Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 1 and 2

Audio recording of this post:

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.

Questions:

  1. Can the selfishness of Margaret’s parents that Father Bonniwell describes in these chapters be a lesson to us?
  2. In what ways do Parisio and Emilia’s reactions and decisions about their deformed child foreshadow issues in contemporary reproductive health care?
  3. 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.

21 thoughts on “Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 1 and 2”

  1. I think one of the real challenges of the story of Margaret is that very few–including her parents–can see through her physical deformities to her intrinsic beauty. Sadly, even Father Bonniwell refers to her as “ugly” (pg. 8) or a “creature.” (says Lady Gemma, p.15).

    I have learned that words have great power. I see this as I teach young medical students who are learning to use the right words that treat patients with respect, and I have experienced this as a professional woman in the ’70s and ’80s, when women were not readily respected. Using condescending words, however descriptive, obscures the innate dignity of an individual. Using the adjective ugly, (again on p.21) or not fully recognizing the adulthood of Margaret (she is referred to as a girl throughout), makes it more difficult to see Margaret as fully human.

    It is this suggestiveness that challenges us in contemporary society to see all of us as fully human beings. We are all made in the image and likeness of God, even with our physical limitations. Our faith should lead us to humility, not only pity. “There but for the grace of God go I,” is important to remember here. We need to pray for the vision to see God in all of creation. When we are capable of those things, I believe some of the poor decisions we make as a society will be lessened.

    1. Thank you, Angela, for your sensitivity regarding language. In the 70s, of course, we were told to reply to harsh comments with: “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.” With the grace of the Holy Spirit, we have evolved to learn that words can wound. But, fortunately, words can also elevate. Let us pray for our continued growth in using language to help each other heal and reach our full potential.

  2. 1. The selfishness of the parents teaches us a lesson because to be a good parent, at times you must put the needs of your children in front of your own. As a parent, the attitude they have towards their helpless small child is saddening. The child did not receive the love she needed in the formative years. Where is the extended family? Where are the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins?

    2. In this day and age, pregnant women have to go through a magnitude of tests for problems with the fetus. Although helpful in many ways, stress is put on the pregnant mother wondering “what if”. Unfortunately, much time of the pregnancy is spent worrying about the next test result.

    3. Margaret was stated to be extremely bright and friendly. These are wonderful human traits that bring joy to the world. Her life could be a lesson on getting to know someone for who they are, not what they look like.

  3. The times dictated the events. We can’t blame the parents because they knew less than what we do now. Even Margaret didn’t blame her parents and made the most of life that was available to her. Her presence in society would have been considered a curse for her parents, a punishment of some kind. Disabilities at birth were considered punishment for their sins. They were in power and probably worked hard to attain it. So Margaret was an embarrassment. And they worked hard for the possibility of having a “healthy and strong” family.
    Today we are given an understanding and scientific advice ,plus legal means to protect Margaret. Times have changed— our values are more specific, clear and helpful.presently we are not perfect, but the possibilities are before us.
    Had Margaret lived in the present, times would have been different and sainthood might be a little difficult.or would come differently.

    I’ve read most of the submitted reactions.Wow, these are responses to learn from. Thank you.

    1. I enjoyed reading your reply and agree with much of it. I know that during the time of Christ, deformities & other ailments were considered a punishment for sin, but I’m not so sure during St. Margaret’s time? It could be that her deformities would have been viewed as a weakness or failure on the part of the parents, hence they would be perceived as weak rulers. Can anyone in the group verify this?

  4. Parisio and Emilia were spiritually compromised . They were consumed by an affluent lifestyle which promoted love of self as opposed to service and love of others. Their parenting expectations were shattered when Emilia gave birth to a deformed baby girl. As parents, they were unable to love Margaret nor cope with the challenges parenting would bring. Since she was a friendly soul who knew the names of everyone in the town, Parisio felt societal pressure He feared knowledge of Emilia’s disabilities would hurt his public image and hinder his popularity. Both parents could not see beyond her deformity to the light within her , they did not see that a challenge to love was a blessing. Parisio and Emilia could easily find a niche in our contemporary world where challenges to love and serve can easily be dismissed, especially when unwanted or merely inconvenient.

