Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 5 and 6

Audio recording of this post:

Father Bonniwell begins Chapter 5 with a paragraph describing the first signs of Spring during the 13th year of Margaret’s imprisonment in Metola. Then he writes,

To Margaret it was God who was talking to her through the many voices of nature, and she was deeply moved by these delicate attentions of her Divine Lover.

Page 23

To our secular, scientistic society, Margaret’s interpretation of the phenomena of Spring might, at best, seem charmingly whimsical or, at worst, hopelessly naive. We can hear a modern person saying, “There are perfectly natural explanations for all of these things.” And, of course, that person would be right. The “gentle breezes . . . gurgling of mountain freshets . . . aroma of pine trees . . . [and] singing of countless thrushes” all have perfectly natural explanations that need have nothing to do with Margaret. Does that mean that Margaret is being whimsical or naive when she supposes that the breezes and aromas “steal into her cell as if to share in her imprisonment” or the birds “hurried back from the south . . . to be with their little blind friend”? Is she just being sentimental by supposing that all these things are “delicate attentions of her Divine Lover”?

I would say that Margaret is not being whimsical or naive but that our modern critic is being simplistic. Yes, the signs of Spring that Margaret perceives can be explained by natural causes. But why should we think that those natural causes are the only causes? The fact that we can identify natural causes of so many of the events in our world need not make us think that supernatural causes are any less probable. Sure, the migration of birds can be explained by evolutionary biology. But that doesn’t make it any less likely that it is also caused by our “Divine Lover” whose wisdom and goodness is manifested in the beauty, order, and intelligibility of the created world.

The modern mind imagines an either/or. Either the natural explanation is true or the supernatural explanation is true. And since the natural explanation is true, the supernatural explanation must be mere superstition. At best, it is a private fancy and not an explanation at all. The Catholic tradition recognizes both/and. Both natural causes and supernatural causes are real. I think Margaret understood that. I think she knew that the migration of thrushes is a result of their natural biological instincts. I think she also knew that God created those instincts and that part of God’s all-knowing creative purpose was that those birds should return to her each Spring to show “the delicate attentions of her Divine Lover.”


As Chapter 5 continues, we read about the invasion of Margaret’s native state, Massa Trabaria. Above all, Margaret worried about her father.

A thought came to her mind which filled her with cold horror. Her father! He was Captain of the People! It would be his duty to lead the Massa Trabarians against the invaders! He might be taken prisoner, or wounded, or killed! The frightened girl fell to her knees, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, earnestly implored God to save her country from its enemies, and to watch over the safety of her father.

Page 24

In Chapter 6, Margaret, who by this time is even more cruelly imprisoned than before, hears that the war has ended. This is how Father Bonniwell describes her reaction:

The news filled the girl with a happiness she had rarely known. What more could one desire? Bloodshed was ended, her country was free again, her father unharmed! She fell to her knees to to thank God for that triple blessing.

Page 29

“What more could one desire?” How about eyesight, a normal body, physical beauty, loving parents, and not being locked in a pit? Margaret thinks of none of these things because she doesn’t think of herself. To the contrary, her concern is chiefly for the well being of her father, the very one who is treating her so horribly. Margaret knows that her father doesn’t love her. But in no way does that diminish her love for him. Jesus said, “love your enemies . . . that you may be children of your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:44-45). It’s hard to imagine anyone being a better child of God in this way than Saint Margaret of Castello.

In our Zoom Chat last Tuesday, some of you talked about the need for justice. Parisio and Emilia should have been held accountable for what they did to Margaret. They should have been prevented from keeping her imprisoned. Those things are certainly true, though it is hard to lay the blame for that on anyone in particular. Perhaps the chaplain, Father Cappellano, should not only have confronted Parisio but also alerted a higher civil authority. Maybe the knight Leonardo should have done that. I don’t know who that authority might have been and whoever did such a thing would surely be taking his life in his hands. But even if individuals are not to blame, surely the society is. I have often been critical of our contemporary society, but there is no questions that our judicial system is better at holding powerful people accountable for their crimes than was the case in medieval Italy.

