St. Rita of Cascia
Saint of the Impossible
THE LIFE OF ST. RITA
In 1381, in the city of Roccaporena, Italy, a small suburb of Cascia, a Precious Pearl was born to Antonio and Amata Lotti. After twelve years of attempting and praying for a child, their little jewel, Margherita, was finally born to them.
As an infant, when her parents left her in the shade of a tree while they worked in a nearby field, a swarm of bees descended on her. For an infant to be stung by so many bees would have been fatal, but instead of attacking her they simply flew in and out of her mouth, apparently enjoying her sweet baby breath, as she lay sleeping.
Antonio and Amata were a pious and compassionate couple who were known as “Peacemakers of Christ”. People from all over their region came to them to resolve disputes over land or relationships. They were known to be fair and impartial. They raised Margherita, always known as Rita, in a loving, affectionate and prayerful household.
Marriage and Motherhood
Rita deeply desired to enter a religious order but her parents, wanting a secure future for her, arranged her marriage to the nobleman, Paolo Mancini. Rita was a young teenager when she married and quickly became the mother of twin boys. Paolo was wealthy, but he was also reportedly mean-tempered, abusive and unfaithful to Rita. Rita prayerfully endured this abusive treatment for many years, maintaining her loving, kind and patient demeanor. Legend has it that she eventually awakened a more humble and compassionate side of her husband’s nature. But, sadly, a family feud between the Mancini family and the Chiqui family resulted in Paolo’s murder.
Widow and Peacemaker
The expectation of this warring society was that Paolo’s sons would avenge the murder of their father. Rita did not adhere to this tradition of revenge. She publicly forgave her husband’s murderers at his funeral. But the family feud was carried on by Paolo’s brother who took Rita’s sons under his wing and prepared them to take revenge for their father’s murder. Rita prayed that her sons would not partake in such a violent practice and she tried to convince them that this was not what God would want. Whether or not they were convinced we will never know because both sons were taken by an epidemic before they were able to carry out the vendetta.
With her entire family gone, Rita took up an austere life, turning her family home into a sort of cloister. She spent her time in acts of charity for her poor neighbors, and served in the town’s hostel, caring for sick and hungry travelers.
After some years, once more she longed for the religious life and began a quest to join the sisters of St. Mary Magdalene Monastery. Two times Rita requested admission, and both times she was refused entry. The Prioress feared that her presence there would bring the violence of the still-raging family feud upon the community. She made the reconciliation of the two families a condition of her admittance. More determined than ever to end the hostilities, Rita prayed to her three patron saints – St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Nicholas of Tolentine and John the Baptist, and petitioned the families to end the feud. Impressed by her indomitable courage and determination both families eventually agreed. To the amazement of the whole village, they signed a peace agreement and the vendetta was finally put to rest, a testament to the power of prayer and devotion over evil.
It is also told that Rita’s actual admittance into the convent was a miracle wrought by her three patron saints. One night while in her home, Rita heard a voice calling to her from the window. She saw a venerable figure dressed in Camel’s hair indicating her to follow. Understanding that the Forerunner had appeared to guide her, Rita followed him up the rugged slopes of Schippo, a rocky mountain ledge where she was accustomed to pray. There she was greeted by two more celestial visitors, Sts. Augustine and Nicholas. The three then escorted her down into the town of Cascia, leading her through the locked doors of the cloister, telling her before departing: "Rita, remain a bee in the garden of the Spouse whom you have so long and ardently loved; so that, collecting the flowers of virtues, you may build a sweet honeycomb. You are now in the house of your Spouse, Jesus. Love Him with all your heart and soul, and your eternal salvation is secure. Return thanks to God for so great a favor done in your behalf. Praise His infinite mercy and publish that there is nothing impossible to God. Rita, the impossible is overcome in your behalf."
Thus, at the age of thirty-six, Rita entered the monastery, where she remained for the rest of her life. At about the age of sixty, Rita was meditating before an image of Jesus at the moment of resurrection while He was still in the tomb, an image called the Resurgent Christ.
From profound compassion, she implored that she might be allowed to lessen His suffering by even one thorn, when a small wound suddenly appeared on her forehead, as though she had been pierced by a thorn from Christ’s crown. This remained with her for the remaining fifteen years of her life.
The Resurgent Christ, by Fr. Dan McLaughlin, OSA
at the National Shrine of St. Rita
During this time, Rita became ill with a sickness which lasted four years, during which she was bedridden, and experienced all the agonies of death, while remaining alive. Her chief solace and joy during this difficult period was receiving the Eucharist daily, which eventually became her sole earthly sustenance.
Death and Canonization
On her deathbed, when a cousin asked whether she could bring Rita anything from her family home, she expressed her wish for a rose from the garden. Since it was January, there was little hope of finding one. Nevertheless, the cousin went to the property where she found a single red rose in bloom and brought it to Rita.
Within a few days of her death on May 22, 1457, numerous miracles attributed to St. Rita were being reported. Since then prayers and novenas to St. Rita for her intercession in seemingly impossible causes have continued to have miraculous results. She was finally canonized on May 24, 1900.
Rita’s body lies at the shrine bearing her name in Cascia, where it has remained incorrupt over the centuries. She is also the patron saint of sterility, abuse victims, loneliness, marriage difficulties, parenthood, widows, the sick, and wounds.
ST. RITA’S INTERCESSION CONTINUES
In December of 2017, Victor Vyasa Deva Landa, the beloved founder and director of Shanti Yoga Ashram, Center for Harmony and the School of Life, in Bethesda, MD, was diagnosed with a terminal disease. Upon the prognosis of a life expectancy of 3-6 months or at most a year if certain treatments were effective, he began praying to and talking about St. Rita as the one who could help his impossible case. He was determined to fight for his life under her guidance. He had no hope medically speaking, but did believe in miracles, because of his faith in God and the spiritual world.
