Thursday, May 14, 2009
MARGARET OF CORTONA
The image above showing a head inside a glass case is of a reconstruction of the face of St. Margaret made from her skull. She certainly seems to have merited her reputation as a great beauty. Her mummified body is on display in the beautiful basilica which was originally built just after the death of Margaret.
Margaret was born at Laviano in Tuscany in 1247; died at Cortona, 22 February, 1297. her mother died when Margaret was seven and her father remarried when she was nine. She did not get on with her step-mother. At seventeen she fell in love and eloped with her young knight. They lived together for nine years and had one son. He promised to marry her but never did. She never lost her compassion for the poor and sick and dreamed of living a virtuous life. She prophesied her neighbours that she would die a saint.
Her lover was murdered while on a trip and her world fell apart. Returning all her jewels she headed for her father's home but received no welcome from his wife. She prayed desperately and was led to go to Cortona to seek the help of the Franciscan friars.
At Cortona two women noticed her and took her home. They soon introduced her to the friars and she began her period of probation as a Franciscan tertiary. For three years Margaret had to struggle hard with temptations. She was torn between the call of the world and the call of God but more and more she listened to her heart and the Lord's summons. She fasted and engaged in some extreme penances but the friars kept her balanced.
After three years of probation Margaret was admitted to the Third Order of St. Francis, and from this time she lived in strict poverty. Following the example of St. Francis, she went and begged her bread. But while she lived on alms, she gave her services freely to others; especially to the sick-poor whom she nursed.
Around this time that the revelations began. It was in the year 1277, as she was praying in the church of the Franciscan Friars, that she seemed to hear these words: "What is thy wish, poverella?" and she replied: "I neither seek nor wish for aught but Thee, my Lord Jesus." From this time forth she lived in intimate communing with Christ. At first He always addressed her as "poverella", ('little poor one') and only after a time of probation and purification did He call her "My child".
Even though Margaret led a more and more reclusive life she was yet active in the service of others. She prevailed upon the city of Cortona to found a hospital for the sick-poor, and to supply nurses for the hospital and she instituted a congregation of Tertiary Sisters, known as le poverelle. She also established a confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy; the members of which bound themselves to support the hospital, and to help the needy wherever found, and particularly the respectable poor. Moreover on several occasions Margaret intervened in public affairs for the seek of putting an end to civic feuds. Twice in obedience to a Divine command, she upbraided Guglielmo Ubertini Pazzi, Bishop of Arezzo, in which diocese Cortona was situated, because he lived more like a secular prince and soldier, than like a pastor of souls. He was killed in battle at Bibbiena in 1289.
In 1288 Margaret moved her home to near the ruined church of St. Basil above the city for the sake of greater quiet. It was here that she spent her last years, and in this church she was buried. Margaret was canonized on 16 May, 1728. (based on the article in the on-line Catholic encyclopedia). Her son became a Franciscan friar.
From Margaret we can learn that no one is beyond hope or God's mercy. Nothing we can do can make God love us more nor can anything we do make Him love us less. Yet He loves us too much to leave us as we are. Gently, ever so gently He invites us to follw in the footsteps of His Son and learn from Him. Wit great tenderness and care He seeks only our good and our thriving. Margaret had the courage to turn to Him. So can we.