In times of pain and suffering, one can often feel lonely and isolated. This is especially true when facing illness, grief over a loved one, or rejection.
Saint Rita without a doubt experienced feelings of isolation and loneliness as she faced many struggles in her life; struggles that were not much different than what many people today face. Her husband was murdered, both of her two children died of an outbreak of a deadly illness, and she faced initial rejection from the convent she desired to enter.
One of the beautiful aspects of the Roman Catholic faith is the belief that there are saints in heaven who understand our circumstances because of the various struggles they faced in their own lives on Earth. They therefore intercede by praying for us from heaven.
What Saints surround you in prayer in your own times of need?
One of my favorite parts of the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in Philadelphia, PA is the placement of the statue of Saint Rita in the very center of the lower Shrine.
When one walks in you can almost immediately notice her in the center surrounded by the three Saints she often called upon during the struggles of her life: Saint John the Baptist, Saint Augustine, and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino.
In The Precious Pearl: The Story of Saint Rita of Cascia, Fr. Michael Di Gregorio, OSA describes how these three Saints influenced her life of faith.
From Saint John the Baptist, Rita learned the importance of pursuing and proclaiming the truth of God’s will. Saint John the Baptist likely influenced the faith she exhibited as she refused to give in to the temptation to seek revenge or fall into despair when so many others in her family wanted to (including her husband and her children before their death).
From Saint Augustine, Rita learned that God is at work even when God seems absent in the darkest and most disappointing experiences in life. In his Confessions, as Augustine reflected back on his life, he discovered God was present even when he was not present to God:
“You were always there inside me and I was running around outside. I was looking for you out there, and confused as I was, I threw myself upon those beautiful things that you had made. You were always in me, but I was not always in you. “Saint Augustine (Confessions, 10.27.38)
This likely inspired Rita to trust that God was present, even as everyone else rejected her convictions. This gave her inspiration to continue to pursue the truth of God’s path to peace and reconciliation when so many others did not want to agree with her.
The final Saint surrounding Saint Rita at the shrine is Saint Nicholas of Tolentino. The greater part of his life was spent in Tolentino where he was known for pursuing a life of intense prayer and mortification that provided the foundation for his commitment to sacramental ministry and tireless service to the sick and the poor. Rita looked to him as a friend in prayer and a reliable example of someone attentive to the needs of the sick and the poor.. A deep prayer life sustained Saint Rita through much of her life.
How do you invite the Saints to surround you?
As I begin my day, I often reflect on my own need for God’s help as I pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning. The Psalms help me call to mind my need for God’s help with the many challenges I will face in the day ahead. The Psalms also help me call to mind God’s many promises to be present and watch over me throughout the day.
When I arrive at the Shrine in the morning, I often stop into the lower Shrine and prayerfully ask myself: what Saints do I need to call upon to surround me in the day ahead? Sometimes it is Saint Rita, others times Saint Augustine, sometimes Saint Vincent de Paul, other times Saint John the Baptist. I feel blessed to work in such a powerful place where I feel connected to the many spiritual realities of our life, especially the Saints.
That is the essence of Shrine ministry: to serve as places that complement the ordinary path of faith people gain in their parish by providing patrons a place to experience God’s closeness and the company of the Saints (Pope Francis, Santuarium in Ecclesia, no. 2.). That is why people from all over Philadelphia and around the world come to visit the Shrine, to gain such an experience in the midst of their own life journey.
 Fr. Michael Di Gregorio, OSA, The Precious Pearl: The Story of Saint Rita of Cascia (Staten Island, NY: Fathers and Brothers of the Society of St. Paul, 2003), Kindle Edition, Location 203.  Ibid., Kindle Location, 284.  Ibid., Kindle Location, 296.  Ibid., Kindle Location, 95.  Ibid., Kindle Location, 196.