Monday, November 16, 2009

St. Margaret of Scotland (1050?-1093)

Margaret of Scotland was a truly liberated woman in the sense that she was free to be herself. For her, that meant freedom to love God and serve others. Not Scottish by birth, Margaret was the daughter of Princess Agatha of Hungary and the Anglo-Saxon Prince Edward Atheling. She spent much of her youth in the court of her great-uncle, the English king, Edward the Confessor. Her family fled from William the Conqueror and was shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland. King Malcolm befriended them and was captivated by the beautiful, gracious Margaret. They were married at the castle of Dunfermline in 1070. Malcolm was good-hearted, but rough and uncultured, as was his country. Because of Malcolm’s love for Margaret, she was able to soften his temper, polish his manners and help him become a virtuous king. He left all domestic affairs to her and often consulted her in state matters. Margaret tried to improve her adopted country by promoting the arts and education. For religious reform, she instigated synods and was present for the discussions which tried to correct religious abuses common among priests and lay people, such as simony, usury and incestuous marriages. With her husband, she founded several churches. Margaret was not only a queen, but a mother. She and Malcolm had six sons and two daughters. Margaret personally supervised their religious instruction and other studies.

Although she was very much caught up in the affairs of the household and country, she remained detached from the world. Her private life was austere. She had certain times for prayer and reading Scripture. She ate sparingly and slept little in order to have time for devotions. She and Malcolm kept two Lents, one before Easter and one before Christmas. During these times she always rose at midnight for Mass. On the way home she would wash the feet of six poor persons and give them alms. She was always surrounded by beggars in public and never refused them. It is recorded that she never sat down to eat without first feeding nine orphans and 24 adults. In 1093, King William Rufus made a surprise attack on Alnwick castle. King Malcolm and his oldest son, Edward, were killed. Margaret, already on her deathbed, died four days after her husband.

"When [Margaret] spoke, her conversation was with the salt of wisdom. When she was silent, her silence was filled with good thoughts. So thoroughly did her outward bearing correspond with the staidness of her character that it seemed as if she has been born the pattern of a virtuous life" (Turgot, St. Margaret's confessor).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (18.35-43)

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to Him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, I want to see", he replied. Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

Doing one’s best
(Homily by Fr. E.J.Tyler)

It is the last quarter of the nineteenth century. A young couple who live in Camden just outside Sydney has just bought a property in a fairly remote location in Burragorang Valley. The Valley is not far from them but because of lack of roads, quite difficult of access. The couple have two infants with one more on the way. They move down there and over the years that follow they build up the farm and raise a large family. They love their farm but, as is often said about Australia, they suffer from the tyranny of distance. They must do without many things because those things are far away. The education of the children is less than it could have been were they elsewhere. They do not have the medical attention they used to have. It is a great event when a road is built from their area to the nearest town outside the Valley. In giving this example I am referring to the fact that ours is an order of reality which is governed by space and time, and the limitations of space and time deprive us of enjoying certain benefits. It is a law of our material condition that while we enjoy some benefits in our existing situation, our enjoyment of many other benefits will depend on the limitations of time and space being overcome. This applies also to the benefits of religion. At the dawn of history, God promised redemption from the Fall of our first parents. The descendant of the woman would crush the Serpent’s head. But thousands upon thousands of years would pass till the revelation granted to Abraham, and then the best part of two millennia would pass till the arrival of the Messiah himself. It seems a slow route to be following to attain the salvation of the world. But God respects the limitations and laws of his creation. Blessings reach us amid the limitations of place and time. In our Gospel today, a blind beggar sits by the roadside begging. He has been many years in his blindness. He is suddenly fortunate, for he is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. Now is the time, and he, Jesus, is not far away! If he does not act now, the time will pass and distance will prevent his gaining the blessing. So he shouts.

These things are obvious, but they bear consideration. If that beggar had not been sitting by that roadside at that particular time, and if Jesus had not chosen to take that route at that point of time, the beggar would have remained in his blindness. Much depended on a coincidence of factors governing space and time - all of which, of course, falls within the guiding Providence of God. If the beggar had not made the very best of his circumstances at that precise point, nothing would have happened. If the beggar had not inquired from the passing crowd what it was that was going on, he would not have been led to impose himself vociferously on the crowd and make his voice heard above the din. His voice carried, and overcame the distance. Having heard his cries to Jesus, Christ stopped and directed that the man be brought to him. Then there followed his complete cure, and his following of Jesus along the road. He became a disciple - and we might say that a great deal depended on a coming together of factors of time and place. It also depended on the beggar - and even Christ himself - making the best use of that propitious moment. This is, we might say, a picture of the workings of God in the world he has created. There were vast numbers of persons whom Christ did not reach despite his tremendous efforts, because though he was God, he took to himself a human nature with all its limitations. God chose to respect the restraints inherent in his own creative and redeeming work. But he also maximized its possibilities. Now, what has this to do with each of us? We too, aware of the constraints of time and place, must make the very best use of time and place to make Christ our life and the life of others. Just before he ascended into heaven our Lord entrusted his disciples with a tremendous responsibility. It was to go to the whole world and make disciples of all the nations. They were to bring him to all those represented by the blind man of our Gospel today. We must every day set about maximising both time and place to tell every man and woman, Come! He is calling you!

Life is short - so time limits us. Space and place also limit our options. But we must maximise the possibilities as did the blind beggar. This applies not only to our own benefiting from the blessings of Christ, but also to our bringing those blessings to others. We have a pressing work to do in life, the work of God which is - as St John says in his Gospel (ch.6) - to believe in the One he has sent. Let us do our best to surmount the things that can prevent us from knowing Christ our life, and that can prevent others from knowing him too. This is what the blind beggar did, and as a result he followed our Lord along the road. Let us take our cue from him, then!

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