Vyasa was raised in a devout Catholic family in Lima, Peru. Although he had never lost his love for Christ and Mother Mary, he had not been a practicing Catholic for many years.
The families of both Vyasa and his wife, Linette “Lakshmi” Landa, have an historical connection with the Divine Mother in the form of Mary Help of Christians. Her feast day, May 24th, is observed as the Annual Celebration of the School of Life, with a Mass held at the ashram, presided over by the abbot of a Benedictine Monastery in Washington, DC.
The summer before his diagnosis, on a trip to an ecumenical healing center in Brazil, Vyasa had come across information about St. Rita. Impressed with her story of faith and fortitude in times of trial, he bought a stack of books and photos to share with friends at home. Why? “Because”, he said, “she was a person of conviction.” She walked the walk, here on earth, and still devotes herself to helping people in times of difficulty from where she is now.
When he was given the fatal diagnosis, he vowed to fight “tooth and nail,” for his life, and put his faith in this Saint of Impossible Causes.
On January 31, feeling that death might be imminent, Vyasa called his family to his bedside, one of whom sent for a priest. After receiving the Anointing of the Sick, Vyasa shared what he had learned about St. Rita with the priest, who graciously agreed to pray a novena to her on his behalf, a service he would continue for many months. Vyasa vowed that if he got well he would arrange a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of St. Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia. Always thinking of others, he also arranged for the Ashram community to say a novena to St. Rita for a member who was also facing an impossible situation.
While various natural treatments were being tried that gave some hope, the condition still continued to advance.
Then, during the month of May (the month of Mary), a series of events led to a healing. During a hospitalization, Vyasa had a devastating adverse reaction to a drug that robbed him of the use of his physical and mental faculties. On May 22 (St. Rita’s feast day) the decision was taken to bring him home and announce his illness to the vast community of students and friends to whom he had given counsel and guidance for thirty five years, not knowing whether he would recover or not.
The May 24th annual celebration was coming up, however, circumstances delayed the actual event til the 28th. Nevertheless, a prayer vigil was called for to begin on the 24th, which several hundred people joined. (This is also the day St. Rita was canonized.)
On May 28th, the annual mass in honor of Mary Help of Christians was held. Although Vyasa was too ill to attend, he had recovered sufficiently to watch the Mass from his room, via computer, and later in the day, for the first time in the twenty years that this celebration had been held, he received Communion.
Two days later, on the Feast of the Visitation, a report on Vyasa’s bloodwork showed a surprising improvement over the previous results. Although he had been given a new leukemia drug, it was not expected to yield such dramatic results so quickly.
Still confined to bed, on June 10 he requested that Communion be brought to his home. The same priest who had been praying to St. Rita for Vyasa graciously complied, and, at Vyasa’s request, began bringing him Communion daily.
A decline began in Vyasa’s condition, leading the community to perform a new 9-day novena to St. Rita. On the night of July 18, the last day, Vyasa asked one of the members: “What can we do for pain in my whole body?” This poignant plea led to a desperate search on the internet for some solution. The website of an Ayurvedic physician in India was found, who specialized in the specific condition that Vyasa was suffering from. On the off chance that he could perhaps give some advice, he was contacted. By the grace of God and St. Rita, it turned out that the doctor was, at that time, in the United States for one week, treating his only patient in the US-- in New York. He offered to drive down to Maryland to see if there was a chance he could help Vyasa. With renewed hope treatment was begun and a series of novenas in support. Also, a weekly devotion to St. Rita was begun in the community.
By October, Vyasa had gained complete remission. He also gained 25 pounds—the healthiest weight he had been at for decades--regained the ability to walk, and his hope, positive outlook, and humor returned. His quality of life improved considerably, and he was once again able to join in certain communal activities, sharing invaluable spiritual teachings and blessings. One of the most special of these was his 80th birthday celebration, where a small group of close spiritual students gathered to pour out their gratitude and love for all He had given them these many years.
Photo of Guruji on His 80th birthday
In mid-November, however, the cancer returned aggressively. God only knows the reasons. On Saturday, December 1st, Vyasa went back into the hospital for the last time, and returned to the spiritual world on Friday, December 7th.
It is our conviction that St. Rita—under the auspices of Mother Mary and our Lord Jesus Christ, working through her chosen instrument, James Vaidyan—supported Guruji throughout his illness and extended his stay on earth by six months, a priceless gift, and provided a great measure of relief from the agony He endured. Vyasa said: when I started praying to St. Rita, I got stronger – even doctors were surprised.” We also believe that her ongoing protection is helping our community to mature spiritually, so as to make better use of the immense spiritual wealth that our spiritual Father and Master bestowed upon us. May he and she bless us so that we may continue Vyasa’s glorious mission: “To bring the Kingdom of God upon Earth.”
Novena Prayer to Saint Rita
Father in Heaven, You granted to St. Rita a share in the passion of Your Son. Give us courage and strength in time of trial, so that by our patient endurance we may enter more deeply into the paschal mystery of Your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
O powerful Saint Rita, you are called Saint of the Impossible. In this time of need, we come to you with confidence. You know our trials, for you yourself were many times burdened in this life. Come to our help, pray with us, intercede on our behalf before the Father. We know that God has a most generous heart and that He is most loving Father. Join your prayer to ours and obtain for us the grace we desire. (Here mention your request.) I promise to use this favor when granted to better my life, to proclaim God's mercy, and to make you widely known and loved. Amen.
St. Rita of Cascia, Pray for Us.