Friday, May 16, 2003

Margaret of Cortona --- her story sounds awfully contemporary considering she was born in 1247 ----

Today we celebrate one of the Church's great penitents, those who wandered or ran away from the faith and returned to it with contrition and gratitude and strength.

Margaret was a normal happy little girl, until her mother died and her father married again. Then her life and her faith began to fall apart. Her stepmother couldn't stand her, and Margaret returned aggravation and hatred in kind. Soon Margaret ran away or was pushed out of the household; a disaster in those days, when women had next to no recognition except as somebody's daughter, or somebody's wife, or somebody's mother. This also sounds a lot like the stories of half the teenagers at the Walker's Point Shelter up the street from my place. It wasn't too long, though, until Margaret was off the streets --- as the live-in concubine of a local young noble. She came to actually love the guy, and she lived with him without benefit of matrimony for nine years, and bore him a son. He was in the habit of going out riding each day, and one day his dog came back home alone, and led Margaret to the mutilated body of her nobleman, who had been assassinated. Margaret was brought by this to think on the last things, and on the judgment of God, who may call one to Himself at the least expected time, and to see her own miserable spiritual condition.

She tried to go back to her father's household, but her stepmother was still there and would not allow it. So she left town and went to Cortona, where there was a community of Franciscan brothers that had a reputation for their gentleness and kindness toward former notorious sinners and other pariahs. She placed herself under the direction of the good brothers, did massive amounts of corporal penance (from which the brothers often needed to restrain her), taught herself nursing and established a hospital, caring for the patients herself, and lived in humility and poverty and the works of mercy until her death in 1297. And so she joined the litany of the great penitents, with Miriam the prophet and David the king, with Mary of Egypt and Thais and the anonymous one of Sachsenhausen, and all the others who know Who has saved them and from whence their help comes. May we all come to be in their company in the fullness of time.

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