Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Blessed Margaret Pole: Martyred for Church and Marriage

Blessed Margaret Pole
Martyr of England. She was born Margaret Plantagenet, the niece of Edward IV and Richard III. She married Sir Reginald Pole about 1491 and bore five sons, including Reginald Cardinal Pole. Margaret was widowed, named countess of Salisbury, and appointed governess to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Queen Catherine of Aragon, Spain. She opposed Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, and the king exiled her from court, although he called her “the holiest woman in England.” When her son, Cardinal Pole, denied Henry’s Act of Supremacy, the king imprisoned Margaret in the Tower of London for two years and then beheaded her on May 28. In 1538, her other two sons were executed. She was never given a legal trial. She was seventy when she was martyred. Margaret was beatified in 1886. (from Butler's Lives of the Saints)

     I called my piece last week on St. Julia of Corsica [here] “A Saint For Our Times”; when I think about it, I have yet to find a Saint who isn’t for our times. But today’s Saint, Blessed Margaret Pole, who gave her life in defense of the sanctity of marriage, seems especially suited to the situation of our increasingly post-Christian culture. The niece of kings, Blessed Margaret was martyred because she refused to applaud publicly the sacrifice of Holy Matrimony to a third king’s lust.

     Blessed Margaret’s antagonist, Henry VIII, could serve as a sort of patron “anti-saint” for our times. He was a man possessed of great gifts: he was given a strong, handsome, athletic body, a quick mind that he applied to writing and musical composition as well as to governing, and the rule of a rich and powerful kingdom. Henry never mastered himself, however, and so his prodigious talents were put at the service, not of his people, but of his equally prodigious cravings for women, wealth, and power. In the end he tried to swallow even the Church. In his later years his grossly obese body became a living image of his insatiable appetites.
     People come and go, but human nature doesn’t change. King Henry is long gone, but his imitators are still with us. Like Henry, they are not satisfied with mere tolerance or tacit assent: they require full-throated public approval, and so the Margaret Poles must be silenced. Nobody is literally being led to the block, thankfully, and pray God it never comes to that. Nevertheless, as we have seen over and over again,  those who stand up for Church, family, and traditional moral norms today, even if they do so privately, can expect to have their character blackened and their livelihoods threatened.
     I have often heard Blessed Margaret’s younger and much better known contemporary, St. Thomas More, proposed as a Patron Saint for our times because of his martyrdom in defense of the Church and Marriage. Like him, Blessed Margaret's firm reliance on Christ's loving care gave her the strength to stand fast in face of mortal threats, and the serenity not to be swallowed up in bitterness against her persecutors.  We would do well to invoke Blessed Margaret Pole along with St. Thomas More, and to pray for her intercession against the ravenous spirit of Henry VIII that yet again threatens both Faith and Family.