St. Margaret of Cortona-(1247-1297 A.D.)
In one of our Lord's appearances to St. Margaret, He said, "You are the third light granted to the Order of My beloved Francis. He was the first, among the Friars Minor; Clare was the second, among the Nuns; you shall be the third, in the Order of Penance."
She was born, in 1247, on a small farm in the Tuscany Region of Italy. Her mother died when she was only seven years old, and she was left with a father who soon remarried. Margaret could count on little love and understanding in her home, as her step-mother was very stern, and her father was completely dominated by this strong woman.
It was no wonder that Margaret would fall for a rather good looking young man from Montepulciano (Italy) and agree to elope with him. It soon became obvious his promises to marry her were empty, at best. But Margaret had become used to the life of luxury he provided for her, in addition to the affection he so lavishly bestowed upon her.
It was not bad enough she lived this life, but she brazenly flaunted herself and her way of life before all the townspeople. She was faithful to her lover and they had one son. She appeared very happy until, one day, her young man failed to return from inspecting one of his estates. Her worrying grew to all-out panic when his dog returned without him. It is said the dog pulled at her dress and brought her to the place where he had been buried. She wept as she looked upon his once beautiful body now grotesquely mutilated.
She took this as a sign of how his and her soul had become in the Eyes of God. She sold all the gifts she had received from her lover, gave them to his family and to the poor, and she and her small son left Montepulciano for her father's farm. She knocked on his door, and dressed in the clothes of a penitent, she begged his forgiveness, pleading she and her son be allowed to live with him. At the cold and unforgiving insistence of the step-mother, he refused.
She was on the edge of despair when she remembered the Friars Minor of Cortona and their well-known reputation for kindness and compassion to sinners. When she and her son arrived in Cortona, she was befriended by two women who took them in and introduced Margaret to the Friars Minor. Margaret did not have an easy time of it, even with the spiritual direction of the two Friars who gently led her back to right relationship with her God. For three long years she had strong temptations of the flesh because as the saying goes, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."
She journeyed to Laviano, the little town of her birth, and during Mass, asked the entire congregation to forgive her past life.
She would have marched through the streets of Montepulciano with a rope around her neck and her face mutilated, but her spiritual directors felt this too excessive and would not permit it. But in Montepulciano, as in Laviano, she was allowed to go before the congregation, confess her sins and ask their forgiveness.
It is said, St. Peter wept so long, and so hard, for his denial of Jesus, that all the tears he shed made deep ruts in his face. And so, it was with Margaret. She cared for the sick, the poor, and spent every spare moment in prayer and mortification. She moved out of the comfort of the house of the two ladies who had offered her shelter when she had first come to Montepulciano. She and her son moved into a very modest cottage and subsisted solely on alms. Like St. Francis, before her, she gave all the unbroken bread and the best food to the poor, keeping scraps for herself and her son.
She joined the Third Order of St. Francis, and sent her son went away to school to Arezzo. He remained there until he entered the Franciscan Order. It was as if, not desiring any consolation and wanting to do retribution for her sins, she would not even allow herself the love and companionship of her son.
The Lord not only forgave her, but He repeatedly sent her Guardian Angel to tell her so. Like with the rest of us, she could not understand how the Lord could forgive her, how He could shed such light, show such compassion, offer such consolation and bestow so many charisms on her, a sinner.
One day, our Lord and His Angel appeared to her. When He tried to reassure her, Margaret cried out, "I have been darkness; I have been darker than night!"
Can you imagine the look of Love on our Savior's Face, as once again, as with Mary Magdalene, He spoke the words of consolation and forgiveness. "Margaret," He said, "For love of you, new light, I bless the little cell where you live concealed in My Love."
St. Margaret's Guardian Angel not only helped her to discover the path the Lord had chosen for her, that Mystical road that would bring her to closer union with Him, but the sign posts along the way. Her Angel said,
"You are like a house which has been set on fire; it will burn until it is completely consumed; thus you will remain in the fire of tribulation to the very end. Surrounded as you are in peace, you actually live in a state of war. Remember that gold is purified in the furnace."
Was he referring to the suspicions that would travel through the town about her and the Friars, especially the two who were her Spiritual Directors? Those who had been calling her Saint wanted to run her out of town; at best, they avoided her as if she were still living her former life of sin. When that didn't work, they whispered and then they made sure it got to the Franciscan Order. Her closest Spiritual Director, Friar Giunta was sent away. Margaret was alone.
Or was she? She continued to have apparitions of her Guardian Angel and the Lord, with messages not only for herself but for others, as well. Her Angel had begun his teaching with the Good Friday part of her walk with the Lord, that of suffering; then, after she accepted it fully, he raised her up to the Easter Sunday part of her Mystical union with her Lord.
The Angel told her that God waits for the heart, from the time of its first desire of Him. When that heart longs for Him passionately, He no longer delays returning to that soul. Love then achieves, in a moment, what is accomplished only in time in souls of less devotion. The Angel told her, the faithful and fiery soul draws God to herself: when the soul feels empty of all Divine love; when she cannot feel God's Love, then only God can console her. But before He enters this soul so precious to Him, that He so carefully fashioned, he purifies it of all illusions. Then and only then, the soul will find her Beloved, her Lord, in everything that happens, everywhere she goes.
Toward the end of her life, her reward for all the good she had done, was rejection and suspicion, emotional pains accompanied by physical; separated from any human companionship, her long torturous days were only surpassed by the loneliness of night; she did not even have sleep as a consolation.
As she was growing closer to going Home to be with her Lord and Companion, He appeared to her. Our Lord said, "Show how you are converted; call others to repentance....The graces I have bestowed on you are not meant for you alone." Although discouraged before, after her Lord's words she set out with new energy and determination. She was responsible for many of the fallen-away to return to the Sacraments; feuds between family, neighbors and towns were settled; people were called to do penance for their sins.
Friar Giunta returned to give Margaret her last rites. She passed away at fifty years of age. She had spent twenty-nine years doing penance for nine years of sin as a young woman. On the day of her death, the townspeople declared her overwhelmingly a Saint. She was formally canonized, raised to the Communion of Saints in 1728.
On May 13th, 1981, as we were traveling through Europe, tracing the lives of the Saints, we discovered Saint Margaret. Her body is under the altar of the church which replaced the one originally built right after her death. Her body has never decomposed and is incorrupt. Did our Guardian Angel send us there? What do you think?