It is difficult to say who should have held Parisio and Emilia accountable and prevented the atrocities they perpetrated against Margaret. But surely that person was not Margaret herself. Her task was to love as Jesus loves and so be a true child of God her Father. She did that in the most selfless way I could imagine.


As we read through these early chapters of the book, Margaret’s external circumstances keep going from bad to worse. Father Bonniwell prepares us for this with some ominous passages at the ends of these chapters. At the end of Chapter 4, he refers to the “gathering storm which in a few months would sweep over [Margaret’s] country and remove her from Metola forever” (page 22). At the end of Chapter 5, Father Bonniwell writes, “[Margaret] would need even greater and greater courage for the tragedy that was approaching her” (page 26). Similarly, at the end of Chapter 6, he writes, “For tragedy, a grim tragedy, was patiently awaiting her. And it would not have to wait long” (page 29).

Right before this last quotation, and following the passage I quoted above about Margaret’s happiness at the end of the war, Father Bonniwell writes,

Had she been able to look into the future, her joy would have quickly come to an end.

Page 29

I think Father Bonniwell is wrong. We will read about the “grim tragedy” that awaited Margaret next week. But based on Father Bonniwell’s characterization of Margaret in the early chapters of this book, I don’t think any tragedy that could befall her could put an end to her joy. Had she been able to look into the future, I think her reaction would be more like this:

Jesus was rejected even by his own people, and God is letting me be treated the same so that I can follow Our dear Lord more closely. And oh! Father, I am not good enough to be so near to God!

Page 17

Questions:

  1. I didn’t quote any descriptions of Margaret’s imprisonment in Mercatello, the invasion of Montefeltro of Urbino, or the visit of the German pilgrims. Was there anything that stood out to you about any of those things?
  2. I commented upon Margaret’s perception of the natural world, her love for her father, and her faith-filled response to ever-greater suffering. I would welcome your comments on these aspects of Margaret’s saintly character. I also wonder if there in anything else that strikes you about Father Bonniwell’s characterization of Margaret in these chapters?
  3. What about the Avignon papacy? Students of Church history might already know some things about that. Do you have thoughts about the reaction in Mercatello to the news of Pope Clement V’s intention to reside permanently in Avignon, France?

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.

10 thoughts on “Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 5 and 6”

  1. I actually believe that Margaret’s reflection on the natural world would be understood and welcomed in our contemporary world. Climate change and the beauty of the planet is recognized by so many today, young and old. Recognition of the natural world’s process of renewal is powerful–it speaks to an accessible God whom many, Catholic or not, can relate to. Perhaps the return of spring may be seen by many as not only science, but the manifestation of the Divine.

  2. Thank you Fr. Jonah for providing this opportunity for such rich discussions. I for my part will be simple both because the following is the way I view much of the reading and partly because presently time is scarce. You quoted 2 Corinthians 12:9. I am not surprised as a Dominican you would point to the Grace that is found In God’s Word. You quoted: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness”.
    As a Dominican I also see the Grace within the Word at this time. I quote Ephesians 3 :…20: “To him whose power now at work in us can do immeasurable more that we ask for imagine-to him be glory…through all generations.”
    Within this writing on St.Margaret I certainly have my questions, regarding Margaret, her parents, the pope etc. I leave some of this as Mystery. What is not mystery for it is so very much a part of reality is from the quote above.
    Also the strong connection with knowing and loving God. This is the power that I think Margaret knew and others did not . Or at least to say others refused that Grace. St.Thomas Aquinas had something to say about this knowing of God. I forget the theological articulation of this knowing. i believe he articulates this knowing as so deep that we know God as Love. And this is what I believe Margaret knew and manifested it in her relationship with others, including God.
    Thank you all for sharing so much more to consider.

