Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 18 and 19

Audio recording of this post:

Chapter 18, “The Miraculous Cure,” is about the standoff about Margaret’s burial and the miraculous cure that resolved it. The standoff was between the Dominican friars, especially the Prior, who wanted to bury Margaret with all the other Mantellate and the crowd of people who wanted her buried inside the church. All agreed that Margaret was a saint. They disagreed about whether or not they should wait for a formal declaration from Rome before they laid her body in the church. The crowd ended up “winning” the standoff after the miraculous cure. Does that mean they were proved right?

I think both sides may have been right. For approximately the first thousand years of the Church’s history, saints were canonized by popular acclaim and the approval of the local bishop. Even now, when the process of canonizing a saint is a formally regulated matter, subject ultimately to the judgment of the pope, the voice of the people is essential. It is the acclamation of the faithful that prompts the formal “cause for canonization” to go forward, and their devotion and prayers are an integral part of that process. Catholics don’t have to wait for Vatican approval in order to celebrate and pray to a holy person who has died. On the contrary, the Church’s formal process only begins after someone’s sanctity has been celebrated and part of that process is the evaluation of alleged miracles that are answers to prayers.

But Catholics do have to wait for formal beatification to publicly venerate a saint. Honoring a saint during the celebration of Mass would be a clear example of public veneration. Laying a persons body in a church is less clear. Fulton Sheen at St. Patricks in New York and Michael McGivney at St. Mary’s in New Haven are recent examples of the bodies of “Venerable Servants of God” being interred in churches before their beatification. But their bodies were either in a lower-level catacomb (Sheen) or in the back of the church (McGivney), not in places inviting public veneration. “Margaret’s body was placed in one of the side chapels in the Dominican church” (page 106), Father Bonniwell tells us. It was a testimony to the peoples love and esteem for her but I’m not sure it was exactly “by the book.”

Margaret was certainly celebrated for her sanctity, as these final chapters attest. Father Bonniwell also attested to this in his introduction, when he noted “an astonishing fact: during the course of six hundred years more that twoscore (40) writers . . . thought it well worth their while to publish the story of this obscure girl” (page xii). After her death, Margaret also seems to have answered a tremendous number of prayers. Father Bonniwell writes,

The affidavits are many–over two hundred of them–testifying to to permanent cures of the blind, the deaf, the lame, and of those with various other afflictions.

Page 106

Yet it took 289 years for Margaret to be officially declared Blessed Margaret and 412 more until she could be called Saint Margaret.

After the miraculous cure of the young girl after Margaret’s funeral, the Dominican friars yielded to the cries of the people to bury Margaret in the church. They may or may not have acted is accordance with official policy. In any case, Margaret’s many miracles, her incorrupt body (see pages 112-113) and, at long last, the Church’s infallible pronouncement have confirmed what the people of Castello knew at the time of Margaret’s death: that she is a saint.


In his account of “the miraculous cure” at Margaret’s funeral, Father Bonniwell articulates the thoughts of those who cried out for her intercession:

Margaret was their dear friend, wasn’t she? While she was alive, had she not loved them deeply? Would she forget her friends now that she was in Heaven? . . . Of course she would listen to them now. She simply could not refuse.

Page 103

Again, relating the mindset of those who prayed to Margaret after her death, Father Bonniwell writes,

They were convinced that if Margaret’s intercession with God had been so effective while she was on earth, now that se was in Heaven her services would be even more efficacious.

Page 106

In Chapter 8, Father Bonniwell described how Margaret imitated the penances of Saint Dominic. Here, though he doesn’t explicitly say so, I think Father Bonniwell is alluding to another way that Margaret imitated Saint Dominic. At the hour of his death, Saint Dominic told his brothers that he would help them more in death that he could in life. Dominicans still remember that promise. In my Dominican province, we pray the Spem Miram every week, in which we recall the “wonderful hope” that Saint Dominic gave to us at the hour of his death, “promising that after your death you would be helpful to your brethren” and we pray, “fulfill Father what you have said and help us by your prayers.”

When I pray with families and loved ones after a person has died, I often tell them about Saint Dominic’s promise, suggesting that the same can be true for the person who has died: that he or she can help them more from heaven than was possible on earth.

Father Bonniwell tells us that Margaret’s loved ones believed that she would fulfill the same promise, helping them after death even more than before. It seems that they were right. Margaret did help them by her heavenly intercession. But it was not just her contemporaries that Margaret has helped, as those 200+ affidavits attest. And now the Church has canonized Margaret as a saint, inviting everyone around the world to honor her and seek her intercession. Thanks be to God for Margaret’s heavenly service to the whole Church and the whole world both now and forever, amen.


Question:

Having now completed our reading of this book, what final thoughts can you share?

7 thoughts on “Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 18 and 19”

  1. I am truly inspired by Margaret’s life. Despite her ongoing challenges with blindness, hunchback and being unloved by her parents, she focused on a deep love relationship with God. Through prayer and sacraments she attained great heights. She reached out to others and responded to the call of the needy. Her deep love relationship with God enabled her to transcend those worldly limitations, to a joyful better place. Yes, I am happy to have read this amazing book. Thank you Fr. Jonah and to everyone for sharing your comments.

  2. Thank you, Father Jonah, for taking us on this journey through the life of a saint. Your insight has been enlightening. And thanks to the group for all of your comments. It is a privilege to participate in a forum like this one.

    As I read the conclusion of the book, one thought stood out in my head. What would Margaret–the humble servant who asked to live in a closet–think about all of the fuss regarding the final resting place for her body?

    Best wishes to everyone for a blessed holiday season!

    1. Thank you Fr. Jonah for this opportunity. I think St. Margaret would think herself unworthy of the fuss and to be buried in the church. However, it would also comfort her, as this was her favorite place, and I believe she would come around to accept it with humility.

