Saint Margaret of Cortona

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Saint Margaret of Cortona

Franciscan tertiary, penitent
(1247-1297)

It is not strange that the world feels drawn to the Augustines and Magdalenes of every age. The world knows its guilt and is ashamed. With the lives of such saints placed warmly and tactfully before us, it is impossible to abandon hope. From the tumbleweed of sin many saints have grown.

Margaret was born at Laviano, in Tuscany, Italy, about 1247, of poor farm people. Her mother died when she was only seven years old, and two years later her father married again. His new wife was a strong, masterful woman, who had little sympathy for her pleasure-loving stepdaughter. Margaret had always yearned for love and it was always denied her at home. It is not hard to understand, then, how the pretty young girl fell prey to the prospect of love and luxury offered her by a rich young cavalier (whose name she never divulged) from a neighboring village. She went away with him one night and lived with him as his mistress for the next nine years, during which time she gave birth to a son. During all those years Margaret remained faithful to her lover, even though she was an object of scorn to the townspeople, who regarded her as a depraved woman.

The sudden and brutal murder of her lover brought Margaret to the realization of God’s grace. Ashamed and horrified by her own behavior, she went immediately to her father’s house to beg forgiveness. Although he was willing to accept her, her stepmother for a second time turned Margaret away from the love she needed so badly.

She had heard of the Friars Minor (Franciscans) and of their reputation for gentleness and patience with sinners. By this time, utterly depressed, she traveled to Cortona, where she begged admittance into the Third Order as a penitent. For the first three years of her conversion she was guided in the spiritual life by Fra Giunta Bevegnati, her confessor. It is to him we are indebted for the story of her life.

Margaret began to earn her living by nursing the ladies of the city, but soon gave it up in order to devote herself to caring for the sick poor, depending on alms for her existence. She persuaded the leading citizen of Cortona to aid her in starting the hospital of Our Lady of Mercy, staffed by Franciscans tertiaries whom Margaret formed into a congregation called Poverelle. She also founded the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy, which was pledged to support the hospital and to search out and assist the poor. Her son was sent to school at Arezzo, and he later became a Franciscan friar.

As Margaret continued to advance in holiness, Christ became the dominating feature in her life. She was favored with visions in which Christ spoke to her and addressed her as the third light granted to the Order of my beloved Francis, that is, exceeded in glory only by Saint Francis and Saint Clare. Margaret was also favored with visions of her guardian angel.

The people of Cortona had observed the holiness of Margaret’s life, and they sought her payers in 1279, when Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily, threatened to invade Tuscany. After fervent prayer it was revealed to her that an armistice had been arranged and peace would follow.

Toward the latter part of her life our Lord said to her: Show now that thou art converted; cry out and call others to repentance. Margaret was obedient to the call and saw that she must lead a more active life. She carried on this new mission successfully, drawing many lapsed Catholics back to the Church, and she was called on many times to perform miraculous cures.

The day and hour of her death were revealed to her, and she died at the age of fifty in 1297. Her fame is mostly confined to Tuscany, where the people of Cortona refer to their patron as the lily of the valley.

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Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas – Thursday After First Sunday

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Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas

Thursday After First Sunday

It was fitting that Christ should be Crucified with the Thieves

Christ was crucified between the thieves because such was the will of the Jews, and also because this was part of God’s design. But the reasons why this was appointed were not the same in each of these cases.

1. As far as the Jews were concerned Our Lord was crucified with the thieves on either side to encourage the suspicion that he too was a criminal. But it fell out otherwise. The thieves themselves have left not a trace in the remembrance of man, while His cross is everywhere held in honour. Kings laying aside their crowns have broidered the cross on their royal robes. They have placed it on their crowns; on their arms. It has its place on the very altars. Everywhere, throughout the world, we behold the splendour of the cross.

In God’s plan Christ was crucified with the thieves in order that, as for our sakes he became accursed of the cross, so, for our salvation, He is crucified like an evil thing among evil things.

2. The Pope, St. Leo the Great, says that the thieves were crucified, one on either side of Him, so that in the very appearance of the scene of His suffering there might be set forth that distinction which should be made in the judgment of each one of us. St. Augustine has the same thought. “The cross itself,” he says, ” was a tribunal. In the centre was the judge. To the one side a man who believed and was set free, to the other side a scoffer and he was condemned.” Already there was made clear the final fate of the living and the dead, the one class placed at His right, the other on His left.

3. According to St. Hilary the two thieves, placed to right and to left, typify that the whole of mankind is called to the mystery of Our Lord’s Passion. And since division of things according to right and left is made with reference to believers and those who will not believe, one of the two, placed on the right, is saved by justifying faith.

4. As St. Bede says, the thieves who were crucified with Our Lord, represent those who for the faith and to confess Christ undergo the agony of martyrdom or the severe discipline of a more perfect life. Those who do this for the sake of eternal glory are typified by the thief on the right hand. Those whose motive is the admiration of whoever beholds them imitate the spirit and the act of the thief on the left-hand side.

As Christ owed no debt in payment for which a man must die, but submitted to death of His own will, in order to overcome death, so also He had not done anything on account of which He deserved to be put with the thieves. But of His own will He chose to be reckoned among the wicked, that by His power He might destroy wickedness itself. Which is why St. John Chrysostom says that to convert the thief on the cross and to turn him to Paradise was as great a miracle as the earthquake.