Thursday, May 22, 2014

"You fight harder for the lost causes than for any others"

St. Rita's tomb containing her incorrupt body, Basilica of St. Rita, Cascia

That's a line from Frank Capras' s movie "Mr Smith Goes to Washington," which, despite its greatness, is intelligible to most people today only as a quaint testament from a vanished civilization.   Lost causes no longer fire the imagination the way they used to do.   Lost causes are a lot like impossible causes, which I mention because the title "Patroness of Impossible Causes" was bestowed upon today's saint, St. Rita of Cascia (1381 AD - 1457 AD) at her canonization by Pope Leo XIII.  Pope Leo had good reason for bestowing this title upon St. Rita, since in her life St. Rita achieved the impossible over and over again.

Though St. Rita wanted to enter a convent of religious sisters, her parents instead arranged for St. Rita to marry a nobleman named Paolo Mancini.  St. Rita was 12 years old at the time, and she gave birth to her first child at that same age.  Paolo was a fiery tempered, violent man with many enemies, who was engaged in a vendetta against a family called the Chiquis.  Paolo was also an unfaithful husband, who hit and insulted St. Rita.  Nevertheless, through her humility and patience, after many years St. Rita succeeded in converting her husband.  She accomplished this seemingly impossible feat just in time, because Paolo was soon after stabbed to death by one of his enemies. 

St. Rita and Paolo had two sons who, despite being brought up in the faith by their mother, took after their father in many ways.  Just as Paolo would have done before his conversion, both sons vowed vengeance for their father's murder.  St. Rita, on the other hand, pardoned her husband's murderers at Paolo's funeral.  She tried to persuade her sons to do the same, but as they persisted in seeking vengeance, St. Rita prayed that God would take her sons before they committed the mortal sin of murder, which would consign them to hell.  Within a year, before they could keep their vow of vengeance, both sons were dead of dysentery.

Her husband converted, though dead, and both her children preserved from mortal sin, though also  dead, St. Rita again sought to enter a convent in Cascia.  However, the convent rejected her on account of her husband's scandalous life and murder.   St. Rita persisted, so the convent relented a little by agreeing to admit her on the condition that St. Rita reconcile the Chiqui and Mancini families and bring an end to their vendetta.   This was a seemingly impossible task, and reminds me of the promise of the Wizard of Oz to take Dorothy back to Kansas if she first brought him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West.  No doubt the nuns of Cascia expected they'd never hear from St. Rita again. 

St. Rita prayed to her patrons St. John the Baptist, St. Augustine of Hippo, and St. Nicholas of Tolentino, and again set to work achieving the impossible.   St. Rita succeeded in reconciling the Chiquis and Mancinis in very short order, and St. Rita was permitted to enter the convent she'd wanted to enter ever since she was a girl.   St. Rita remained there until her death, acquiring a reputation for great holiness.  St. Rita was also a partial stigmatic - at the age of 60 she acquired a wound on her forehead which appeared to be from a single thorn in the crown of thorns.  St. Rita bore this wound for the remaining 15 years of her life.

Even now, movies do show an occasional interest in lost or impossible causes.  The 2002 movie "The Rookie" is based on the true story of a pitcher named Jim Morris who made it to the major leagues at the very advanced age of 35 upon miraculously recovering his fastball, which had disappeared on account of injuries.   Not surprisingly, there is a connection between Morris's impossible cause and St. Rita.   Jim Morris happened to be from a town consecrated to St. Rita, and when he resumed pitching in his mid 30s, a St. Rita medal was hung above the field where he practiced.

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