  3. The natural world, birds, flowers and such so much a part of today’s meditations, helping with depression and anxiety.. still, calm and certain during he pandemic, were and are so important to mental health. Concerning her father, we all know through life persons, places and things that we try to “let go of” which takes real sainthood for anyone, here, Margaret to continue to worry about him and care about him, despite his treatment of her. She saw all this as a further extension of her connection to God, her saintly character. The fact that she believed that her parents would return for her, and also that they would be attending Mass and receiving Communion is not her naivete, but her deeply rooted faith filled belief that such things can and do happen, both, spiritually and physically! The dim foreshadowing reminds us that her deep faith is likely to be tested in the future. Vera O

  4. Margaret’s unwavering joy was just one outward sign that the Holy Spirit was at work developing fruits within her. I believe her joy was a Divine gift that would withstand any hardship and sustain her through difficult times.

    Her delight in the glories of Spring reveal that she appreciated the supernatural begets the natural. Our uncreated Creator bestowed the miracles of nature upon His earthly bride. She was not self-centered to think those delicate attentions were created for her. Rather, she remained ever-humble as she felt unworthy to receive them. Both of my parents embraced similar friendships with nature in their final years. My father used to wake to the song of his friendly flock. As he settled into his routine, he would share his morning meal with them. With weakened lungs and a strained voice, he was able to nurture entertaining and non-judgemental companionship through this unlikely breakfast club. At the time, I thought it was curious. As I grow spiritually, this outlook becomes perfectly fitting. I believe God provides for us in so many ways we fail to recognize. Margaret’s perspective is much more evolved than naive.

    Margaret’s charity enabled her unrequited devotion to and love for her father. A member of our Zoom group eloquently expressed continued love for parents who abandoned her. Based upon my personal experience, I concur that love supersedes pain. Like the ever-hopeful pearl awaiting the return of her parents, I do not fully accept that Parisio did not love Margaret. I think his loves were simply disordered. He chose image, power, and country over God and family. Margaret and Lady Emilia were victims of his poor judgement and inability to embrace his cross.

    Not to jump ahead, but I am particularly intrigued by Parisio’s reaction to the miraculous news of the pilgrims. For a few fleeting moments, it seemed like the Holy Spirit tried to offer him guidance. Sadly, he was too blocked to properly receive it.

    1. I agree, Jacqueline, that Margaret’s relationship with the natural world was both humble and evolved. I certainly don’t think Margaret considered the manifestations of Spring as being created for her in an “I’m the center of the universe” kind of way. But I do think she thought of them as being created for her in a “God’s the center of the universe” kind of way. Since she had such a keen knowledge of God’s love, I think she perceived God’s creatures as being “just for her” not as any exclusive possession but as a very personal gift from God who loves her.

  5. Barbara: The invasion of Metola seemed like it would be a “David and Goliath” (1Samuel 17) situation with Metola being overwhelmed. But than, “The frightened girl fell to her knees, and with tears streaming down her checks, earnestly implored God to save her country from its enemies, and to watch over the safety of her father” (page 24)! This simple prayer of Margaret had such far-reaching effects! Margaret’s courage, faith and attitude of love remained strong even though “the Evil One was desperately endeavoring to break the girl’s spirit by this accumulation of trials” she emerged victorious (page 26)! Margaret’s saintly character was evidenced by her loving “little way” of suffering and prayer and ability to thank God for many blessings. As to the Pope residing in Avignon coming back to Rome, would be taken care of at a later date through another Dominican saint, Saint Catherine of Siena. In our present-day situation in our country, I pray to St. Margaret to help us overcome all the evils!

    1. Thank you, Barbara. I hadn’t really thought of that. I was struck by the way Margaret’s prayers expressed her love for her cruel father. I hadn’t thought about the efficacy of her prayers – their power to turn worldly events to the good. I love your comparison to Saint Catherine. I think that comparison is profound and something to keep considering as we read through this book together.

  6. “Fr. Jonah: I didn’t quote any descriptions of Margaret’s imprisonment in Mercatello, the invasion of Montefeltro of Urbino, or the visit of the German pilgrims. Was there anything that stood out to you about any of those things?”

