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St. Rita was contemplating the passion of Jesus Christ. When she suffered she looked to Christ for guidance on how to handle it. Stained Glass window at the National Shrine of Saint Rita. Photo by Fr. Dan McLaughlin, OSA.

Saint Rita and the Narrow Way to Peace

by Jeremy Hiers, OSA

How do we advocate for peace and justice in a world that is not always open to honest “dialogue” on the solutions we are all hungry for? Solutions that call for peace in a world plagued by rising gun violence; restorative justice in a world plagued by a retributive culture that causes more pain and suffering than it prevents; a better future for a world plagued by an environmental disaster?

The issues are complex and many have “dug their heels” in on certain “positions” on those issues; when in all reality they merit further examination and discussion. As we have seen in the news over the past year these “positions” are further solidified by social media through algorithms that control what content we see, causing more division rather than unity and more violence (physical, verbal, etc) rather than reconciliation.

In Luke 21:12-19, God invites us to reflect on just this. No matter what issue we are confronted with, if we follow Christ and his two-fold command to “love God and love neighbor” we will eventually be called to give an account of our faith in light of that issue. As a result we may face anything from being excluded from a certain social group to something as extreme as martyrdom (which fortunately will not be the case for most of us, though it is a solemn reminder to continue to pray for all persecuted Christians today).

Yet, whatever form of persecution we face, Jesus assures us He is present and God will give us the wisdom to stand up for what is right if we rely on him.

Saint Rita’s life reminds us that one of the primary avenues of clinging to God in faith in the face of adversity is prayer. As Fr. Michael Di Gregorio notes in The Precious Pearl: The Story of Saint Rita of Cascia, Saint Rita would “spend many hours in prayer, bringing to God the questions common to anyone who had suffered Rita’s misfortunes” (Kindle Edition, location 215).

Prayer and contemplation enable us to continually return our hearts to the heart of God and renew each hour of every day our own awareness of the Spirit’s presence in the here and now.

“Let us always desire the happy life from the Lord God and always pray for it. But for this very reason we turn our mind to the task of prayer at appointed hours, since that desire grows lukewarm, so to speak, from our involvement in other concerns and occupations. We remind ourselves through the words of prayer to focus our attention on the object of our desire; otherwise, the desire that began to grow lukewarm may grow chill altogether and may be totally extinguished unless it is repeatedly stirred into flame.”

Saint Augustine (Letter to Proba)

In the face of adversity do we immediately “react” and “fight back” or do we turn confidently to God in prayer for the right words to say? I imagine Saint Rita’s devotion to prayer is what enabled her to so bravely and consistently preach Christ’s message of peace and reconciliation when so many others were not yet ready to accept it and criticized and threatened her for it.

The world of today is badly in need of others who are willing to bravely and persistently preach Christ’s message of peace and reconciliation rather than division as Saint Rita did. It may not get us as many social media “likes” and “shares” that many crave in a world that still lusts for division, conflict, and revenge. However, it will take the world a step further in the right direction of peace and justice.

The next time we receive the Eucharist may we pray for the grace to preach Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation. For as the priest prays in-between the Our Father and distribution of communion “Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.”

For that is what Christ came to offer. Do we trust in His promises? Do we trust in His coming? May this Advent be a time for us to renew our trust that He has truly come to bring peace and salvation to all, and that He will truly come again.

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