Learning Wisdom in South Philly

philadelphia shrine rita of cascia

Many God-fearing mid-Atlantic Catholics regard Philadelphia as the center of the known world. Not sure about that.

But the shrine of St. Rita on Broad Street may in fact be the spiritual center of the western hemisphere.

It is good to stop in a beautiful church to pray. It is even better to stop in a beautiful church to pray, and then, after you said your prayers, walk down Federal Street and get a south-Philly cheesesteak at either Geno’s or Pat’s.

St. Rita died 556 years ago today. Pope Leo XIII canonized her 113 years ago, and Pope John Paul II received her relics at St. Peter’s 13 years ago, saying,

If we ask St Rita for the secret to [her] work of social and spiritual renewal, she replies: fidelity to the Love that was crucified.

The Pope went on to refer to St. Rita’s ‘feminine genius.’ Like the feminine genius of God, about which we read in the first reading of today’s Mass:

Wisdom breathes life into her children
and admonishes those who seek her.
He who loves her loves life;
those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord. (Sirach 4:11-12)

The first part of the book of Sirach teaches us how to learn the ways of God. We must fear Him; we must submit to Him; we must keep the commandments, honor our elders, and search diligently for the truth.

Today’s reading from chapter four goes on to point out that the search for true wisdom involves confusion and struggle:

She walks with him as a stranger
and at first she puts him to the test;
Fear and dread she brings upon him
and tries him with her discipline
until she try him by her laws and trust his soul. (4:17)

Two chapters later we read an even more provocative metaphor. Seeking divine wisdom is like submitting to slavery:

Put your feet into her fetters,
and your neck under her yoke.
Bend your shoulders and carry her
and do not be irked at her bonds. (6:24-25)

St. Rita with stigmata“Put your neck under her yoke; carry her…” Sounds difficult. But it also sounds like another sentence of Holy Scripture.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Tornadoes may come. Loved ones may pass away. The world may seem to be filled with nothing but ads, nonsense, junk, and noise–in that order.

But it is not as hard as all that.

When we keep in mind that Christ has conquered death.

St. Rita loved the King of Peace and received the gift of the stigmata, but in a unique way: one prick of a thorn in her forehead.

The confusion and struggle of life pricks us like a single thorn. And Christ rescues us like a tornado of eternal love.

____________________________

…Your humble servant read with delight the news that the cause for canonization of Fr. Matteo Ricci has actually ‘advanced.’

Summer reading suggestion for you: Generation of Giants by George Dunne, SJ.

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