St. Margaret, Virgin and Martyr
St. Margaret, a chaste virgin and glorious Martyr of our Lord Jesus Christ, was born at Antioch, in Pisidia. Her parents were rich and noble, but heathens, and her mother died while she was still an infant. Hence her father, whose name was Edesius, gave her to a nurse who lived in a neighboring village. This nurse was a Christian, and she endeavored to bring up Margaret with love for the Christian faith. God decreed that Edesius should leave his daughter for several years with her nurse, who having thus time and opportunity, instructed her in the doctrines of the true faith, and early awakened in her heart the desire to give her life for Christ’s sake, by relating to her the tortures that so many Christians had suffered, for the love they bore to their Saviour. When Margaret had come to the age of discretion, she not only desired to be baptized, but soon afterwards consecrated her virginity to the Almighty, desiring nothing more ardently than to be numbered among the martyrs.
Margaret’s father was greatly incensed when he was informed that she had embraced the Christian faith, but he concealed his wrath, and taking his daughter home, he endeavored by alternate promises and terrible menaces, to induce her to forsake Christ. When he found that all was useless, he took other means, which he believed would be efficacious. He told her that henceforth he would no longer regard her as his daughter, but as his servant and slave. He commanded her to lay aside the garments she had worn until now and to put on old ragged clothes; after which he turned her out of the house, and ordered her into the fields to guard the herd. Edesius supposed that this would be harder for her to bear than tortures, and that it could not fail to produce a change in her mind. But he had deceived himself. Margaret, who had well taken to heart that Christ, for our sake, had so deeply lowered Himself, as to hide His dignity in human form, rejoiced in being humiliated for His sake, and discharged her duties most faithfully. She guarded the herd with untiring patience, although she suffered greatly from the inclemency of the weather, and complained not of the miserable food that was given her. Her only consolation was that she could occupy her time in prayer and singing the praises of God.
Olibrius, Prefect of Pisidia, passed, one day, while travelling, near the place where Margaret was watching the herd. Addressing her, he asked her name, where she was born and who were her parents, all of which questions Margaret answered with so much decorum and modesty, that Olibrius became deeply interested in her. As Margaret, in the course of the conversation, had also told him that she was a Christian, he made this a pretext to have her brought to him at Antioch. Speaking most kindly to her, he warned her to forsake Christianity, saying that she was born to something better than to guard the herd, and that he would make her his wife, and one of the greatest ladies of the city, if she would consent to his wishes. Margaret declared fearlessly that she would neither leave Christ, nor take as spouse a human being, as she was united with a much greater Lord. So unexpected an answer transformed Olibrius’ love into such wild rage, that he immediately gave orders to tear off her clothes, and stretch her on the ground; after which she was so barbarously whipped that the ground was covered with her blood, so that those witnessing the scene were overcome with pity. The Christian heroine, during this torture, kept her eyes fixed on heaven, and showed no sign of pain; nay, when her executioners were tired, she appeared still willing to suffer more out of love to Christ. Observing this, Olibrius became so infuriated that he had her hands and feet bound and her whole body torn with iron combs and pierced with sharply pointed nails until he himself could no longer look at his victim, but ordered that she should be cast into a dungeon. Here the Virgin, her whole body mangled, gave thanks to God for having sustained her in her first terrible struggle, and humbly prayed that He would further help her with His grace. Heaven permitted that the Evil One, called in Holy Writ a serpent, appeared to her in this form, threatening to devour her; but as she had conquered the tyrant, so she conquered also the hellish serpent. Opposing him with the sign of the holy Cross, she banished him; and when he appeared a second time, she again made the same holy sign, and Satan had to confess that he possessed no longer power to harm her.
