An Imitation of Christ - St. Margaret Clitherow
March 26th is one of two days the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church honors a Pearl of Our Lady's Dowry. The Church chose this day, as it was the first available. In reality, she was put to death on quite a momentous day. Not only was it March 25th - the date that the Feast of the Annunication is normally celebrated, but in the year that she died, 1586, this date was also Good Friday. She followed in her dear Saviour's footsteps so closely that she died in a cruciform position, her hands and arms outstretched and bound to the floor on which she would be crushed.
This "Pearl" is St. Margaret Clitherow. She died in defense of the Catholic faith. More specifically, she died in defense of the priesthood, the Mass, and the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Margaret opened her home to the most reviled class of people in Elizabethan England - Catholic priests. "This is a war and a trial in God's Church," she wrote of the persecution in her country. "Therefore, if I cannot do my duty without peril and dangers, yet by God's grace I will not be slacker for them. If God's priests dare venture themselves to my house, I will never refuse them."
One biographer wrote, "The heart and center of [St. Margaret's] life was the Mass." One priest that she harbored, Father John Mush, wrote, "Her most delight was to kneel where she might continually behold the Blessed Sacrament."
She had converted to the Catholic faith in 1574, when she was around the age of 21. Only 2 years later, her name is on a list of recusants, who had refused to attend the Sunday prayer service of the Church of England. This refusal lead to her imprisonment on several occasions. Her faith was such that even with the discomfort of prison, she never failed to give alms to her fellow prisoners.
More importantly, she never failed to profess her faith. During one of her imprisonments, she said, "I am fully resolved in all things touching my faith, which I ground upon Jesu Christ, and by Him I steadfastly believe to be saved: which Faith I acknowledge to be the same that He left to His Apostles, and they to their successors from time to time, and is taught in the Catholic Church thoughout all Christendom, and promised to remain with her unto the world's end, and hell-gates shall not prevail against it; and by God's assistance I mean to live and die in the same faith, for if an angel come from heaven, and preach any other doctrine than we have received, the Apostle biddeth us not believe him."
She did indeed live and die in the same faith. In fact, St. Margaret's steadfastness was such that when she reached her Calvary and knelt down to pray, she refused her captors' request to pray with her. As one biographer wrote, "to consent [to this request] would have been taken as a surrender of all for which she was giving her life. It was no time to mince words, and she answered roundly: 'I will not pray with you, nor shall you pray with me: neither will I say Amen to your prayers, nor shall you to mine.' What fellowship has light with darkness? Anything else would have been an acted lie."
After having been secured in the cruciform position mentioned before, in imitation of Christ, the martyr was crushed to death by several hundred pounds of weights that were laid on top of her. She was not the only victim of the execution. She had been four months pregnant.
Father Mush composed a prayer in honor of St. Margaret's sacrifice.
But now, O Sacred Martyr... I turn to thee. Remember me, I beseech thy perfect charity, whom thou has left miserable behind thee, in time past thy unworthy Father, and now thy most unworthy servant, made ever joyful by thy virtuous life, and comfortable by lamenting thy death; lamenting thy absence, yet rejoicing in thy glory.... Be not wanting, therefore, glorious Mother, in the perfection of thy charity, which was not little towards me in thy mortality, to obtain mercy and procure the plenties of such graces for me, thy miserable son, as thou knowest to be most needful for me, and acceptable in the sight of Our Lord, which hath thus glorified thee; that I may honour Him by imitation of thy happy life, and by any death which He will give me, to be partaker with thee and all holy saints of His kingdom, to whom be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
St. Margaret Clitherow, pray for us!
(The source of all quotes and citations above is Margaret T. Munro's "St. Margaret Clitherow: 'The Pearl of York'" - printed by TAN Books.)