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Saint of the Day

Feb 22 - St Margaret of Cortona (1247-97) penitent

Margaret of CortonaMargaret of Cortona is said to have suffered from bi-polar symptoms, that is, sometimes manic and at other times abnormally depressed states in a way that interferes with functioning. Others have described her as a second Mary Magdalene. Patrick Duffy tells her story.

Mother dies when she is seven
Margaret was born into a peasant family in a village of Umbria. Her mother died when she was seven, and two years later her father remarried. As her stepmother turned out to be harsh and unsympathetic, Margaret tended to go her own way. She missed her mother, but always remembered a prayer she taught her: “O Lord Jesus, I beseech thee, grant salvation to all those for whom thou wouldst have me pray.”

Lover to a young nobleman for nine years
When she was seventeen, she heard that a wealthy young nobleman from Montepulciano needed a servant in his castle. Margaret went there, knowing, that she would be free from her stepmother and, within limits, could live as she pleased. The nobleman began to take notice of of the handsome girl who had an air of independence and he paid her his attention. He gave her luxurious garments and gold chains for her hair and soon they became lovers, but although Margaret lived as his mistress for nine years and they had a son, he did not marry her.

His death
Once while her lover was absent for a few days visiting his estates, his dog returned without his master. Margaret, sensing something amiss, followed the dog to discover his murdered body in a forest. At the sight, she began to blame herself for his irregular life, and to loathe her beauty which had fascinated him. She gave all the jewelry, clothes and property he had given her back to his family or to the poor. She then made a total commitment to Jesus, who had already begun to give her glimpses of himself in mystical prayer.

Marge&childHer conversion
Taking her son with her, Margaret returned to her own family, wanting to live as a penitent. But her father and stepmother refused to take her in. She then went to nearby Cortona asking help from the Franciscans, but a Franciscan brother told her, “You are too young and too pretty”. Two ladies, Marinana and Raneria, took her and her son into their home and later introduced her to Brother Giunta Bevignati, who became her confessor and wrote an account of her life and visions. She made a general confession which took a week to complete. At the end, she had the joy of hearing Jesus call her his daughter.

marge in prayer
Mortifications
Margaret led a life of public penance, undertaking severe mortifications. She once wanted  to disfigure her face with a razor, so as to destroy her beauty, but her confessor forbade it. She devoted herself to prayer and earned her living by looking after sick ladies. Later she gave her service, without pay, to the sick poor. When the Franciscans were convinced of her sincerity, they admitted her to the third order of St. Francis. Her son was sent to school at Arezzo, and later joined the Franciscan Order.

A hospital to look after prisoners
With other Franciscan Tertiaries she founded a hospital to look after prisoners. She lived in a cell near the convent of St Francis and counselled penitents who began to seek her as her fame for sanctity spread. Although her fear of herself was never far away, she gradually grew in confidence because she knew that now she was loved by Jesus who would not fail her. Accusations were made against her, even suggestions that she had an affair with Friar Giunta.

Isolation and death
In 1288, however, the Franciscan authorities, alarmed by her excess of devotion and her familiarity with the brothers, asked her to leave. She withdrew to a more isolated cell near the citadel of Cortona where she devoted herself entirely to contemplation, and remaining there alone, except for the visits of her priest, until she died at the age of fifty in 1297. She was buried in the Church of St Basil in Cortona, where her incorrupt body still remains.

After 23 years of rigorous penance, in the 50th year of her life, God called the great penitent to the Beatific Vision

After 23 years of rigorous penance, in the 50th year of her life, God called the great penitent to the Beatific Vision.

Veneration
Although she was immediately venerated as a saint, she was not officially canonised until 1728. The French novelist François Mauriac has written a moving account of her life, drawing attention to how tragically beautiful, if astounding and repulsive, the life of a penitent is.

Feb 22 - The Chair of Peter

The Chair of St Peter is a metaphor for the Petrine ministry or the service the Pope offers as an authoritative leader of the Church. There have been, in fact, two feasts of the Chair of St Peter – one associated with Rome, but another associated with Antioch, where the Church of the Acts (11:26) had an important centre. Patrick Duffy writes about the feast.

chair of peter

Altar of the Chair of St Peter
In the apse of the Basilica of St Peter’s in Rome, underneath the beautiful alabaster window with the dove as symbol of the Holy Spirit (see image), is an altar carved in 1666 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini called the Altar of the Chair of St Peter. The altar is in the form of a throne supported by figures of the four Fathers of the Church. It contains pieces of acacia wood, said to have been the chair from which St Peter taught, but in fact was a gift from Charles the Bald to the Pope in 873.

The Feast
There have been two feasts of the Chair of Peter, one associated with Antioch and the other with Rome and these two feasts remain in the 1962 Roman Missal of Pope John XXIII, recently allowed by Pope Benedict XVI in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007) as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite. The ordinary form of the revised Roman Calendar (1969) has just one for 22nd February entitled “The Chair of St Peter”. The Chair is regarded as a metaphor for the episcopal office of the Pope as Bishop of Rome.

chair ofPeter 2

A catechesis of the Petrine ministry
The texts for the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours of the feast serve – if a trifle ideologically – as a catechesis on the role of the apostle Peter, stressing the place of a Petrine ministry of authority. This finds its best expression in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer:

‘With remarkable wisdom the Church was prefigured in the Old Testament
and when the time was fulfilled, you established it on the foundation of the apostles.

From among them you chose Peter, who was the first to recognise the divinity of Christ,
and you made him the solid rock on which your Church would be built.

You have constituted him as guide and custodian of your entire flock
so that throughout the centuries he could strengthen his brethern.

Your Son gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven
so that whatever he decided on earth, you, O Father, would ratify in heaven.’

Peter's chair

Ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia
One of the characteristics of the Catholic Church is its unity, that it is one, and the guarantee of that unity is the fact that the Church is hierarchical. The phrase ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia (“where the bishop is, there is the Church”), traditionally ascribed to St Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107), sums up Catholic teaching on this point. It is the principle which guarantees the validity of the sacraments and other liturgical actions.

See An Address of Pope Benedict on the Feast of the Chair of Peter 2006

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