  5. The selfishness of Margaret’s parents can be a lesson to us. I think we all have tendencies to be selfish, whether we realize it, or not. It is a form of pride. Charity is the virtue to selfishness. Humility is the virtue to pride. Pride manifests in subtle ways too. For example, not having confidence in myself, means I don’t trust in God enough. This also reminded me that the family should be the domestic church.

    The parents react as if it is an affront to them. They didn’t “deserve this.” Margaret’s deformity is an embarrassment to them and their position. They probably would have aborted her if they could. Or, if technology were available, they would have chosen the sex too, since they presumed the baby to be a boy before birth. Contemporary reproductive health care caters to such people. Selfishness causes people to use birth control and delay childbearing and rearing. Then, when deemed convenient, spend thousands of dollars on IVF because the female is past reproductive age.

    Margaret was definitely blessed with grace. She was smart. This helped her learn with the senses she had. I find it remarkable that she was not bitter, but charitable and humble.

  6. Vera O – l. The lesson for sure is that “everything for self, out of self ..without a care for someone else” is truly NOT
    “the way, the truth and the light”
    2. The issues of the “imperfect child” do foreshadow issues in contemporary reproductive health care. Designer babies, not keeping a genetically imperfect fetus to term, surrogacy, no matter what the woman who carries it must do or why she has to do it ($ to feed her own child in some cases) …are all involved. and stem from this deeply grained cultural “selfishness”..An unplanned pregnancy is “inconvenient” …so eliminate it under the guise of “choice” and so forth…
    3. Margaret was a true people person”….AWARE that she was not physically attractive….yet knew all the people of the town… NB.
    living “near” the blessed sacrament would be a wonderful blessing for her, away from the noise then and today! Certain parishes still offer 24 hour chapels or mostly 24 hours…..a very special time …a special respite from the world of chaos and valueless persons, places and things.
    Also, her parents did not care about her mental health…so very important today. She was “gifted” and “disabled”….in modern genre
    this might be gifted and learning disabled…reminded me of a story/poem / book……upon finding out that a child is “not perfect”…has an intellectual disability, e.g., “”””””welcome to Holland”….But, I wanted to go to Italy….I said Welcome to Holland…..and so the book goes on from there…Holland is a nice place, but it is different than Italy…….

    I thought generally that the discussion of how the village was set up and the mountains played such an important part was very
    significant…….it was protective, and so forth….a little analogous to today’s …importance of climate change….otherwise, what would
    they do without the mountains..and ..what will we do about climate change?

  7. (Continuation)
    In what ways do Parisio and Emilia’s reactions and decisions about their deformed child foreshadow issues in contemporary reproductive health care?
    Focus is on my will, not God’s. I make the decisions, and if things don’t go as I expect, I won’t cooperate.

    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?
    Her devotion to God is remarkable, as is her intelligence and her determination to live with what she is given and make the most of it, rather than balking at the circumstances and refusing to try or feeling sorry for herself.

  8. 1. Can the selfishness of Margaret’s parents that Father Bonniwell describes in these chapters be a lesson to us?
    Absolutely yes. The reality is such people do exist regardless of if it’s a family member. The quest for perfection as we see, has been with us for over 600 years. Case in point the extremes that we will go to create a designer baby regardless of the moral or ethical issues. High tech that should be used for the “prevention of and the better good” has now become a tool for abuse.
    2. In what ways do Parisio and Emilia’s reactions and decisions about their deformed child foreshadow issues in contemporary reproductive health care?
    Contemporary health care has become a money-making business whether it’s at the beginning of life or at the end of life.
    3. 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?
    I fully agree Fr. Jonah! Although I grew up in a large family, my contact with babies and toddlers had been minimal until recently. For the past few years, I have done the Ministry of Hospitality at the Loyola family mass and what a real education as it relates to the thinking of the little members of our parish. Their ‘filter’ of what/when to say or not to say still a work in progress. It’s a breath of fresh air. Many more parents are now bringing their infants/toddlers to mass much to the annoyance of some of our traditional members of the parish who feel differently!
    Margaret’s ability to think of others and her kindness and sensitivity at such a young age is very thought provoking. Her ‘insight’ into her surroundings makes me think that her developing brain has not been stunted rather adjusts to a world she cannot see.

