22 May – Memorial of Saint Rita of Cascia (1377 – 1447)
She was born near Cascia, in Umbria in Italy. She was married at the age of 12 despite her frequently repeated wish to become a nun. Her husband was rich, quick-tempered and immoral and had many enemies. She endured his insults, abuse and infidelities for 18 years and bore him two sons, who grew to be like him.
Towards the end of his life she helped to convert her husband to a more pious way of life, but he was stabbed to death by his enemies not long afterwards. He repented before he died and was reconciled to the Church.
Her sons planned to avenge their father’s death. When Rita’s pleas were unavailing, she prayed that God should take their lives if that was the only way to preserve them from the sin of murder. They died of natural causes a year later.
Rita asked to join the convent of St Mary Magdalen at Cascia. She was rejected for being a widow, since the convent was for virgins only, and later given the impossible task of reconciling her family with her husband’s murderers. She carried out the task and was allowed to enter the convent at the age of 36. She remained there until her death at the age of 70.
After the discussion had gone on a long time, Peter stood up and addressed the apostles and the elders.
‘My brothers,’ he said ‘you know perfectly well that in the early days God made his choice among you: the pagans were to learn the Good News from me and so become believers. In fact God, who can read everyone’s heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith. It would only provoke God’s anger now, surely, if you imposed on the disciples the very burden that neither we nor our ancestors were strong enough to support? Remember, we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus.’
This silenced the entire assembly, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul describing the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the pagans.
When they had finished it was James who spoke. ‘My brothers,’ he said ‘listen to me. Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the pagans. This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets, since the scriptures say:
Jesus said to his disciples:
So that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.
For over a year, I’ve been journeying with a good friend in her faith journey. As I have experienced the accompaniment of several treasured people in my own pilgrimage, I know that faith companions are God’s blessings. They were random strangers, close friends, re-acquaintances and mentors. Some have stayed the course, while some had left an indelible mark. And with all, I had savoured some fruits of joy in our friendship.
Yet relationships are somehow tinged with a sense of inevitability. I do not say this with a fatalistic tone, but a sense of healthy realism. Along the time I’ve had the privilege of walking with close friends, our shared sojourns were often borne out of some variety of sorrow – a sickness, loss, failure or heartbreak. Our stories have etched into my understanding that all of us seek not just to love and be loved, but more exactly, that this love will bear the fruit of complete joy – not the sense of incompleteness.
In the Gospel reading today, as had been read in various forms over the past few days, Jesus continues to impress upon his disciples about the relationship of love between the Father, him and each other, “Remain in my love… remain in my love… remain in his love”. Jesus tells us that all this is built upon the fact that because “the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”
The repetition of three times to ‘remain in’ reveals to us the importance of persisting with Christ in staying with God’s love. God is Love, and we are made in His image – and at our very core, our souls have been impressed with the imprint of God-Love. The sense of our very being having known Divine Love, like clay intimately formed by the Potter’s hands, is such that we’ve been ‘spoilt’ with this first knowledge of love, tenderness, and full-joy. Ron Rolheiser once wrote in a piece, Dark Memory back in 1997:
Inside each of us, beyond what we can name, we have a dark memory of having once been touched and caressed by hands far gentler than our own. That caress has left a permanent mark, the imprint of a love so tender and good that its memory becomes a prism through which we see everything else. This brand lies beyond conscious memory but forms the centre of the heart and soul… Perhaps the old myths and legends capture it best when they say that, before being born, each soul is kissed by God and then goes through life always, in some dark way, remembering that kiss and measuring everything it experiences in relation to that original sweetness… There is the inchoate sense of having once been touched, caressed, loved, and valued in a way that is beyond anything we have ever consciously experienced. In fact, all the goodness, love, value, and tenderness we experience in life fall short precisely because we already know something deeper. When we feel frustrated, angry, betrayed, violated, or enraged it is in fact because our outside experience is so different from what we already hold dear inside.
And this is why Jesus keeps calling out to us to ‘remain in’ his love. When the humanness of our earthly relationships only extend to us a finite well of love and joy, we taste an inexplicable incompleteness that leave us frustrated and wanting.
But Christ draws us back home, to the place where we reside in dark memory, and experience the fullness of intimacy with Love itself – it is in this space that his joy will be in us, and that our joy will be complete. If only we would come home.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, I thank you for imprinting upon my soul, this first knowledge of perfect love and complete joy.
Prayer: We pray for all who are experiencing trials in their relationships – that they may come back to God through Christ, and find fullness and joy in time.