After this twofold glorious victory, God sent an Angel who immediately healed her wounds, and encouraged her to further conflicts, with the promise that Divine assistance would be given to her. The following morning, Olibrius again called the fearless heroine into his presence, and repeated his promises and threats of the day before, but without any success. When he ascribed the healing of her wounds to his idols, the holy virgin refuted it with incontestable proofs, repeating that she would rather die a thousand deaths than forsake her faith. The tyrant seeing her firmness, again ordered her clothes to be torn from her, after which, having tied her hands and feet, they burned her breast and sides with torches, and to make the suffering still more intolerable, they threw her into cold water, after her whole body had thus been cruelly tortured. But never had Margaret been more cheerful than during this terrible martyrdom, at the time of which, a voice from heaven was heard, saying: ” Come, thou Spouse of Christ, enter the dwelling of the Saints, and receive the crown of eternal glory!” All present heard these words, and as the earth trembled under their feet, an indescribable fear seized them. Many openly confessed themselves Christians, and Olibrius fearing a revolt, commanded that Margaret should immediately be beheaded. The executioner showed timidity in obeying the prefect’s words, but Margaret herself encouraged him to obey, and thus ended by the sword her chaste and holy life, in the year of our Lord, 175.
I. How great must have been St. Margaret’s estimation of virginal chastity, when she refused a most favorable marriage, and rather suffered the most intense torments than suffer the loss of her priceless treasure. How highly do you estimate the chastity conformable to your station in life? You must show this in the use of those means which are necessary to guard it, and by earnestly avoiding all sin that are against it. I know the world esteems these sins as trifles, or as human weaknesses: but Satan speaks through the mouth of the world. Will you believe him rather than God? “If we do not believe the Lord our God, whom shall we believe?” asks St. Ambrose. The just God has long ordained that Hell should be for sinners. He punishes no sins more severely than these. Examples of it we have in the flood, and in the fire that came down from heaven upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. How could He have punished the people in so terrible a manner, if the sin had been, in His sight, only human weakness?
Shall the Almighty be accused of ignorance or injustice? So far surely no one will dare to venture. No, the wicked world must be accused of lying, when it esteems as a trifle, what God looks upon as a crime, and punishes so severely. Wo to those who allow the deceiving world to blind them! “Do not err,” says St. Paul, “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers shall possess the kingdom of God.” (I. Cor. vi.) According to these plain words, the unchaste have no hope of salvation, unless they reform and repent. The sin of unchastity closes the gates of heaven to men. How can we, therefore, regard it as small, and look upon it as only a human weakness? This vice, above all others, blinds its victim and smooths the path to other abominable sins, until it hardens him and makes him so impenitent, that he either thinks no longer of converting himself and doing penance, or is unwilling to alter his conduct; as the Holy Ghost teaches us in the following words: “They will not set their thoughts to return to their God; for the spirit of fornication is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord.” (Osee, v.) And what is the end of such persons? Answer this question yourself and judge by it, if sins against chastity ought to be considered as trifles.
II. How comforting is death, when we are invited to receive the crown of everlasting glory, like St. Margaret. If you desire such a death, battle bravely, after the example of this chaste virgin, against the flatteries and menaces of the world, the flesh, and Satan, especially when chastity is concerned. These three tyrants are your worst enemies, and attack you continually either with violence, or by besetting you with flatteries and caresses, but their success depends on your consent. “Satan,” says St. Augustine, “is like a chained dog. He can bark, he can provoke, but he can only bite him who will be bitten. He does not harm us by violence but by persuasion with advice; he forces not our consent, he only asks it.” The same may be said of the world and the flesh. They cannot force you to sin; and if you allow your enemies to conquer you, which takes place when you lend a willing ear to their temptations, you will vainly hope for the crown of glory. Eternal damnation will be your lot instead.
Sentence is already pronounced; the unchangeable judgment of God is revealed by St. Paul; for besides what you heard in his Epistle to the Corinthians, he also says distinctly somewhere else, that the impure cannot inherit the kingdom of God (Ephes. v.). St. John further assures us that the impure shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone (Apoc. xxi.). How deep will be your wo, when being in this burning pool, that is, in hell, you remember, that for the short and abominable pleasure you sought in the gratification of your lust, you have deprived yourself for all eternity of the heavenly crown, and have precipitated yourself into the unquenchable fire of hell. “Let us at length consider within our own heart,” says St. Augustine, “the lot of those who continued to the end in lust and in the pleasures of this life. Look at their graves, and say what is left of their pride, their riches, their debauchery? Search for their splendid garments, their luxuries; search for the frivolous amusements, the splendid banquets they attended; search for their idle jests, their laughter, their lawless pleasure. Where is all this now? and where are they? Heed well the last words; “Where is all this now, and in which Eternity are they now?”
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.