Today, 20 Jul 2012, is the memorial of St Margaret of Antioch, one of the early Christian martyrs who gave her life for Jesus during the persecution of Diocletian around the year 304. This is the St Margaret who, together with other Saints, spoke to St Joan of Arc and guided her in her God given mission. St Margaret is also revered as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, with a particular gift for assisting pregnant women and women in childbirth.
St Margaret was the daughter of an important pagan priest at Antioch in Pisidia (modern day Turkey). While very young her mother died, and little Margaret was entrusted to the care of a nurse. The nurse was a fervent Christian and obtained for Margaret the sacrament of Baptism and a faith-filled education. Margaret was of marriageable age (early teens) when her nurse returned her to her father’s household. Before him was a charming young woman, full of goodness and beauty, but he could not cope with his daughter rejecting the gods he served so as to serve Jesus Christ. Day by day his sorrow and disappointment turned to anger, resulting in her banishment from his sight.
Margaret then took refuge back with her nurse, who lived in a rural area. Here Margaret lived a simple and humble life, with lots of manual labour. Any young woman filled with the love of Jesus in her heart has a special loveliness. So it wasn’t surprising that when a powerful Roman man, and prefect of the city, noticed her as she was tending sheep, he was smitten with her beauty. Important men tend to get their own way by force, so fifteen year old Margaret was brought into his presence. She was not overawed by his personage and clearly told him that she was not interested in marriage because she belonged only to Jesus, and that He was her one and only spouse.
As you might expect, the prefect was not a man who was to used to being refused his will over anything, and he became enraged. The prefect knew a little about this Jesus person, enough to know that he had been crucified, but not enough to know that he was gloriously risen and reigning over all creation. It miffed him when Margaret pointed out he should have read the whole story about Jesus and should not have stopped at the crucifixion.
Under Diocletian’s edicts, Christians were fair game, so the prefect was willing to try torture to get the beautiful and nobly born Margaret to bend to his desires. He had her scourged, stretched on the rack and then had her skin raked with iron combs until you could see far more blood than flesh. Displeased that Margaret would not be swayed, to a prison cell she was taken.
There she prayed, and had some extraordinary experiences. The tortures were nothing compared to the battle she did with the devil that night. The evil one brought all of his terrors against this frail wounded virgin, and lost the battle, because her whole hope was in the unconquerable power of the Cross of Jesus. With the sign of the Cross, the devil was defeated. Then the next wonder happened, her cell was filled with heavenly light and her body was restored to total health and strength.
In view of the numbers of people who were converting to Jesus because of the valiant holy witness of Margaret during her tortures, this major attack of the evil one makes sense. The prefect hadn’t got her to reject Jesus. Now the evil one brought his forces to bear in a huge attempt to frighten her away from fidelity to Jesus when she was weakened, knowing that if he lost this battle with Margaret that a massive number of souls would be won for Jesus.
In the morning the prefect found it difficult to believe that anything other than a pagan God could have healed Margaret so completely. She held firm, telling him plainly that it was solely accomplished though the power of Jesus, her spouse. Angered beyond rage, the prefect ordered that Margaret be burned with lighted torches. The bystanders marvelled that these tortures did not sway so slight a maid. Next, to increase the pain she was tossed into a cauldron of icy water. In response to this treatment of His servant, the Lord Jesus sent an earthquake with thunderous noise and there appeared a dove bearing a golden crown to rest gently upon her head. At these marvels thousands of bystanders became convinced of the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and because this was against the law, were beheaded, receiving a baptism of blood.
Margaret herself stood firm and strong in the love of Jesus. Anxious lest she convert anyone else, the prefect ordered her beheading. The executioner, understandibly was reluctant to deal the death blow, but Margaret reassured him. Before her last moments on earth, she prayed out loud to her Spouse asking that all who learn of her martyrdom would receive Mercy from Him and that all those pregnant and all those in childbirth would have happy births when they invoked her intercession. The Lord Jesus graciously gave her a public sign that her prayer was favourable to Him, and then her holy soul took flight at the sword’s edge to her eternal and glorious reward.
The Lord Jesus made the valiant Margaret strong. May she continue to intercede for each one of us before the throne of her Heavenly Spouse.