You wrote recently of the difficulty maintaining the “runner’s high” from the spiritual marathon we experienced in the Holy Land. Like any marathon, eventually you have to stop running and get back to normal–training, yes, but not with the intensity and focus of the main event. Lately I admit I’ve been spiritually lazy (not to mention physically) and just as my muscles get
flabby flabbier when I skip the gym, my prayer muscles can go soft, too. I knew I needed a reboot, and God even sent a bird to reinforce that point.
In one of those not-so-much-coincidence-as-the-Spirit-talking-to-you moments, soon after my bird incident I read that the shrine of the second most famous patron saint of lost causes was in Philadelphia. What? St. Jude has a competitor? And she has a shrine a mere ten miles away? When I visited their website, I saw they offer adoration every weekday as well as two daily Masses and two opportunities for confession. All that and an authentic relic, too? An embarrassment of pilgrim riches right there in South Philly. I had to go.
Now, when a Philadelphian thinks of visiting Rita’s this is what comes to mind:
Immediately Rita’s catchy cha-cha jingle ran through my head, “Be cool, go to Rita’s”. (Be sure your sound is turned up when you click on that!)
The more I read about St. Rita, the more enthusiastic I was about my pilgrimage. Born in 1381 near Cascia, Italy, Rita wanted to join a convent, but her parents had her betrothed to a nasty brute, whom she married at age 18. He was by many accounts abusive (this is why she is a patron of troubled marriages and abused spouses) but she was finally rid of him after 18 years when he was killed as part of the vendetta in their area. Did I mention St. Rita’s shrine is in South Philly? Historic home of the Italian population of the city as well as some significant mob violence? I find it more than a little ironic that this shrine to, in effect, a mob widow, is located mere blocks from the sites of some notorious mob hits.
Rita’s twin sons, continuing the tradition of the vendetta, swore they would avenge their father’s murder. Worried sick that they would make good on their threat and condemn themselves to hell, Rita prayed that they would die, rather than suffer spiritually and physically from their actions. Soon, both young men succumbed to dysentery. I don’t think I have ever heard of another prayer answered by horrific, fatal diarrhea.
It was with this cheery history (and that darn jingle) running through my head that I drove to St. Rita’s on sticky Tuesday morning last week. The church is a huge stone edifice, built in 1907 and it’s literally, cool. Outside the Broad Street subway line rumbles, horns blare and glazed-eyed street people shuffle by. But inside, it’s calm, quiet and yes, holy.
I started my pilgrimage by sitting with the Lord–the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in a huge monstrance in the wall above the altar. Then I spent some time talking with Rita about my marriage, my children, the way all these relationships are changing as the kids get older. I know our insignificant struggles don’t compare to a deadly vendetta, and they certainly don’t reach the realm of the impossible, but it felt good to talk with an expert. I ended my visit with reconciliation and Mass, a calming and centering end to my little retreat.
After her children’s deaths, St. Rita was barred from joining the local convent because of her family’s involvement with the vendetta; the abbess was a member of the opposing family. Through Rita’s prayers and the intercession of St. John the Baptist, she was able to negotiate peace in the region and finally enter the convent, actions that make her a patron of peace, as well. So it’s not surprising that I felt a great peace as I walked out to my car. We as Catholics are so blessed to have these sacred spaces in which to be a pilgrim, to reboot our faith and take a retreat from the frenzy of our daily stresses.
Be cool, go to Rita’s. Indeed.
I rejoice with you, O Saint Rita, who walked always the path of faith, hope and love, as wife and mother, widow and religious, and who now enjoys the rewards of heavenly glory. Look upon me in my needs and obtain for me the grace to allow your example, fulfilling all the duties of my state of life so as to share with you someday the Father’s presence.
From the Chaplet of Saint Rita of Cascia
For a virtual tour of the shrine, click here.