    Re: Mercatello: Margaret’s appreciation of the consolations of nature provided by God were suddenly brought to a close. I have heard in passing of the dark knight of the soul, the deprivation of consolations, that many mystics have experienced, and I believe that many of these mystics come to realize that God deprives us of consolations to teach us to love God not for the consolations but for Himself. This seems to be the same thing for Margaret, who has no consolation from nature in her new surroundings. Can she find consolation without even the small attentions provided by God in nature?

    “Fr. Jonah: I commented upon Margaret’s perception of the natural world, her love for her father, and her faith-filled response to ever-greater suffering. I would welcome your comments on these aspects of Margaret’s saintly character. I also wonder if there is anything else that strikes you about Father Bonniwell’s characterization of Margaret in these chapters?”
    I still wonder how much of this is based on what was told to the original biographer, or to the Canon. Do those accounts contain any evidence related to Margaret’s character, responses, and attitudes? Fr. Bonniwell has done a wonderful job of making this a very interesting book.

    “Fr. Jonah: What about the Avignon papacy? Students of Church history might already know some things about that. Do you have thoughts about the reaction in Mercatello to the news of Pope Clement V’s intention to reside permanently in Avignon, France?”
    Caveat: I am not good at any kind of history. As I understood it from the opening chapter, the region was made up of Papal States. This status probably required material as well as theological allegiance to the Pope and Rome includingcontributions of money, food, fuel, arms, and soldiers, and conferred some protection in return. Opportunities to meet with the Pope and influence his decisions would cease. With the Pope relocated to France, would the protection and benefits disappear? Would the various Papal States still have to provide the costly goods and services to a Pope who no longer had a vested interest in their protection?

    I look at this from my own perspective, as well. Suppose our archbishop were to move the priest from our parish to another parish a lot farther away, without replacing him? That would leave us without Mass, without leadership as a parish family, without help in sickness and death. I suppose that we could go to another parish, but the priest wouldn’t know me or my family. What would happen to the church building and the cemetery? Or suppose that our archbishop were to move to another archdiocese and take up residence there, while still leading our dioceses from afar? How would he shepherd us? How would he know what we need? Would he be distracted from our needs by the needs of those living nearer?

    With all these political and personal reactions, I don’t want to overlook the most significant aspect of the Pope’s removal to France. The Pope represents Christ on earth, and now he is leaving the vicinity and heading elsewhere. How can God abandon His people? Granted, the people of France are also God’s children, but they have not been accustomed to having their Papa near at hand.I can understand and sympathize with the Franciscan friar whose reaction was that God was angry with them for their sins.

    Following closely on the news of the Pope’s move to Rome was the news of miraculous events at Castello. I liked the reaction of one of the tradesmen who felt that miracles could happen far away, but not close to home. I have that same approach, which means it is very hard for God to work the miracles I ask of Him.But NOT IMPOSSIBLE! He has worked many miracles for me and those around me.

    I appreciate all the comments, which bring out different facets of the book, our Catholic Faith, and our culture. It is inspiring to see how each person in this book study relies on God in his or her own way to meet the sorrows, challenges, and disappointments of life. Thank you all for sharing.

    1. I especially like what you said about the “dark night,” Mary Ellen. God seems to repeatedly permit the loss of Margaret’s small consolations: first her childhood relationships in the fort, and now her closeness to nature, the chaplain, and the sacraments. And (spoiler alert!) we will see that happen again. God seems to say to Margaret what God said to Saint Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

      1. There seems to be an interesting connection to Margaret’s dire circumstances and purgation by the dark night. At this point, however, she does not seem to be experiencing a spiritual crisis. Rather, I would guess she is more likely relating her situation to Jesus’ dark night of faith on the cross. She, too, was vulnerable, defenseless, abandoned, and rejected. Although this passage referred to the cross, I like to reflect on this quote from Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity with regard to Margaret and her parents: “In the abyss of human failure is revealed the still more inexhaustible abyss of divine love.”

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