  3. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer ( Romans 12:12 ) These words by Paul reflect much of the life of Margaret.
    From the age of 6 to about 20 her life of imprisonment today would be reflective of a ‘ reeducation program’ used in some countries or would be similar to tactics used to elicit information in clandestine covert operations. The incorporation of variable temperatures , isolation, being told she was a freak, abandoned by those who should love her, etc., would open the mind to whatever she might have heard through that chapel window. Her willingness to believe that her misfortunes were due to her sinfulness led her to seek suffering as a way to become closer to God. Whether this was by extreme fasting, wearing a hair shirt, sleep deprivation, or excoriation. Another explanation that is more palatable would relate to the explanation given in the book that she related to Jesus’ betrayals and felt that her sufferings would bring her closer to God since Jesus suffered. There is no doubt that people suffer for being Christians whether at the hand of a Government, the hand of another Abraham based religion, or a humanistic secular culture. Some suffer from disease and exhibit courage and faith that reflects that of Margaret. In some philosophies such as Buddhism suffering and enlightenment to escape suffering is the substance and purpose of life. Suffering and faith in God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ has to bring one closer to God, but I do not believe penitential self-inflected suffering is required to know or become close to God. Activities such as Lectio Divina accomplishes this as well as a reflective walk alone in the wood. The casting out of Margaret by the Franciscan sexton with no offer of shelter and by the Nuns at St. Margaret’s Monastery reflect some of the flaws of organizations. In this book the compassion of the poor reflects what organizations and society should emulate. I have rung the bell for the Salvation Army outside a Walmart at Christmas and have witnessed those who have little give what change they have and have seen them teach charity by giving money to a child to donate. When Jesus told his apostles that the woman who give a few coins to the Temple gave the most, it reflects the generosity I see in the common man who gives from his limited resources. I have been impressed how seemingly insignificant people can have an enormous effect during their lives and quite often as we reflect on their live after their deaths. I enjoy stories such as St. Therese of Lisieux (Little Flower). Recently, a homeless person died in the arms of the staff at a 3000 member church. This person had used this church as his save home for about 10 years and had attended Sunday School and church services. The church provided him with assistance such as setting up a bank account, medical help, food, etc. The church provided an indoor funeral service with Covid precautions and Zoomed the service. The decease’s Godchild gave a testimony. The deceased was well educated, had been recognized in articles for his talents, and had an estranged family, but there was a mental illness which destroyed his life. The street became a home where violence against him was not uncommon. As the pastor heard the life story of this person, he and others were tearful as they discovered his humanity. As the story leaked out over 1000 people viewed the service on You Tube. A memorial is on the church grounds, and more outreach has occurred. My point: The very least of us are worthy of salvation and have value. Margaret’s work in the prison reflects empathy since she has suffered and has been imprisoned. One can not have empathy unless one has had the same experience. Her actions reflect compassion which everyone can have if they have love for another. An expression of sympathy is a mere social formality. I think the word empathy is used without understanding too often. There are saints among us everyday, but they will not make the blind see or the lame walk, but through compassion they heal our souls and our bodies. This comment is not really about Margaret, but how much of the occurrences in this book are prevalent on this planet today. A final point Margaret was spared the biases that occur with vision, but she could recognize the sincerity of voices and the truths of actions. Thank you Fr. Pollock for initiating the reading of these books and your comments on the chapters.

  4. Thank you, Fr. Jonah, for giving us the opportunity to get to know St. Nargaret. I would also like to thank all who posted comments along the way. Reading these comments was like looking at St. Nargaret through a kaleidoscope – the different insights and perspectives brought out hues and shades of St. Nargaret’s personality and spirituality I didn’t initially see on my own.

    This book was a very powerful experience for me and I am grateful for having found a companion with whom I can limp along with during the journey.

    A blessed Christmas and healthy new year to all.

  5. Vera O – my final thoughts vis a vis the ending chapter and the discussion of being recognized as a saint by the church really leads me off to think of the Communion of Saints….the holy people who have gone before us, if we are lucky, our parents, and ancestors who tried to live life “on God’s terms”….and as I think of Margaret, the symbolism she represents for me, although I know she was a real person…..but the imperfection, the disability, the brokenness…..which of us cannot relate to that…in ourselves, our children, etc. May we also try to look to her for inspiration for “holiness”…and “striving to be a saint”….even if we never come near her statute….but to strive anyway…I like Saint Margaret and I enjoyed the book. I learned some new things…and reinforced some old things…our purpose on this planet!! I relish the Dominican commentary that “we can do more good for others when we are “on the other side”!!! I think you mentioned this when we read Dugdale’s book!!! That totally fits into my outlook or praying to “those who came before me…” whose lives touched mine, in a very special way…..AMEN I hope we do another book in the New Year. Happy Health 2022 Fr Jonah…. thank you!

    1. I also am grateful for this opportunity to read of Blessed Margaret (as she was not as yet declared “a saint”) and to share our own experiences. Thanks Fr. Jonah for providing a marvelous venue in which to do that!
      Regarding “saint-hood”- I am open for the Spirit who led our Church to declare her a Saint, to allow me to more fully understand the meaning of suffering in a deeper way. As a pastoral care counselor for ArchCare at Home many of our patients and families are enduring the burden of sickness and the burnout of caregiving. I will pray for the intercession of St.Margaret to allow them to deal with their experiences, maybe not as she did but as the Spirit leads. May we be open to the Spirit in a different way because of the opportunity afforded us through this sharing and reading and reflection. I am interested in checking further into her canonization as I do believe the Spirit speaks through the steps taken to come to this moment. I would like to find readings, YouTube… that speak of this Saint-hood. May we as Church, we as Citizens of the World and we as individuals hear the message for our times.

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