Saint Rita of Cascia
Innocence and purity are sisterly virtues or inseparable companions. In fact, innocence and purity are so intimately associated that they appear as if one virtue. Though natural to infancy, the exercise of these two virtues is the effect of Divine grace.
Guided by the wisdom from above, Antonio Mancini and Amata Ferri, the pious parents of St. Rita, watched with loving and jealous care over every day of her infancy, for they regarded their little babe as a gift from Heaven, the fruit of a special grace, and the child of God rather than of man. Hence we may safely say, without any fear of exaggeration, that little Rita Mancini began to be a saint and to live a supernatural life from the very moment of her Baptism, when her soul was made beautiful by Divine grace-----and that the virtues of innocence and purity were deeply rooted in her pure soul, for scarcely had she come to use of reason than she became the possessor of an innocence and a purity which were really marvelous in one of so tender an age. These two virtues were mirrored on her angelic face. Her every word exhaled an odor of sweetness and possessed a mysterious power which inclined the soul to God; while her every act bespoke the guidance of a power far above the human. Little Rita was indeed, so to speak, a precious plant, planted, as it were, by the hands of God in His vineyard, and with loving care did God cause the dews of Heavenly grace to fall gently on that tender plant which was to become in later years, and we may say for all years, a towering cedar of His glory and omnipotence. Clothed, therefore, as our little sister was with the double cloak of innocence and purity, her guardian Angel, who was ever by her side, took her by the hand and led his little companion along the most prudent paths, nor did God permit her to perform any act, or entertain any thought, but those compatible with His holy will and service.
It is not, therefore, a matter of surprise that the little servant of God differed from other children in her early years, for at the age when most children are accustomed to enjoy and amuse themselves with dolls and other playthings, little Rita Mancini found no pleasure in children's games or toys. You must not think, however, that little Rita did not associate with children of her own age; on the contrary, she had scores of little friends among the children of Rocca Porrena, and though she did not as a rule engage in their games, nevertheless she took pleasure in seeing her little friends enjoy themselves. Even when she grew older, instead of desiring to be present at picnics or parties where little girls experience great joy in being admired and pampered by relatives and friends, little Rita preferred solitude to these mirthful gatherings, and many a time when her loving mother wished to dress her according to the fashion of the day, she would hie to a remote corner of the house to pray and contemplate the Divine mysteries, particularly the Passion of Jesus Christ, a devotion she had inherited from her pious parents.
We must not judge from little Rita's dislike to be clad in pretty frocks and dresses that she was at times willful and disobedient; on the contrary, she was a most obedient child, she loved dearly her aged parents, and many and many a time did she kneel at her mother's knees, listening to her holy counsels, after the manner of the little Immaculate Mary of Nazareth at the knees of her mother, St. Anne. Hence what may have seemed disobedience on the part of little Rita were in fact mild reproofs, prompted, no doubt, by God, against that vanity which alas too often is planted by indulgent parents in the hearts of their young children.
One of little Rita's chief delights was to go to church with her parents, and when she entered the house of God she sought the most retired place, where she recited with devotion the Angelical Salutation, which she knew by heart, and then, as if God had given His little servant a clear understanding of the Incarnation of Our Lord, she would close her eyes and give her whole soul to a deep contemplation of this great mystery.
Oftentimes, while assisting at the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, her face would change its expression. Sometimes it bore the expression of glad joy, and at other times her face would indicate that she was experiencing moments of sadness. These alternate expressions of gladness and sadness plainly told how glad she was to be in the house of God kneeling in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and how sad she became at the very thought that her innocent Jesus was obliged to die an ignominious death on the wood of the Cross. Oh, would that we, who assist so often at the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, could experience in our hearts and souls the same spiritual joy and sadness!
We must also observe that little Rita had a great love and affection for the poor. At table, whenever her mother put on her plate a portion of the family meal, one portion she ate herself, the other portion she preserved to give to some poor child of the neighborhood. This practice was habitual with the little Rita, and it is certain she felt more happiness in giving away a portion of her meals than in eating what she retained for herself.
The people of Rocca Porrena, when they saw how different Rita Mancini was from the other children of the hamlet, and when they observed that as she grew in years her life became more holy and sacramental, they respected and revered her-----not indeed as a child, but rather as a person grown old in virtue. Especially were the mothers of Rocca Porrena edified by her holy and exemplary child life, and they were continually telling their little daughters to take Rita Mancini as their model.
The fame of little Rita's holy life was not limited to the
of Rocca Porrena, it became known and was spoken of in many of the
and villages of Umbria; but especially did the inhabitants of her
birthplace rejoice, for they were beginning to see realized what was
at her cradle by the swarm of white bees, which, like flakes of snow,
and issued from her sweet mouth; for the child life of St. Rita was so
celestial that she appeared to be a little angel living in the world,
immune from all its imperfection and corruption.
GOD IS, indeed, wonderful in His Saints, and a careful study of the life of St. Rita of Cascia, from her cradle to the grave, will convince anyone of this beautiful and holy truth. Already a model of innocence and purity, and though as yet but a child, it was Rita's ardent desire to live a solitary life in some hidden cave or grotto where she might pass her days uninterrupted in prayer and contemplation, because she coveted to be alone with God. Filial love, however, and the obedience due her aged parents, whom she felt would oppose this, hindered the execution of her holy desire.
