High on the list of tedious, time-consuming tasks is housework. At first glance washing and dusting wouldn’t seem like an opportunity to grow in holiness, yet that’s the way St. Zita (1212-1272) saw it.
She was only 12 years old when she went to work as a servant for the Fatinellis, a family of well-to-do silk merchants in Lucca, Italy. There were other servants in the house, of course, and within days of her arrival Zita knew that none of them liked her. They interpreted her piety as posturing, her submissiveness as stupidity, her diligence as a mean-spirited way to make them look like slackers.
As the new girl, Zita would have been given all the dirtiest and most tedious household tasks. She did them all well, but when she felt the drudgery of her work getting to her, she would say a short prayer and remind herself that she wasn’t doing this unpleasant job to win praise from her employers but for love of God.
Prayer sustained Zita. She went to Mass daily at the Church of St. Frediano, just a few steps from the Fatinellis front door. If she had any spare time during her work day, she would slip away to a corner of the attic to pray. Once, after she had put bread in the oven, Zita found she had some free time so she hurried up to her “chapel” in the attic. Her prayers became so intense and the sweetness of being in conversation with God so delightful that Zita lost all track of the time. When she came to her senses, she rushed back to the kitchen, certain that the loaves of bread must be burned. Instead of a kitchen filled with acrid smoke, she found beautiful, fragrant loaves laid out on the table. While Zita talked with God, angels watched her baking.
With the passage of the years Zita’s fellow servants and the Fatinellis came to realize that she was not a hypocrite or a cheat but a genuine saint. The family made her mistress of the household and eventually governess of the Fatinelli children.
In terms of charity, Zita was a soft touch. The beggars and the poor in and around Lucca knew it. She shared her own food with whoever came to the door, and when she had given away her portion, she dipped into the Fatinellis’ pantry. During a famine an endless procession of hungry people came to Zita for help. She wound up giving away the Fatinellis’ entire store of dried beans the one thing the household was counting on to get them through the crisis. It was too much. Signor Fatinelli indulged in one of his famous rages and dragged Zita into the storeroom to impress upon her what she had done. But when Zita and Fatinelli arrived in the pantry they found to their surprise (and Zita’s relief) that the supply of dried beans was undiminished.
And so the years passed, with Zita exasperating Signor Fatinelli with her works of charity, only to be bailed out at the last moment by divine intervention. St. Zita died peacefully in the Fatinelli house on April 27, 1272. She was 60 years old, and had served and edified the family for 48 years. Today is her feast day.
Thomas Craughwell is the author of Saints for Every Occasion (Stampley Enterprises, 2001).
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)