Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is saint-expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Adventures In Daily Prayer.
His newest book is Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus. You can learn more about Bert and his work at BertGhezzi.com.
Today, Bert explores the life of St. Margaret of Scotland, one of the Church’s few married saints and the 11th-century patron of large families.
As one of the last survivors of the Anglo-Saxon royal family, Margaret was no longer safe in England after the Norman Conquest in 1066. So she fled to Scotland to the court of King Malcolm III. Attracted by Margaret’s beauty and intelligence, Malcolm married her around 1070. The couple enjoyed nearly a quarter century of happy marriage and had six sons and two daughters. Three sons—Edgar, Alexander and St. David—ruled as kings of Scotland and a daughter, Matilda, became the queen of Henry I of England.
Because of her excellent education and her good taste, Margaret exercised a civilizing influence on the Scottish court and enhanced its reputation. And the saint brought the best out of her husband, as Turgot, her biographer, noted:
“She made the king himself most attentive to works of justice, mercy, almsgiving, and other virtues. The king seemed to fear to offend a queen whose life was so venerable. What she refused he refused, and what she loved, he loved for the love of her love. Thus the king—though unable to read—often handled affectionately her devotional books and examined their illustrations and bindings.”
St. Margaret used her royal position to advocate church reform. She revived various observances, including the Lenten fast, abstinence from work on Sundays and Easter communion. At one ecclesiastical council, for example, Margaret was appalled at the excuse given for refraining from receiving communion at Easter. Delegates told her they did not approach the altar out of fear because Paul had said He that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself (cf. 1 Cor 11:29). The saint replied heatedly:
“‘What! Shall all who are sinners not taste that holy mystery? Then no one ought to receive it, for everyone is stained with sin.
“‘And if no one ought to receive it, why did the Lord say: If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53; NJB)? But the Apostle does not say that all sinners are unworthy to receive the sacraments of salvation. For after saying ‘he eats and drinks judgment to himself,’ he adds, ‘not discerning the body of our Lord.’
“‘So only he eats and drinks judgment to himself, who without confession and penance, and with the defilement of his sins presumes to draw near to the sacred mysteries. But we who have confessed our faults, on the day of the Lord’s resurrection receive the body and blood of the Immaculate Lamb not to judgment, but to remission of sins and the salutary preparation of our souls for eternal blessedness.’”
Margaret also renewed the monastery at Iona and constructed Dunfermline, inspired by Westminster Abbey, as a burial place for Scottish royalty.
St. Margaret of Scotland died in 1093, shortly after learning that Malcolm and one of her sons had died during a skirmish in England.
At the beginning of the third millennium we have much to learn from this saint and her husband. We don’t have many details about their relationship, but refined and educated Margaret and rough-hewn, illiterate Malcolm seem to have enjoyed their marriage. Perhaps St. Margaret’s message for us is that mutual respect between husband and wife fosters a lasting, and even pleasant marriage. So let’s take this rare chance to celebrate a married saint!
(Image Credit: NNDB)
Read more from Bert at his website www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.