Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 9 and 10

Audio recording of this post:

In Chapter 9, Margaret is discovered by the beggars Elena and Roberto who help Margaret to discover the departure of her parents from Castello. Upon learning that her parents’ had abandoned her, Margaret’s first reaction is shock. Her second reaction is to consider what God was doing.

As she began to recover somewhat from the shock, she realized that she was being offered another opportunity to resemble her Savior, who had been abandoned by His friends. Although her soul was tried to its very depths by the blow, Margaret heroically forcer her rebellious will to accept the cross. In her agony, she besought God that she might more perfectly devote herself to Him, her Heavenly Father.

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Margaret’s first thoughts are not about what her parents did, nor about what she herself would do, but about what God was doing. In Margaret’s mind, the most important thing that was happening in that moment was that God was giving her “another opportunity to resemble her Savior, who had been abandoned by His friends.” It was that act of God to which Margaret must now respond. As we have by now come to expect, Margaret did that heroically, and it is only she who could have characterized her will as “rebellious” in that moment.

Father Bonniwell tells us that Margaret “realized that she was being offered another opportunity to resemble her Savior.” We have already read about many such “opportunities.” The one that I most readily recall was right after her first imprisonment, when as a young child Margaret told Father Cappellano: “God has made it clear. 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.”

Only after Margaret reflects upon the “opportunity” that God was giving her did she consider the significance of what her parents’ had done. She did this in response to “the sympathetic group of people” who were “expressing their opinions of Margaret’s patients,” which Father Bonniwell describes as “vituperation being heaped upon [them].” Father Bonniwell describes Margaret’s response:

At once she spoke in their defense. Had they not taken care of her for 20 years? Why should they be burdened with her all their life? It was high time for her to start taking care of herself, and this is precisely what she intended to do!

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We have seen Margaret’s extraordinary love for her parents before. No matter how they mistreat her, Margaret responds to them only with genuine love. Her response to this final mistreatment of her parents is more extraordinary still. Not only does Margaret continue to love and respect her parents, she makes excuses for them! Though I don’t think what Margaret was doing is best described as “making excuses.” I think she was interpreting their actions in the best possible way. It seems awfully implausible to suppose that Margaret’s parents might have had good reasons for what they did. Margaret, however, seems determined to give them the benefit of every doubt and interpret their actions as generously as possible. Even if Margaret did realize, as Father Bonniwell has suggested, that her parents acted out of hatred, she is determined to cast no dispersions on them in he hearing of others. In this, Margaret exhibited the surpassing righteousness to which Jesus calls his disciples when he tells them, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

This reminds me of an essay by Bishop Robert Barron about scapegoating. Bishop Barron wrote that essay in connection with the passage in the Gospel of John about the woman who was caught committing adultery (John 8:1-11). But he applied his remarks about scapegoating not only to that incident but to human interactions in general. He described how people tend to identify evil and cast it out as a way of strengthening bonds of solidarity. In the case of the woman caught in adultery, the scribes and Pharisees band together and invite Jesus to join them in condemning the evil deed of the woman and casting out the evil by stoning her. Jesus does recognize the evil in the woman (he tells her, “Do not sin any more”), but he also calls attention to the evil in the scribes and Pharisees (“let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”) and he refuses to join them in their condemnation.

I think something similar is going on in the condemnation of Margaret’s parents. The “sympathetic group of people” is in the place of the scribes and Pharisees. They identify evil in Margaret’s parents and invite Margaret to join them in condemning her parents. They are trying to sympathize with Margaret and they think the way to do that is by joining her in rejecting her parents. Margaret, like Jesus, refuses to go along. Jesus rejected the scapegoating of the woman by pointing to the sins of the scribes and Pharisees. Margaret rejected the scapegoating of her parents by giving a charitable interpretation of their actions. In both cases, they refuse to unite with the “good guys” in condemning the “bad guys.” Margaret’s sympathizers understandably try to sympathize with her in a characteristically human way, scapegoating: mutual condemnation and casting out of the evil they perceive in someone else. Margaret won’t do that and, in that way, she shows herself to be like Jesus.

I think this kind of scapegoating happens all the time. As in the case of Margaret’s sympathizers, it’s usually not as grievous as it was in the case of the woman caught in adultery. Gossip comes to mind as the most obvious way this happens. A group of people condemn someone else, usually in some small way. Why do they do this? Often, it seems to me, as a way of establish sympathy among each other by their mutual condemnation of the other person or other group. We can make ourselves feel like the “good guys” by condemning the “bad guys” and somehow casting out their evil.

