I was horrified the first time I read the story of St. Rita of Casci. She prayed her sons would die if it saved them from dying later in a state of unrepentant mortal sin. They were so young, barely into their teens, not much more than babies. I looked around the room at my own tiny children, and couldn’t help but wonder: What kind of mother called down death on her babies?
For those of you who don’t know, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version. Rita’s husband’s family had been involved in a long-running blood feud. When he converted to Christianity and tried to make peace, he was betrayed and stabbed to death. His two sons, at the urging of their male relatives, decided it was their duty to avenge their father’s murder. Rita prayed that if this would lead to their dying in unrepentant mortal sin that God would take them first. Both boys died within the year.
What Kind of Mother?
It took a long time for me to understand the beauty and selflessness of what St. Rita asked. With her sons set on avenging the murder of their father, she put the spiritual welfare of her children above her own desires to have them near her. She willingly gave them up.
Throughout my years of motherhood, I’ve come back to her example of motherhood time and again. St. Rita taught me about the painful necessity of being willing to give up everything for the spiritual welfare of our children, even the children themselves. We are charged with the duty of leading our children to God and to following His will.
I’ve never asked God for the mercy of a holy death for my children. I don’t know that I’m strong or brave enough for that. I have followed her example of surrender. I pray often that God remove from my children’s lives anything that would turn them from Him — even their lives.
Rebecca Lane Frech is a writer and the mother of nine children (two saints and seven in training). She’s the author of a guide to homeschooling, Teaching in Your Tiara. A longer version of “A Reflection on St. Rita” appeared on her weblog Backward in High Heels.