Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Waiting for the Holy Spirit - St. Rita of Cascia (Optional Memorial)

The Living Water of the Holy Spirit

The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life (John 7:38).

This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvelous.

The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man's self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the need of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.
[from a catechetical Instruction by St. Cyril of Jerusalem]

Grant, we pray, almighty and merciful God, that the Holy Spirit, coming near and dwelling graciously within us, may make of us a perfect temple of his glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Since St. Rita was the patron of my home parish in Montreal, I have always maintained an interest in her story, which was recounted to us particularly on her feast day, May 22.  Pope John Paul II restored her feast as an optional memorial when the new Roman Missal was published in the year 2002.

St. Rita was born in Spoleto, Italy in 1381. At an early age, she begged her parents to allow her to enter a convent. Instead they arranged a marriage for her. Rita became a good wife and mother, but her husband was a man of violent temper. In anger he often mistreated his wife. He taught their children his own evil ways.

St. Rita tried to perform her duties faithfully and to pray and receive the sacraments frequently. After nearly twenty years of marriage, her husband was stabbed by an enemy but before he died, he repented because St. Rita prayed for him. Shortly afterwards, her two sons died, and St. Rita was alone in the world. Prayer, fasting, penances… of many kinds, and good works filled her days.

She was admitted to the convent of the Augustinian nuns at Cascia in Umbria, and began a life of perfect obedience and great charity. She had a great devotion to the Passion of Christ. "Please let me suffer like Thee, Divine Saviour," she said one day, and suddenly one of the thorns from the crucifix struck her on the forehead. It left a deep wound which did not heal and which caused her much suffering for the rest of her life.

For several months before Rita died, she was unable to get out of bed. A legend about St. Rita tells us that a friend visited her and asked if there was anything she wanted. Rita said that she wanted a rose that was blooming in the yard of the house where she grew up. The friend knew that this was impossible. It was winter, and roses do not bloom in the snow.

The woman left Rita and began to walk home, sad that she was not able to give Rita the one thing she had asked for. Along the way, the woman passed Rita’s childhood home. To her amazement, a single colorful rose was blooming on the branch of a rosebush. The woman picked the rose and hurried back to the convent to give it to Rita. It was as if God was rewarding Rita for all the thorns in her life with the miracle of the rose. You will sometimes see artwork of St. Rita holding roses.

Rita of Cascia died on May 22, 1457 and was canonized in 1900. Along with St. Jude, she is the patron saint of impossible causes. St. Rita’s example reminds us to put our faith in God, who raised his only Son, Jesus from the dead and promises us that we, too, will share everlasting life with him in heaven.

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Bestow on us, we pray, O Lord, the wisdom and strength of the Cross, with which you were pleased to endow Saint Rita, so that, suffering in every tribulation with Christ, we may participate ever more deeply in his Paschal Mystery. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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