So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Friday, October 23, 2015

A rising tide floats all boats... except the one with a hole in it.

Great actors and actresses can raise the standard of the performance of an entire cast. Great athletes can inspire a team to achieve what some might consider to be superhuman feats of physical prowess. Through one saint, God can lead a parish, a diocese or even an entire nation to conversion and salvation in Christ.

There are some folk, however, who, for whatever reason, seem to enjoy (spiritual, social) mediocrity. Others prefer (emotional, social, etc.) chaos that consumes them and others. Both kinds are likely to drill a hole in the dinghy of their existence thinking they could then take a bath in it while paddling around life's lake. When the boat sinks, they cry out in shock and denial—'How can this happen to me?!' They are unable or even unwilling to admit to the need for a rescue from their self induced predicament. Bear in mind, for a moment, we're not talking here about people who struggle with clinical depression or a psychiatric condition that poses a serious challenge to health and well being. That said, even with a serious mental health challenge, a person who disposes himself or herself to God's grace through prayer and the Sacraments while diligently following the guidance of a bona fide mental health professional can becoming an amazing inspiration to others. Folk with whom this blogger is closely acquainted are, in the midst of severe personal trials, amazing examples of faith and hope. Their lives and actions are not the ones being challenged in this brief essay.

Many people ignore the need for authentic community. They consider themselves entirely self sufficient. Perhaps they have made a conscious decision to enact a protocol that attempts to protect them from emotional harm. Perhaps they are wounded, and that wound has festered into a grudge or avoidance. They elevate (or perhaps deflate) themselves to a level of personal autonomy that approaches alienation. Little do they realize that they are prisoners of their own neatly defined chaotic or life inhibiting mediocre (risk-less) world. They have no need for the message of the Gospel. No need, that is, until a crisis defies (or exhaustion complicates) their attempts to control their lives and their attempts to control the lives of others around them. Hints of a coming crash, i.e., an end to their safe little world were always there:
  • belief in the illusion of control;
  • a me-first attitude that exploits others to that end;
  • seeing others' as insignificant and even an annoyance or an obstacle to personal fulfillment.
As much as such folk like to act like they are so much superior to others whom they consider disabled, they themselves are spiritually disabled and disabling.

Let's stop there for a moment and consider the story of a young woman who, though profoundly physically disabled, became a willing and able vessel of love through whom God blessed many people.
Blessed Margaret’s life is one of the most heart-wrenching stories in the calendar of saints. She was born blind, with severe curvature of the spine; her right leg was an inch and a half shorter than her left, and her left arm was malformed. She never grew beyond four feet tall.
Her parents kept little Margaret hidden away in their house in Metola in the Italian province of Umbria. She was 6 years old when the family traveled to a shrine at Castello, hoping for a miracle. When no miracle took place, Margaret’s mother and father abandoned her. 
Some women of Castello found the terrified child and took care of her until they could arrange for her to be adopted. A husband and wife, Venfarino and Grigia, invited Margaret to live with them; they treated her like their own daughter, with love and kindness. She appears to have spent the rest of her life with her adoptive parents.
There was a convent near Margaret’s home, and the nuns became fond of her. When she was about 13 years old, Margaret asked to be admitted as a postulant. Given her years of friendship with the sisters, Margaret expected that she would be happy in their convent. She was in for a disappointment. The nuns were lax in keeping the rule of their order, and even in keeping the routine of daily prayer and meditation. Margaret, on the other hand, was intensely devout. The lack of fervor in her sisters surprised and confused her, while Margaret’s zeal made the nuns self-conscious, angry and resentful. Ultimately the superior of the convent asked Margaret to leave. She returned to her adoptive parents, and at age 15 she joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, which permitted her to wear the habit and take the vows of a nun but live at home where she felt loved and secure.
Margaret’s disabilities did not make her bitter; rather, she became one of the most generous, sympathetic people in Castello. She nursed the sick, consoled the dying and visited prisoners. Margaret said that in the sufferings of her neighbors she saw the image of the suffering Christ. As for her own disabilities, she regarded them as a means to unite her pain with the pain Christ endured on the cross. Her courage, her patience and her deep religious devotion won her the affection of everyone in Castello.
Margaret died when she was 33 years old. At her requiem Mass the crowd was so great it seemed that the entire town and all the peasants from the countryside had come to the funeral. The parish priest planned to bury Margaret in the churchyard, but after the Mass was over the mourners insisted that she must have a tomb inside the church, with all the other distinguished dead of the parish. The priest and the congregation were still arguing the point when a girl whose legs were crippled dragged herself to Margaret’s coffin. She touched the casket, then stood up and began to walk. The miracle convinced the priest to give Margaret a tomb inside the church. Today her remains lie beneath the high altar of Castello’s Church of St. Dominic.—A patron saint for the disabled by Thomas J. Craughwell/Catholic Herald (Arlington).
God worked through the love and kindness of the women of Castello who rescued Margaret, and worked through the love and kindness of Venfarino and Grigia, Margaret's adoptive parents. God worked through Margaret to bring others closer to Him. God worked through a seemingly insignificant (that is, to the eyes of the worldly) little—four feet tall!—physically disabled woman to heal another little girl.

Margaret of Castello is, in addition to being a patron for the physically disabled, a sign of hope and healing for those spiritually disabled, those crippled by fear, condescension and false pride. The good news is that even those disabled by spiritual conflict or crisis can become beacons of hope for others if, like Margaret, they allow themselves to be helped.

Little Margaret of Castello

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"A multitude of wise men is the salvation of the world(.)—Wisdom 6:24. Readers are welcome to make rational and responsible comments. Any comment that 1) offends human dignity and/or 2) which constitutes an irrational attack on the Catholic Faith will not go unchallenged. If deemed completely stupid, such a comment will most assuredly not see the light of day. Them's the rules. Don't like 'em? Move on.

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