Not a little disappointed, but by no means discouraged, she did not waver in her determination to live in retirement, so that she might be as near as possible to God. How to succeed in this determination, and at the same time be submissive to her parents, was for Rita a perplexing problem. Her perplexity, however, was of short duration. God, who must have regarded with rapture the pure and innocent heart of His young servant, inspired her to build a small but pretty oratory in a retired part of her home, where she remained for one whole year, separated from all commerce with the world, unless we except her parents, to whom she spoke only when necessary. During that year of solitude, Rita spent her time meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Passion of Jesus Christ. And, as a help to her meditation, she had painted on the walls of her little oratory some scenes of the life of Christ: such as, the crib wherein the infant Jesus was laid after His birth; Mount Calvary, the theater of His death on the Cross; and the sepulcher wherein His sacred body was placed after it had been taken down from the Cross. It is also probable that a picture of the Blessed Mother of Jesus ornamented the walls of her oratory. Gazing at those pictures, she experienced no distractions in her prayers or meditations, but true as the steel to the magnet, her heart and soul were so attracted by Jesus Christ that she desired nothing more than to have and possess the love and grace of her crucified Lord.
At the conclusion of that year, spent for the most part in
prayer and commerce with God and His Mother, Rita saw that her parents
needed her constant aid and assistance, especially her mother.
Antonio Mancini, once robust and vigorous, had become so feeble that it was with great difficulty he cultivated a small garden, which supplied his frugal table with vegetables; and his faithful wife Amata, whose age had debilitated and sapped her strength, could only perform a small part of the ordinary household duties. Rita, who understood thoroughly the obligations of children toward their parents, judged it to be the will of God that she should give up her retired life so that it might not be in any way a hindrance to her duty toward her aged father and mother. Accordingly, Rita came forth from the retreat where she had spent so many days and nights with God and became, to the great joy of her parents, the housekeeper, so to speak, of her humble home.
How well Rita performed the duties of housekeeper, we may surmise. And it must have pleased her parents, especially her mother, to see how industrious and painstaking their little daughter was as, like an angel in human form, she busied herself while at work. But though Rita was most assiduous about her work, it never seemed to interfere or interrupt her prayer, notwithstanding her extreme attention to her exterior employments. She acquired a wonderful facility of joining them with mental prayer, and of keeping herself constantly in the presence of God, who no doubt aided His little handmaid with her work, and guided her little hands to make and keep the humble home of her parents a model of order and neatness. Would that the children of the present day loved and obeyed their parents as did little Rita Mancini! Then would be silenced forever that complaint of so many fathers and mothers: "I have lost control of my children."
Having spent a few years employed in the duties of housekeeper, Rita arrived at that age when young girls, especially in Italy, are accustomed to choose their future state in life. From the Augustinian breviary we learn that Rita Mancini was twelve years of age when she made her choice. She consulted no one but God, and as it was her one desire to consecrate her virginity to God, so that she might better preserve the candor of her soul, of which the white bees that hovered around her cradle were the heralds, she determined to be a true spouse of Christ by embracing a religious life, and become a nun. But alas, many years were to pass before Rita's aspirations were fulfilled, for by the permission of God, it was only after being tried in the crucible of afflictions and contradictions that she found, at last, that happiness for which her heart had yearned from the time she was but a child.
Having resolved to become a spouse of Jesus Christ and to dedicate herself wholly to His service, Rita's first thought, as became an obedient daughter, was to make known her determination to her parents and obtain their permission. Accordingly, one evening when father and mother were talking together, Rita, who had been an attentive listener to their pious and holy conversation, waited until they finished. She then kissed them both reverently, and told them that she had made up her mind to become a nun.
Antonio Mancini and Amata Ferri were overcome with surprise, and their old and wrinkled countenances became clouded with sadness at what their young daughter had told them. And as she continued, with humility and with an eloquence that was more than human, to plead for their permission, every word that Rita uttered pierced, like sharp arrows, the hearts of her parents and even brought tears to their eyes. And yet, because Rita loved her parents and would not do anything to cause them the least sorrow or pain, there were included in her holy plea the words of submission and resignation: "Not my will, dear parents, but thine be done."
The silence that followed Rita's earnest plea for her parents' permission to permit her to embrace the religious state caused her to divine that her parents had just reasons for not granting her desire. At length when her parents could no longer hide their sorrow, they broke silence, and, betwixt sobs and sighs, spoke feelingly to Rita. They reminded her that they were already advanced in years; that she was their only child, and, after God, their solace, comfort and support; and finally they said that through her, they hoped to see their family saved from extinction. The tears and pleading of Antonio and Amata were not fruitless. Hitherto Rita had never disobeyed her parents. In fact, it had been her custom to anticipate their wishes. But on this occasion, no one but God will ever know how much, and what it cost Rita Mancini, when she told her parents that she would obey their will and remain at home to comfort and assist their old age. Nevertheless, though love and obedience prevented Rita from embracing the religious state, she was firmly determined to remain a faithful spouse of her Divine bridegroom, Jesus Christ, to whom, in her heart, she had pledged her fidelity.