Sunday, November 17, 2013

Reflections on the conversion and penitence of St. Margaret of Cortona.

Returning to a most lawful position in relation to your fellow-creatures.

I had a book on the life and revelations of St. Margaret - but I gave it away.  There is one chapter online, which I've been thinking about a lot. 

Our Lord told the Saint about his presence during her sinful life.  She was never out of his sight, as it were.  I find that consoling, because no matter how far we fall - he is there already.  That is how I understand the falls on his way of the cross ... he fell to the level of our gravest fall from grace - to meet us there.

What I liked in reading what he revealed to St. Margaret is how he described her lover.  He called him 'the enemy of your salvation'.  He called her beloved that!  Margaret loved him and was distressed upon discovering her lover had been murdered.  How different our ideas of love than those of God, huh?
"My child," He said to her, "think on the manifold graces and lights with which I have endowed thy soul, in order to turn thee to Me. Think of how, on the death of the enemy of your salvation, overcome with sorrow, with downcast looks, bathed in tears, and clothed in black, you came in confusion to Laviano, to your father's house. Think of how, at the instigation of your stepmother, he altogether forgot fatherly compassion, and drove you from the house.

Deprived of human advice and aid you knew not what to do; you withdrew into the garden, and sat beneath a fig-tree, and wept. You turned towards Me, beseeching Me to be your master, your father, your spouse, your Lord; and you humbly deplored your spiritual and corporal misery.
These misfortunes were the cause of her conversion.  She understood she had been deluded, placing her hope in the approval of her lover, the status he afforded her.  Yet these things failed her upon his death.  She was lone, unmarried, with a child - even her father turned her away.  The temptation to depend upon her own wits, to return to her old life became overwhelming.  Our misfortunes are not immediately recognized for what they are - a call from God.  Subsequently, I think our fears can compromise our choices, base instinct our survival skills, while disordered self-love is easily seduced by concupiscence.
But at the same time, the old serpent, seeing you driven forth by your father, to his shame and for your destruction, seized this opportunity to make you vain of your beauty and your youth. He suggested to you that, abandoned by fortune, you had every excuse for giving yourself up to sin: that, wherever you chose to go and live, you would find rich and voluptuous masters to love you for the sake of your exterior loveliness.

But I, the Maker of your inward beauty, which you had deformed and which I wished to renew, I bore Myself towards you with a true love. By My inspirations and My light I touched your conscience. I urged you to set out immediately for Cortona, and there to submit to the obedience of My Friars-Minors.

You were filled with strength, and you set out on your journey. In obedience to My commands, you presented and offered yourself to My Friars; and with great zeal and courage you brought your soul under subjection to their rules and instructions.

Think of how, at the very outset of this career of salvation, you found balm for your heart, in the respectful, filial fear with which I filled your soul towards the religious to whose care I confided you.

This fear vanquished the invisible enemy, who had the hardihood to present himself to you in the hour of your affliction. Did you not tremble from head to foot, were not your cheeks suffused with blushes, when a friar of the Order of our ever-blessed Father appeared in the Church, in the house, or in the street? You dared not sit down or speak in their presence.

Think of how I molded your soul; how, from that moment, I inspired you with a supreme contempt of worldly ornament, and drew you, little by little, for My love's sake, to a most lawful position in relation to your fellow-creatures. - Source

"You dared not sit down or speak in their presence."

I believe my sins are so much worse that those of St. Margaret.  So how do I dare speak of the evils of others? 

The Lord drew the Saint - 'little by little' to a most 'lawful position in relation to your fellow creatures.'  See, that is what happens after a good confession - otherwise, living in sin is all disorder, placing us in an unlawful position in relation to our fellow creatures.  Think about that.  Deeply.  Think about that deeply.

It's good to be always repenting.

St.s Margaret and Angelo of Foligno sometimes performed public penance, and they sometimes wanted to do some very dramatic things to illustrate the crimes for which they did penance.  Their confessors discouraged them from such excesses, but their desires seem to illustrate what I mean by Christ meeting us where we are.  Of course his mercy is moved by our repentance, yet somehow it is his grace which initiates that movement, that desire of repentance within our souls.  His love is moved by our misery - that is what mercy means - repentance is our response to that.  Which comes first?  Mercy does - always.  That is why I like the example of Margaret's conversion and penitence so much.  He was present to her in her sin and repentance.  He went before her in her penitence.

Once St. Margaret actually walked the streets in rags, disheveled, her face marred by soot and scratches, her body wasted from fasting and vigils, with a rope about her neck, upon which were layered signs of her sins, dead fish and so on... we laugh at such displays now, as surely as the towns folk would have laughed then.  Yet Christ went before her - he goes before us - in penitence.  He walked and stumbled through the streets in bloodied clothes, a rope about his neck, carrying his cross.  See the connection? 

It's good to do penance.

What does that mean?
"Many persons, feeling that the word penance implies great austerities, and not feeling that they have the strength for great sacrifices, become discouraged and continue a life of lukewarmness and sin." Then she said Our Lord explained to her: "The sacrifice required of every person is the fulfillment of his duties in life and the observance of My law. This is the penance that I now seek and require." - Sr. Lucia of Fatima


  1. Is "contempt for all worldly ornament" a supererogation, or something expected of all penitents? Because people I know who are living in sin, who I would want to help bring them back to God -- I don't want them to think they have to hate all worldly things, or I don't want the women to think they have to stop looking pretty -- just leave sin behind and start to truly live.

  2. "What do you care, you know where you're going." - David Puddy

    Just kidding Merc - you always lighten up my posts - thanks.

  3. Haha how did I lighten anything up?

  4. "What I liked in reading what he revealed to St. Margaret is how he described her lover. He called him 'the enemy of your salvation'. He called her beloved that! Margaret loved him and was distressed upon discovering her lover had been murdered. How different our ideas of love than those of God, huh?"

    I think so too. How much purity of heart is needed - to seek the one thing necessary - to have no one before Him. How much discernment is necessary, to sift through what we claim for our "happiness."

  5. Anonymous9:38 PM

    I've always felt a close affinity and kinship with Margaret of Cortona. My fears have often compromised my choices and base instinct my survival skills sadly and regrettably so. I wonder whether disordered loves have also been the enemy of my own salvation?


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