When we indulge in the scapegoating reaction to evil, we can focus on condemning the evil in the other person or group of people. We thereby enable ourselves, like the scribes and Pharisees, to ignore the evil in ourselves and avoid doing the hard work of introspection and repentance. Scapegoating also allows us to ignore God. When we focus on the evil of the others, we can distract ourselves from the questions of what God is doing and what God calls us to do. Margaret wouldn’t do that. Her response in the face of evil is to consider what God is doing in her life, and how she can overcome her “rebellious” will and accept God’s gracious invitation.


At the end of Chapter 10, Father Bonniwell remarks on Margaret’s strange combination of happiness and uneasiness as the entered the Monastery of Saint Margaret.

Margaret was so happy that she became rather uneasy; she had come to the convent to labor for the salvation of souls by prayer and sacrifice, and not to be filled with overwhelming happiness. She began to fear that, perhaps because of her sinfulness, she was not worthy to suffer any more.

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I think this is fascinating, though I’m not sure what to make of it. Part of Margaret’s uneasiness, it seems to me, is a tension between two different kinds of happiness. On the one hand, Margaret was experiencing a new kind of happiness. The Sisters in the monastery and the townspeople who helped her to be admitted to the monastery showed Margaret a love and welcome that she had hardly experienced before. Moreover, they were trying to help Margaret fulfill her vocation: “to labor for the salvation of souls by prayer and sacrifice.” On the other hand, that very happiness seems to have prevented Margaret from living the vocation of suffering to which God had repeatedly called her. In that vocation, Margaret had long cherished a deeper happiness, the happiness that brought her to tears as a young child when she was overwhelmed by the realization that “God is letting me be treated the same [as Jesus] so that I can follow our dear Lord more closely” and exclaimed, “Oh! Father, I am not good enough to be so close to God.”


Questions:

  1. There’s a lot I didn’t comment upon in these two chapters: Margaret’s life as a beggar, her reaction to sleeping in the stable, her interactions with Elena and affect on her faith, her being adopted by the poor of the city, how living in the homes of the poor affected Margaret and affected the families that hosted her, the suspicions of some people in the town, the effort to get her admitted to the monastery, the bishop’s discoveries about her background, and the nuns invitation to join their monastery. Do you have thoughts about some of these things?
  2. Margaret showed extraordinary holiness from the earliest years of her life, and this book shows that clearly. Now that we are more than half way through our reading of this book, can we also see Margaret’s growth? How has show she grown as a person? How has she grown closer to God?
  3. What about that tension between Margaret’s happiness and uneasiness that I briefly commented upon? As I said, I’m not really sure what to make of that. What do you think?

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.

8 thoughts on “Discussion Post for THE LIFE OF BLESSED MARGARET OF CASTELLO, Chapters 9 and 10”

  1. Struck by the comment: “While the wealthy people as yet held themselves aloof from the beggar, the poor who had “discovered” Margaret decided that she should not be obliged to live any longer as a miserable vagabond” (p.50) The “wealthy” seemed to take the place of her parents and the “poor” were like her nurse-maid – seeking good for her. Reminded me of the “Widow’s mite” we just read in the Gospel recently.
    Margaret, through grace, understood the nature of convent life despite her youth and inexperience. Since she always sought to do God’s will, she could best do that by living according to the Rule of that Order. Margaret had to follow her own conscience – her inherent honesty would not permit her to evade the real issue – cost what it might, she had to follow the voice of her conscience (p.59). St Margaret, help me to follow a rightly-formed conscience as you did!

  2. Reading your comments helps me to better understand Margaret’s uneasiness about her own happiness. Her reaction to (what seems like) her good fortune in being admitted to the monastery is just like her reaction to the (seemingly) bad fortune of being abandoned by her parents. She thinks first of what God is doing and to what God is inviting her. When she was abandoned, she perceived God’s invitation to be more closely united to the abandoned Christ. Now that she is being accepted and welcomed, she worries that God’s invitation might have changed due to her own failures in responding to it. She is uneasy because she is attentive to what God is doing and, in that moment, what God was doing wasn’t clear to her.

  3. Even in the minor frustrations and challenges of daily life, I confess my first reaction is rarely to ask “What is God doing in my life?” St. Margaret brings that perspective to every situation, big and small, bad and good.
    Likewise, when things are going well in my life, I admit I am not inclined to feel uneasy about being found “not worthy to suffer.” In my best moments, I remember to be thankful for God’s blessings. Often, I take them for granted.
    Margaret is teaching me a different way to react to both suffering and blessing. In all things, I want to learn to ask, “What is God doing in my life?”
    St. Margaret of Castello, pray for us.

