Saint Margaret of Cortona
By Rev. Rebecca
"I have put you as a burning light to enlighten those who sit in darkness."
Saint Margaret of Cortona is one of the church's renown penitents from thirteenth century Italy. She is not someone who had the "perfect saintly" life from a young age like so many of the Church's recognized saints. In fact, the early part of Margaret's life was a scandal to her and her family. One of the reasons I like St. Margaret so much is because she is much more of a "real" person then a saint.
As a young girl Margaret's mother died and her father remarried. However, Margaret and her step-mother did not get along. Apparently it was bad enough that young Margaret, who was both beautiful and flirtacious, ran away with a wealthy young man and lived with him as his mistress for nine years. Eventually she bore him a child. She hoped he would marry her, but he never did.
One day her lover was murdered by a gang of thieves and Margaret took that as her sign to take up a life devoted to God in celibacy. Her and her son sought a place to live but her step-mother didn't want her back home. Suddenly she found herself a homeless single mother. Margaret sat crying under a tree near her father's house and heard a voice call to her, bidding her to go into the town of Cortona and join the Franciscans. She followed this call and was taken in by the Friars as she began to live as a penitent and sought to join the Franciscan Third Order. She supported her and her son by living on alms and tending the poor and sick. Today there is a chapel called the "Chapel of Repentance" that sits at the location of the tree where Margaret first recieved God's call.
Margaret was still young and beautiful and found that men were still very attracted to her. She found it difficult to resist the temptation to find an easier life with a man by using her beauty, rather then continue her disciplined religious life of spiritual devotion and poverty. Margaret was a saint however, and she managed to stick to her original call and vows. She even threatened to mutilate her face to cease the temptations but was warned not to by her spiritual directors. She was a very passionate woman!
Margaret eventually became very well respected by the townspeople and was known for her reverence and deep prayer life. She prayed many hours and was known to go into mystical ecstasies. It is reported she recieved the mystical stigmata or Christ. She continued her ministry of service to the sick poor and gathered together those who wanted to live like her and formed them into members of the Third Order (tertiaries) who were later called the "Poor Ones."
Margaret was distressed by the respect she had gained from the town however, because she didn't feel she deserved it. One day she marched into church and declared publically her sins. At that point people began to distrust her and gossiped about her, spreading lies about her. At one point even the Franciscans weren't sure whether to keep her! But Magaret's true heart and purity won out. She persisted in her life of service, prayer, and severe penance. She founded a hospital and upon her death, everyone came to mourn this woman "saint." It is reported that many miracles occurred at her grave site. Her feast day is February 22 and she is the patron of those who struggle with sexual temptation, prostitution, homelessness, and those falsely accused.
Written May 21, 2002.