Saint Rita of Cascia and the
Miracles of the Rose and the Fig
All the years of fasting, subsisting at times on so little (the Nuns judged she lived solely on the Holy Eucharist), began to take a toll on St. Rita. After four years of intense suffering, she lay dying, her last winter on earth, the land she had so dearly loved covered with a blanket of snow.
We are told that although St. Rita had lived the life of an obedient Nun these last years, the wife and mother asked the Lord for a sign that her husband and sons were with Him in Heaven. One of Rita’s relatives from Roccaporena came to see her and asked her if there was anything she could do for her. “Yes,” replied the dying Nun, “I would like a rose from my garden, at home.” As the thick snow of winter would have killed any roses had they survived the bitter cold, her cousin was disheartened. Judging Rita was delirious and she would never see her alive again, the relative wearily returned to Roccaporena. Upon approaching St. Rita’s garden, what should she discover but a rose shooting up from the soft, white mound of earth.
It is said in the Bible that Moses never realized his dream to reach the Promised Land because he struck the rock twice. Be that as it may, Rita asked the Lord for yet another sign. No sooner had the relative returned to Rita with the rose than Rita, showing not the least bit of surprise, asked for two figs from her fig tree at home, another impossible feat for the middle of winter. Now, no longer doubting, the relative rushed off and joyfully returned with the two figs.
I sometimes marvel at the relationship we dare to have with the Lord. One time, I had shared with Bob how amazed I was that this man, whose home I had visited, had placed a bag over the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus because he and Jesus had a fight, Bob said, “What a personal God, Jesus is to him. He trusts the Lord enough to argue with Him!”
Another time, when in Lourdes, we came upon an Italian Pilgrimage celebrating Mass at the outside Chapel of St. Bernadette. We could hear what sounded like “We forgive You, Lord.” I thought I must have misunderstood; they could not be saying what I thought I heard them say, but there it was again, “We forgive You, Lord.” Bob and I approached, moving up the steps, the area surrounding the altar in plain view. There were over one hundred litters of obviously dying children, waiting, dressed in white to receive their first Communion, possibly their last Communion. I cry till today when I remember the words and those who said them. Have I forgiven You, Lord? If not, please forgive me.
Three days before St. Rita died, she had a Vision of our Lord Jesus and our Lady. The room, so often Calvary for Rita, was now flooded with a beautiful, bright light. “You will be with Me in Paradise, in three days,” our Lord told her, and three days later, on May 22nd, 1457, Rita was to join the annals of those who have lived for God; she was with Him.
The ugly wound she had borne uncomplainingly over the years, healed as she breathed her last, only to be replaced by a ruby spot. A strong fragrance, sweet and heavenly, poured forth from where the wound had been, replacing the stench she had lived with those many years. This fragrance continued over many years, for St. Rita was never buried!
Originally, the plan had been to have the body of St. Rita laid out in a Chapel in the Monastery. There were so many of the faithful who wanted to say a last good-by to Rita, whom the townspeople had already proclaimed a Saint, that the Nuns placed St. Rita in the parish Church. All the townspeople processed past her body, paying their last respects. The fragrance continued to emanate from the body. The Nuns decided to place St. Rita in a glass urn (coffin) under the main altar for the faithful to venerate until such time as the body would show signs of decomposition and then they would bury it. There is only one problem. It has been in a glass urn, on view to the faithful, exposed to all the elements, for over six hundred years and it has never decayed or shown any of the ravages of death.
Veneration to this gentle lady who had experienced all that life can possibly throw at us, began almost immediately. Down through the centuries, the power of intercession to St. Rita has been confirmed by a multitude of miracles. Most of these have been granted to those on the brink of despair, who felt their petitions were impossible. St. Rita has been given the name, “Saint of the Impossible”. While the favors granted have not been solely to women in distress, she has become known as “The Woman’s Saint.” There are those, ourselves included, who believe that St. Rita is one of the most touchable Saints for the women of today. Millions of pilgrims climb the mountain to Cascia every year, in petition or thanksgiving to this humble Saint, whose greatest asset has been obedience and faith in her God. Many more millions who cannot physically go to Cascia, pray to St. Rita for help.
Somewhere out there, many Ritas are searching for help, but don’t know where to look. Help is there; it has always been there. We have just been looking in the wrong places. While we believe the Lord has given us marriage counselors and psychologists as a means to help us through the trials of life, the answer is not in the horizontal. It’s in the vertical. The horizontal by itself is a minus (-). But when you put it with the vertical, looking up to Heaven for help, it becomes a plus (+). It is also the Sign of the Cross.
Till today when you visit St. Rita, there is a feeling of family; she’s one of us. Here, in a glass urn, honored by God and her brothers and sisters in Christ, the mystical body of Christ, lies a daughter, an obedient daughter whose parents did not make the wisest of decisions by man’s standards, but possibly by God’s; a wife of an alcoholic, an abuser, a carouser, a man easily provoked whose deadly silence could erupt into rage; a widow who loved her husband before and after his conversion only to lose him by an act of violence; a mother who watched her children grow up taking on the violent, non-Christian personality of their father, afraid they might commit murder, only to lose them to death through illness; a Nun who was rejected, judged, ostracized, laughed at, tested and glorified. Here lies our sister, Rita, a Saint, a woman of our time. And I, Penny, love her and thank God for the gift of her to remind me what I can be.