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From Rejection to Acceptance: The Life of Blessed Margaret of Castello

Many years ago, I remember reading a blog post in which the author made the point that God must really love people because He keeps on creating them. Of course, on an intellectual level we believe that God loves us with an infinite love. He created us, and He created everything in creation for us. Then after we rejected Him, He came to live with us, suffer, die, and rise again for us in order that we might be with Him forever.

However, sometimes we lose our way and forget the each of us is this most marvelous and special creation willed by God from all eternity. We have been on His mind forever. And right now, we are on His mind. That is true for every single one of us that He has created, is creating at this very moment, and will create in the future.
It really is an amazing truth to try to ponder, and it is probably well worth spending some time meditating on the idea some time today or later this week.
Because God is the author of life and loves every person He creates, it is truly a tragedy when someone, who is created in the image and likeness of Him, is not received with gratitude and love. This week's story is about a saint who experienced such deep rejection.
In fact, she might be the patron saint of those who have not been embraced by those who ought to have loved them.

Rejected at Birth

Bl. Margaret was born in the year 1287 to Parisio and Emilia della Metola in their family castle near Mercatello sul Metauro in the modern day country of Italy. Her parents had been childless for many years and therefore were excited and anxious about the birth of their first child. The father was clear that he wanted a boy in order to have an heir. The mother wanted a healthy child. Bl. Margaret was neither.

Instead, Emilia gave birth to a girl who was blind and suffered from a very severe curvature in her spine. Later, they would learn that along with being a hunchback she would never grow to a normal height and that one leg would always be shorter than the other leg.
The parents were devastated that all their dreams were shattered. Parisio and Emilia were wealthy and proud nobles and it simply would not do for them to have such a child. They were so embarrassed and ashamed that they literally did not know what to do.
They finally decided to tell a lie that the child was unlikely to survive so there was no point in friends and family seeing the child. The parish priest almost had to beg the parents to baptize the child. And even then, the parents showed their disdain for their daughter as a maid had to supply the child's name which she chose to be Margaret.
Thus, Margaret began a secret life within her own home. Forced to live in a remote part of the castle, she was shunned by her parents and left to the care of others who must never let the secret be known. With this arrangement, the parents could continue to entertain guests and friends with no fear that their daughter would ever be discovered.

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Placed in a Cell

However, when Margaret had turned six years of age, she almost was discovered by a guest. Parisio and Emilia knew that in order to keep their secret another arrangement needed to be made. As her father had learned that his daughter was given to pray even at such a young age, he devised his new plan for hiding his daughter.
Parisio had a special small cell built next to the chapel in the castle. The cell had a window into the chapel which allowed for the hearing of mass. Into this cell, Parisio placed his blind daughter at six years of age. Then, he ordered the mason to seal up the cell with Margaret in it. Little Margaret was imprisoned in her cell with only a window to hear mass and a small window by which she could receive food and other necessities.

She was to live in this cell for ten years. The priest who said mass in the castle chapel became her main contact with the outside world. He befriended Margaret and taught her as much as he could with this arrangement.

God's hand must have been on Margaret because despite the lack of love from her parents, she was a content and even a cheerful child. During the years that she spent in this cell, she learned her faith and was sustained by the sacraments of the Eucharist and penance. The main human kindness she received came from the priest who was amazed at the spiritual wisdom and good-nature that Margaret exhibited given her plight.
As far as the parents were concerned, the arrangement might have continued until Margaret's death. However, the world outside of Margaret's cell and even beyond the castle walls was to alter her life. The political situation in the region grew tense and soon the castle was under threat of invasion. Parisio fled with his wife and daughter to another castle he owned. Again, he had his daughter walled into a cell next to the chapel.
After the fear of an enemy attack had subsided, the family returned to the castle and Margaret was put back in her original cell. However, the circumstances made it clear to the parents that keeping their daughter this way would not work forever.

Looking for a Miracle

Now it was Emilia's turn to devise a plan to save the parents from shame and embarrassment. She had heard that at the Franciscan shrine at Castello that miracles of healing had been reported. She told her husband that if their child could be healed it would solve all of their problems.

The father and mother packed off Margaret who was covered as much as possible in order to avoid her being seen and made the trip to the shrine. Although they presented her and said prayers at the shrine asking for her healing, nothing happened. Margaret was not healed, and her parents, frustrated and at wit's end, decided enough was enough. They left their daughter to fend for herself in the streets and returned home to their castle. They never saw their daughter again.

With nowhere to turn and unprepared for life outside of her cell, Margaret became a beggar who asked for alms and slept wherever she could find a place to sleep. She lived off of the generosity of others. However, she soon began to be welcomed in the homes of poor, kind townspeople. She was a different sort of beggar. Despite her hardships of being a blind, lame beggar cast into an unfamiliar world, she remained cheerful, grateful, and even generous. Margaret trusted in the goodness of God even in the face of the tremendous human cruelty to which she had been subjected.

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In and Out of a Convent

Eventually, she was taken in by a convent of nuns. Margaret was excited to no longer have to beg for her food and more importantly she could devote herself to prayer. However, even in this circumstance, Margaret found that she was not accepted.
The nuns of this convent were brazenly violating the Rule of their order by failing to keep silence, accepting personal gifts, receiving guests in the parlor, and neglecting their time in prayer. Margaret, on the other hand, was overjoyed to observe the Rule and this was too much for the other nuns who did not want her life to be a condemnation of their own lives. So they threw Margaret out on to the streets.
Fortunately, the kind people of the town again opened up their homes to Margaret and she was able to find shelter and food. The townspeople adopted this blind, short woman who hobbled through their streets. And she, in turn, shared her cheerful attitude, complete trust in God, and love for them.

Receiving a Habit

Through her attendance at daily mass, she came in contact with women who were in the equivalent of the third order of Dominicans. In those days, this Order of Penance as it was called was primarily made up of widows who served others and received from the generosity of others. In a world where a woman without a family member to support her was in danger of becoming homeless and a beggar, this order provided a safety net of sorts.
However, it was very unusual for a young woman to join the order. Yet the Dominican friars who oversaw the third order were quite taken with Margaret and readily allowed her entrance although she was only sixteen years old. As they did back then, they vested in her the familiar Dominican white and black habit which Margaret wore for the rest of her life.
Margaret embraced her new life as a Dominican. She would visit those who were ill and stay at the side of those who were dying. She visited those who were in prison. And, Margaret, in gratitude for all the kindness that had been shown to her by the townspeople, started a school for the children of the town. In the school, she passed along to the children the faith that she had received from the priest of her childhood, what she had learned while she lived in the convent, and from her life of prayer and suffering.
After so much suffering at the hands of those who should have embraced her, Margaret did not focus on what might have been or become bitter. Instead, she focused on what she had that she could give to others. She gave of her time, her kindness, her good will, and her deep faith in God. Throughout the remainder of her life she served others by sharing what she had rather than feeling constrained by what she did not have. She died at the age of thirty-three on April 13, 1320.

Image: Statue of Bl. Margaret of Costello from St. Patrick's in Columbus, Ohio

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