  4. Thank you to Fr. Jonah and to everyone who has posted so far. All the comments have been helpful in illuminating some aspect of Margaret’s virtues, Jesus’ love, and moral questions.

    Regarding these two chapters, I find it interesting that Fr. Bonniwell explores the reaction of Elena and Roberto when they first see Margaret, and Margaret’s reaction upon joining the convent. The two beggars are concerned about worldly things. They fear any change in their lives and livelihood, and are hostile to Margaret until they spend a little time with her. Then they feel the blessings of God and accept the changes in their lives. On the other hand, Margaret feels joy at entering the convent and does not anticipate any further troubles. This leads her to fear that she is sinful and God might have found her unworthy to suffer further with Christ. In the first case, Elena and Roberto were concerned about worldly things, but progress to a more spiritual approach to their lives and feel more holy. In Margaret’s case she is focusing on spiritual joys including offering prayers and sacrifices for the salvation of souls, but is afraid that stability, shelter, and sustenance are indications that she is not progressing spiritually and that she is sinful. This contrast highlights an interesting aspect of spiritual growth: the closer we are to God, the more aware we are of our unworthiness to be close with God.

  5. I think Father Jonah is absolutely correct in his assessment that when we rail against evil, we run the risk of not doing the hard work of introspection. Unfortunately, it is so easy to want to be a “good guy” and to seek others who are just as self assured that they are “good guys” as well. Margaret manifests enormous courage in not joining the fold of the “holy” but continuing to walk her hard road by herself. The “lone” liness and solitariness that Margaret must feel to me is exactly like that of Jesus. Though he had disciples and many followers, he still had to walk the excruciating road to Calvary alone. I think that every disabled person must feel like that at some point in their life, if not every day. Margaret is an inspiration to all of us to bear our burdens with dignity and grace. Margaret’s focus about what God was doing in her life, not what her parents and other humans were doing truly shows her to be saintly. To go past the human to the Divine can be difficult in all circumstances, but as a disabled, starving and solitary soul, it would require enormous amounts of superhuman forgiveness and strength of character. What an inspiration Margaret is!

  6. ​I agree with the comment posted about how we hope for better times when we are suffering, and we await “the other shoe to drop” during good times.​ With Margaret and with many of us, we feel like our blissful rewards are undeserved. But, they are necessary for the balance of life. I used to hear the expression, “God does not give us more than we can bear.” The relief period is a gift from God–a respite to replenish and reflect. It reminds us of the things for which we hope and to which we cling when we are struggling. It allows us to strengthen, grow, and learn, so that we can handle our next cross. Our difficulties are the tests which define our character. When we reach for the comfort of the invisible hand of God, we can unite our trials with the Passion of our Lord. In that way, we offer our sacrifices for the salvation of souls and give meaning to our pain.

    Margaret set a shining example of how to apply both misfortunes and joys to growth. During her hardships, she underwent a kenosis. That self-emptying was evident through her thoughts and deeds. She exemplified selfless behavior, such as denying herself a bite of food offered by the generous poor. During the good times, she thanked God and recommitted her whole being to carrying out His will. As a saintly role model, she renewed the faith of the community and brought many graces upon those who showed her mercy.

    I admire how Margaret stayed true to her ideals, despite her short-term setbacks. Focused on the big picture of spending eternity with God, she did not waver in her covenant with Him. She recognized that the right thing to do is often not the easy thing to do, and a good fit is worth the wait.

  7. Vera O l. Margaret is truly an amazing character…I picked the word character because it is almost incomprehensible that a women could really be so lofty!! (makes me feel hugely underutilized in my faith and spiritual Life)..
    2. In the beginning , she may have been “chosen” i.e. many are called, few are chosen .”to be like Him” and was given physical crosses as a reward. .Now, she’s laboring for souls, outward to people… so both her inner and outward person has grown.
    3. I think it’s “human”…normal to be overly happy and yet almost afraid at what’s around the corner…that it won’t last…or that you don’t have to pay a huge price…like in our own lives…When there is a string of “bad stuff”…you might feel, optimistically ..that you will soon
    catch a break!! (hopefully).. .When things are smooth sailing…we humans are “scared” …believing that the next shoe will drop….that the next chapter might be simply awful!!

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