  9. I do believe that Margaret’s parents attitude does indeed foreshadow the attitude of the modern day belief of some that killing of a child is acceptable. This belief is so depraved and erroneous and in my mind it is simply because of their shear selfishness and unwillingness to accept the responsibility of a child whether it be deformed or not. People are thinking only of themselves and perhaps having a child would prevent them from pursuing what they feel they are entitled to.

  10. Since human behavior is complex it should be a consideration in the evaluation of Margaret’s parents’ conduct. Anyone in their position would be affected by the experience and they may have been impacted by significant undisclosed pain and loss. However, it should not be interpreted as an excuse.

    1. Thank you for bringing this up and advocating for mercy. As you say, not an excuse. I think we might add societal pressures and expectations to pain and loss, which can seriously affect the way each of us responds. Judging from Fr. Bonniwell’s description of Metola and the region, and the way in which Parisio came to power, there was probably no effort made to train Parisio or Emilia in virtue beyond attending Mass and receiving sacraments. I would say that for the most part, we are currently in a similar situation. Again, not an excuse, but a way of life that leads many to consider nothing in light of virtue or love and everything in light of immediate self-gratification.

    2. Thank you for bringing this up and advocating for mercy. As you say, not an excuse. I think we might add societal pressures and expectations to pain and loss, which can seriously affect the way each of us responds. Judging from Fr. Bonniwell’s description of Metola and the region, and the way in which Parisio came to power, there was probably no effort made to train Parisio or Emilia in virtue beyond attending Mass and receiving sacraments. I would say that for the most part, we are currently in a similar situation. Again, not an excuse, but a way of life that leads many to consider nothing in light of virtue or love and everything in light of immediate self-gratification.

  11. Young Margaret’s generosity contrasted with the selfishness of her parents is astonishing. Saint Thomas Aquinas professed the sentiment “quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur”–or loosely translated “whatever is received is received according to the nature of the recipient.” Parisio’s egotistic and narcissistic display of philautia indicates that he was not open to receiving God’s grace. Margaret, however, gratefully and joyfully savored every lesson she learned. Thus, her virtue and luminous enlightenment flourished as she oriented her life toward the Lord, while her parents’ prospects to grow in faith and charity were squandered as they rejected God’s precious gifts.

    Every moment we spend raising a child or caring for someone in need is an opportunity to learn how to love completely and unconditionally. Many blessings come to those who attempt to embrace God’s will and unite their deeds with Him. When we reject life, we turn away from God and everything He desires to share with us. The couple did not welcome the beautiful gift that was bestowed upon them through the birth of their daughter. Father Bonniwell, O.P. hints that Parisio demonstrated skepticism in God and disbelief that his actions would have any spiritual consequences. Considering that and his lack of faith-based concern to baptize his child, his abhorrent behavioral patterns, and his irreverent attitude toward the chaplain, one must wonder if he had ever been baptized. Parisio failed to comprehend the privilege of receiving that sacred gift of Baptism which facilitates our entry into the Divine life.

    Having the means and inclination, Margaret’s parents may have opted for genetic selection of a male child if it were available. It is natural to assume that if they had advanced knowledge that they would give birth to a less-than-healthy girl, they may have opted to terminate the pregnancy. Yet, their arrogance and entitlement raises the possibility that they may not have trusted those test results. How dare the doctors present such a disturbing scenario to people of their stature!?! Despite the depths of savagery present during those medieval times, Parisio and Emilia did not kill their baby immediately after birth when they realized she was not the child of their dreams. Our so-called civilized practices of after-birth abortion and euthanasia were too severe for the morally compromised parents who thought nothing of imprisoning and abandoning their daughter! Perhaps the question should be: how can we classify intended infanticide as a woman’s health issue and call another culture barbaric?

    1. It is a wonder and a grace how different Margaret was from her parents. The grace allowed Margaret to soak up the teaching of the priest.

      Indeed, our culture is considered barabaric by those we consider barbaric. Ah, the irony we all don’t see the logs in our own eyes. Also, a reminder to love our enemies.

  12. The lesson to be learned by the selfishness of Margaret’s parents is most definitely the need for “humble selflessness” in a loving relationship with God. Young Margaret developed a loving spirit through the grace of her Baptism which became her beauty. She truly lived the meaning of her given name – Margaret, which meant “pearl” or beauty! Her beauty was of the spirit! Her parents looked at the baby with anger and loathing which is what we see in all the abortions of today.

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