Blessed by God, you were a light in darkness through your steadfast courage when you had to suffer such agony upon your cross. You turned aside from this vale of tears to seek wholeness for your hidden wounds in the great passion of Christ. . . . You were not content with less than perfect healing, and so endured the thorn for fifteen years before you entered into the joy of your Lord.
This poem was engraved on the casket of St. Rita of Cascia and is one of the few contemporary sources that tell us about her. St. Rita received her “hidden wounds” in an unfortunate marriage. For eighteen years she endured the abuses and infidelities of a violent husband. She also suffered the rascality of two sons who were strongly influenced by him. She was delivered from these miserable circumstances in a horrific way: one day her husband was brought home dead, brutally slashed by his enemies. Her rambunctious sons planned to get revenge, but died before they could obtain it.
Rita was then free to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nun. She applied to enter the Augustinian convent at Cascia of Italy, in 1407. But her suffering was not over. Even though orders customarily received widows, the Augustinians three times refused Rita because she had been married. Only after six years did they acquiesce and install her as a nun.
The poem said Rita “sought wholeness” in the passion of Christ. In her meditations she preoccupied her imagination with his agony. On Good Friday, 1441, she prostrated herself before a crucifix and begged Christ for some small share of his suffering. As though punctured by a crown of thorns, a single wound opened on Rita’s forehead. For fifteen years it caused her daily pain and embarrassed her, as its putrid odor frequently offended her sisters. In 1450, when she was preparing to visit Rome for the jubilee year, the wound temporarily healed. But it reappeared when she returned to Cascia and remained until her death.
Rita died of tuberculosis on May 22, 1457. Three days later, Domenico Angeli, a notary of Cascia, recorded eleven miracles that occurred upon the saint’s death. He left us this brief profile of her religious life:
A very honorable nun, Lady Rita, having spent forty years as a nun in the cloister of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene of Cascia by living with charity in the service of God, followed the destiny of every human being. God, in whose service she persevered for the aforementioned time—desiring to show all the faithful a model of life, so that as she had lived serving God with love by fasting and prayer, they too, all faithful Christians, would live also—worked many wonderful miracles and through the merits of Saint Rita, especially on 25 May 1457.
At every stage of her life, Rita seems to have bravely endured unendurable circumstances: frustration because her parents overrode her wish to become a nun; married an abuser; refused three times by the Augustinians; afflicted with the pain and embarrassment of the stigmata. None of these things, however, prevented her from serving God and her sisters. We can pray for her intercession in our desperate need, but we should also imitate her love in action.