Culture & Religion
February Sun 17, 2013
My friend Melissa drove me to Staten Island tonight so we could attend an inspiring talk about St. Rita of Cascia at a parish called Saint Rita Church. Call it food for our Lenten journeys. The speaker was Father Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A., who grew up in the parish and graduated from its grammar school. He is an Augustinian priest who now serves as vicar general of the Augustinian order in Rome. He also is the author of a biography of Saint Rita called The Precious Pearl: The Story of Saint Rita of Cascia. "We think of a saint as someone who is out of this world." he told the audience of about 70 in the church sanctuary. "But a saint is someone who is attuned to the Voice that speaks within and who tries to respond openly and honestly. " Saint Rita, he said. "had her feet on the ground." While my own life story is not as dramatic as Saint Rita's, her life is a lesson for me in obedience, persistence, peacemaking and love. Saint Rita was born in 1381 in the tiny town of Roccaporena in Umbria, Italy. At the time, the Church was deeply divided; two different men were claiming to be Pope. Her region was deeply divided too, with various families feuding and a culture of vendetta predominating, Father Michael said. Rita wanted to join the convent of Augustinian nuns in Cascia, but her parents, known as local peacemakers and mediators, felt even that was unsafe. They arranged for her to marry at age 14 a local man. She accepted her parents' decision, seeing it as God's will for her. Even the marriage could not protect her from turmoil. Her husband was murdered as part of an ongoing feud between two political factions. Her teenaged sons died of natural causes within the year. Rita sought to join the convent but was rebuffed three times. Finally, the nuns told her she must reconcile the two feuding political parties and only then, could she enter the convent. Father Michael said when she returned with a signed peace agreement, she was admitted to the convent, where she spent the next 40 years. Saint Rita of Cascia is one of the most popular of Catholic saints, but her story is full of misconceptions. (The wikipedia page about her, for example, is filled with inaccuracies and errors.) For example: for centuries it was believed her husband was abusive, an inaccuracy wikipedia continues. As it turns out, Father Michael told us, the myth of the abusive husband comes from a misreading of a poem on the outside of her coffin. The lettering was hard to read because it was obscured by centuries of candle smoke. When the coffin was restored, it was discovered the words were not about an abusive husband, but rather about the pain of the stigmata she received while a nun.
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