Rita da Cascia
In the sixth centenary of the birth of Saint Rita
To the venerable brother
Ottorino Peter Alberti
Archbishop of Spoleto and bishop of Norcia.
Letter of Pope John Paul II
With the recent letter, relative to the celebrations still in course for the sixth centenary of the birth of Saint Rita from Cascia, You wanted to renew the kind invitation, as you already did in March last year, that I was present with a special visit or with any other initiative and took part to the unanimous chorus of praises arising from the Christian world in honour of The one whom my predecessor Pope Lion XIII called "the precious pearl of Umbria ".
Such request, that I know is shared not only by the sons of Your diocese, but also by the several people devout to the Saint, meets my strong desire not to have the present year to end without remembering and exalting her mystic and very beloved person. Therefore, joining spiritually the several pilgrims coming to Cascia, I am very glad to lay down a flower of mercy and of veneration on her Tomb, in the memory of the examples of her high virtue.
And I am also grateful to the divine Providence for some singular connections between the present centenary and other highly evocative recurrences for those who can read in the right perspective the vicissitudes of the human history. I cannot forget, in fact, either the visit I paid to Norcia in order to celebrate, fifteen centuries after his birth, the great patriarch of western monachism, Saint Benedict, or the recent opening of the Centenary of Saint Francesco from Assisi. Near then the humble Woman from Roccaporena is a younger sister, and they compose an "ideal triptych" of radiating holiness, which settles and spurs to know more deeply the coherence of the uninterrupted tradition of grace feeding the Christian Umbria.
Nevertheless I cannot forget the other happy coincidence, that Rita is born one year after the death of Caterina from Siena, nearly to underline mark continuity with a wonderful spiritual meaning.
All people know that the earthy way of the Saint from Cascia develops through various states of life, happening in chronological and ascending following that indicates the different phases of development of her life of union with God. Why is Rita Saint? Not just because of the wonders which popular devotion attributes to the effectiveness of her intercession near omnipotent God, but for the incredible "normality" of her daily existence, when she was e spouse and mother, then widow and finally Augustinian nun.
She was an unknown young girl of that country and in the warm familiar atmosphere she had learned the tender mercy towards the Creator in the vision, which is a lesson itself, of the evocative scenery of the Apennine chain. Where was then the reason of her holiness? And where were her virtues heroic? Her life in Umbria was calm, without disturbs of external events, when, against her personal preferences, she got married. She became spouse, revealing herself as home angel and doing her best to change her husband’s habit. She was also mother of two boys, for which, after the treacherous murder of the husband, she was very worried as she was afraid that they could feel a desire of revenge against the murders of the father. She had forgiven them generously, determining also the pacification of the families.
Widow, her sons died and free from every worldly link she decided to dedicate herself to God totally. But also in this case she suffered tests and contradictions, until she could realise her desire since her teen-age and devoted herself to God in the monastery of Saint Maria Maddalena. Her humble existence spent here for approximately forty years was unknown as well to the world and just opened to the intimacy with God. They were years of assiduous contemplation, of penance and prayers, culminating in that plague that was printed painful on the forehead. Exactly this sign of the thorn, apart from the physical suffering that it caused, was like a seal of her inner pains, but it was above all the proof of her directed participation to Passion of Christ, centred in one of the most dramatic moments, which the crown of thorns in the prethorium of Pilato was.
(cfr. Mt 27, 29; Me 15, 17; John 19, 2.5).
It is here, therefore, that you must see the apex of her mystic grow, here the depth of such a suffering, to determine an external somatic sign. And here you can find a meaningful point of contact between the two sons of Umbria, Rita and Francesco. Actually, what the stigmata were for the Poor Man, the thorn was for Rita: they were signs of direct association to the redeeming Passion of Christ, crowned by thorns after the cruel flagellation and then pierced by nails and hit by the lance on the Calvary. Such association was settled in both Saints on the common base of that love, having an intrinsic joining force, and exactly for that painful thorn the Saint of the roses became the living symbol of love in taking part to the suffering of the Redeemer. That the rose of the love is then fresh and good smelling, when it is associated to the thorn of pain! This happened in Christ, supreme model; this happened in Francesco; this happened in Rita. She has suffered and loved: she has loved God as well as the men; she has suffered because of God’s love and she has suffered because of the men.
Therefore, the following of the several the stages in her earthly way reveals in her a parallel increasing love until the stigma that gives the adequate measure of her elevation and explains at the same time why her sweet personality exercises so much attraction among the faithful people, who celebrate her name and exalt her wonderful power near the throne of God.
Spiritual daughter of Saint Augustin, she has put in practice his teachings, even if she did not read them in the books. He, who recommended to the consecrated women "to follow the Lamb wherever it goes" and "to contemplate with the eyes of the soul the plagues of the Crucified the scars of the Resurrected, the blood of the Dying (...), and evaluate all that on the balance of the charity" (cfr. De sancta virginitate, 52, 54, 55; PL 40, 428), was obeyed "ad litteram" by Rita who, especially in the forty year period in the Monastery, demonstrated the continuity and the strength of the contract established with the Golgota’s divine victim.
The teaching of the Saint – it is better to specify - is concentrated on these typical elements of spirituality: the offer of the forgiveness and the acceptance of the suffering, not as passive giving up or as fruit of feminine weakness, but because of the force of that love towards Christ, that was submitted to an atrocious parody of its royalty just in the remembered fact of the crowning.
Fed by this scene, that meaningfully the tradition of the Church has included in the "painful mysteries" of the Saint Rosary, the mysticism of Rita referred to the same idea, personally lived and not simply enunciated, by the Apostle Paul: Ego... stigmata Domini lesu in corpore meo porto (Gai 6, 17); Adimpleo ea, quae desunt passionimi Christi in carne meo prò corpore eius, quod est Ecclesia (Col 1, 24). Also this ulterior element must be found, that is the destination in the church of the merits of the Saint: separated from the world and intimately associated to suffering Christ. She has driven in the community of the brethren the fruit of her "pitying".
Indeed Rita is at the same time the "strong woman" and the "wise virgin", of whom the Sacred Writings speak (For 31, 10; Mt 25.1), who shows in all the states of life which the authentic way to the holiness as faithful follow of Christ until the cross. For this reason to all her devout people all over the world I wished to remind the sweet and painful person with the exhortation that, following her example, they want to correspond - everyone in his own state of life - to the Christian vocation in its requirements of clarity, testimony and courage: sic luceat lux vostra coram hominibus...
(Mt 5, 16).
To the same aim I entrust to You the present Letter that, in the light of the Centenary of Saint Rita, You will want to let your faithful know with the encouragement and the comfort of the Apostolic Blessing.