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Parisio and (to a lesser extent) Emilia present us with a kind of study of selfishness. Consider these passages:
Parisio was apparently endowed with few virtues. He was monstrously proud, unscrupulous, and indifferent to the sufferings of others. He was merciless toward anyone who stood in his way. Wholly selfish and engrossed in himself, he was not capable of genuine affection toward anyone, except insofar as that individual might be of some use to him.Page 4
His baptism! Parisio has not given that a thought! Yet, if his enemies informed Rome that he, a Captain of the People in a Papal State, had failed to have his child baptized, it could easily mean the ruin of his plans. It was clever of his wife to have thought of that!Page 5
[Parisio and Emilia] were outraged that Nature should have even dared to inflict so shameful a disgrace upon the two most important personages of the land!Page 7
When the parents had recovered from the initial shock, they agreed that their misfortune should be kept a profound secret.Page 7
‘Look, you told me Margaret is very devout, that she likes to spend hours in the chapel praying. We’ll make her happy by allowing her to pray all day long in church.’Page 11
You can explain to Margaret what a great privilege we are going to bestow on her; she’ll be able to pray day and night without anyone disturbing her. Besides, it will be for her own good, it will keep her out of danger. Wandering around the fort the way she does, she might get badly hurt.Page 12
Father Bonniwell’s description of Parisio — “he was not capable of genuine affection toward anyone, except insofar as that individual might be of some use to him” — seems to describe what selfishness is. Everything is related to the self. Things are good when they are good for me, increasing my gratification or furthering my plans. Nothing is good in itself. A thing is only good if it serves myself.
When Parisio is reminded of the need to baptize his unborn child, he doesn’t give a thought to how baptism might be good for his child but only how it would be good for himself. He assumes that his wife is also thinking only of his own advantages and so compliments her cleverness. This seems to be the affection of which he is capable: esteem for one who is looks out for his own interests.
When Margaret is born and her deformities are revealed, the sorrow of her parents are not for her but for themselves. They are the victims of this tragedy. Moreover, their disgrace is unjust. They deserved better. They had a right to the child they wanted.
This way of thinking seems pervasive in our contemporary society. We are often less concerned about the rights of children than the rights of parents to have children, and to have the children they want to have. I think that self-centered mindset is at the root of many tragic errors related to the conception, birth, and rearing of children. Here is an article I wrote about that which you can read if you are interested.
We read in Chapter 2 how Parisio and Emilia’s decision to keep Margaret’s existence secret leads to their decision of imprison her. I think Parisio’s rationalizations are interesting: “We’ll make her happy”; “what a great privilege we are going to bestow on her”; “it will keep her out of danger”. It is obvious that he is not at all concerned about Margaret’s happiness or safety. His is only concerned about how Margaret’s imprisonment might best be explained to her. Even though Parisio’s alleged reasons for imprisoning Margaret are partly true — it really is a privilege to live close to the Blessed Sacrament and she really will be kept safe from some dangers — they are irrelevant to what Parisio’s is intending to accomplish and, therefore, they do not accurately describe what his is doing. He is imprisoning his daughter in order to keep her existence secret and prevent embarrassment to himself. His decision might have had some good effects and God undoubtedly bought good out of it. But what Parisio did was not good. It was abominably and shamefully evil.
These chapters also tell us about the qualities that Saint Margret began to exhibit as a young child:
It was in vain that the chaplain, who had begun to teach her the rudiments of religion, repeatedly told the parents of the remarkable intelligence their daughter was beginning to manifest.Page 8
By the time she was five years old, Margaret knew the name of every man, woman and child at Metola. She could make her way unassisted through the various passageways of the fort and the corridors of every building. As she was a friendly little creature, she made regular visits to everyone.Page 8
As we continue reading this book, we will learn more about Saint Margaret’s character and will be able to contrast it with the selfishness of her parents. Already, we see five-year-old Margaret’s intelligence, friendliness, and the interest she takes in other people. “Grace builds on nature” is something of a Catholic — and, particularly, Dominican — maxim. Saint Margaret of Castello was famously lacking in many natural gifts: vision, beauty, strength, and other gifts related to bodily proportion and functionality. But she did possess natural dispositions of mind and will that, even before the age of reason, showed her to be good soil for the seeds of grace that God was to plant.
- Can the selfishness of Margaret’s parents that Father Bonniwell describes in these chapters be a lesson to us?
- In what ways do Parisio and Emilia’s reactions and decisions about their deformed child foreshadow issues in contemporary reproductive health care?
- I always marvel at the ways in which the personalities of children so clearly manifest themselves at such early ages. What else can we observe about young Margaret?
Please share your thoughts in the “Comment” section below. Feel free to respond to the questions I posed above or to reflect upon anything else in this week’s reading, my reflections on this weeks reading, and/or comments that other people have posted.