor stopped striving to love him more. In this fidelity and love, she was sanctified. Rita is indeed a Saint to invoke when we find ourselves with difficulties we may think are impossible to overcome. Rita reminds us that for God all things are possible, and if we put our trust in Christ we will be not be confounded and we will be delivered. That is good news for today.
There are many beautiful stories too from St Rita's life - the story of the bees will appeal to the more ecological among us - how the bees gathered around her cradle after her birth and became a sign of the sweetness of the holiness which would mark her life. The story of the twig is also lovely - how a twig she planted in the ground began to grow and became a vine which to this day produces grapes - that is most certainly a sign whose meaning we find in St John's Gospel.
Her stigmata has attracted attention - instead of wounds in her hands, feet and side, she bore a single wound on her forehead, a wound from the crown of thorns. This wound led to her isolation within the community because of its odour - some of the sisters could not cope with the smell, so Rita spent most, if not all her time, in her cell. Often, those who are united to Christ and endure his suffering find themselves alone in the world either through misunderstanding, fear or even hatred. St Rita teaches us that despite this, we should cling to Christ all the more and never stop loving our brothers and sisters regardless of how they treat us. In reality, the more we conform to Christ, the more the world becomes suspicious of us. Despite her isolation in the community because of the wound, Rita was still loved and her sanctity was obvious. Her suffering gained many graces for the sisters in her community and for those who asked her prayers: as followers of Christ we must always remember that suffering bears fruit, much fruit.
Today I greet all my Augustinian friends! St Rita is one of their great Saints, and as a true daughter of St Augustine and St Monica, she reveals in her life, both in the ordinary events of that life and the mystical, how to follow the Lord. Like Augustine her heart was aflame with love and she sought to set others on fire with that love. I pray today that her Augustinian brothers and sisters will continue to set hearts on fire with love for God; to help people remain faithful to Christ and his Church, and in the spirit of St Augustine, to explain those teachings which are often rejected by many but within which we find the way to true happiness. Happy feast day to them all!
The body of St Rita exposed for veneration at her shrine in Cascia