One thing that I have always known is that I am loved. By the time I was two years old, the doctors had figured out why I wasn’t walking, why my legs were so weak that they flopped around when I was carried. This is the news that they told my parents: your daughter has spinal muscular atrophy, she will never walk and will get progressively weaker, developing severe scoliosis and dying of pneumonia before the age of 13. On hearing this devastating prognosis, some people suggested that I be put away in a facility – and others presumed I would be. One relative said, “I could never let myself love a child who was going to die.” Thankfully, my parents are deeply loving people. I was a bright and happy child, curious, intelligent, with big, smiling eyes. This is what my parents knew. This is who my parents saw: me.
Not so for a medieval girl named Margaret. She, born blind, with dwarfism, disabled, becoming hunchbacked, was thoroughly unwanted by her well-to-do parents. Embarrassed, even horrified, by her deformities and disabilities, they shut her away from society – and shut themselves off from her as well – imprisoning her as a child in a custom-made doorless room attached to the parish chapel. There were two windows in Margaret’s cell: one through which food and necessities of survival were passed and one through which she could receive the sacraments. The priest was touched and amazed by Margaret’s gentleness and the wisdom of her soul. He provided education on his own, through the window, and they became friends. Margaret’s relationship with God grew in depth and intimacy through these years.
When Margaret’s parents heard of miracles happening at a far-off shine, they brought their daughter there to be cured. After a couple of days, however, they saw no change in Margaret. They didn’t get what they wanted. So, they snuck off and left her there, never to return. Thus abandoned, Margaret had to beg for food, there in the streets of Castello, dependent upon the mercy and kindness of strangers. Many townspeople admired Margaret’s cheerfulness in spite of all of her hardships and were impressed by her spiritual heart and her trust in God’s goodness. She was always willing to help others whenever and however she could. She was accepted into the Dominican order, but, disturbed by the lack of piety at the local monastery, she became a habit-wearing third order Dominican, living with her friends in Castello.
With her deep faith and understanding, Margaret was joyful and kind, living her life for the glory of God, taking care of people who were sick and visiting criminals in prison. Her lovingness was completely unmarred by her parents lack of love. Though they did not see the true person that she was, others did and respected her and her talents. Though some could not see past the surface, others had the privilege of glimpsing the depth of her soul. Margaret died on April 13, 1320 at the age of 33. The people of Castello continued to stand by her and demanded that their beloved Margaret be buried inside the church. The priest refused, but, when a disabled girl at Margaret’s funeral was miraculously cured, he relented. Margaret was declared a Blessed of the Church by Pope Paul V in 1609. She, who was unwanted and abandoned, became one of the glories of Christianity through her acceptance and embrace of God’s steadfast love for her.
So I, accepted and loved by my parents for all that I am, take Blessed Margaret of Castello as my First Friday Facilitator for the month of April. Like the good people of Castello, I want to take this unloved and rejected girl into my heart and my home. For I want to be like her, knowing that I can learn much from her life. I have always known that my parents love me – but, is my happiness only in human love? Do I love my family for what they do for me – or because they are beloved by God?
“O Blessed Margaret of Castello, how it must have hurt when your parents abandoned you! Yet you learned from this that all earthly love and affection, even for those who are closest, must be sanctified. And so, despite everything, you continued to love your parents –
but now you loved them in God. Obtain for me [through your prayers of intercession] the grace that I might see all my human loves and affections in their proper perspective…
in God and for God.”[iii]
I see, through Blessed Margaret, that even those who are treated cruelly and harshly by the people who should love them the most can know the healing power of true love that comes from the One Who Loves Most of All: God. Through forgiveness and sympathetic kindness, a girl like Margaret can joyfully experience the fullness of life, generously sharing the richness of the gifts that God has given her. Perhaps… in many ways… her blessings were greater and richer than those of one who lives in comfort and security all the days of her life – because Margaret saw (though physically blind) that she was always being comforted in the eternally secure shelter of God’s love. Do I see that?
you gave your divine light
to Blessed Margaret who was blind from birth,
that with the eye of her heart
she might contemplate you alone.
Be the light of our eyes
that we may turn from what is evil, the shadows of this world,
and reach the home of never-ending light.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.”
[i] I’ve heard that dwarf is the proper term to use; I’m told that I can say the word crippled because I myself am crippled; but, I don’t know the PC value of “blind”. However, I thoroughly dislike Political Correctness – because there is absolutely nothing shameful in being blind, crippled, deformed or a dwarf. It’s not the words you choose, it’s what’s in your heart that matters.
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.