In the book of Genesis we read of God creating the world and it is good, very good. We also read of His creation of our first parents and how He wanted them to share in His goodness and love. He gave them everything, even giving them His very self. But they turned away. And after committing the Original Sin Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened. They realized they were naked. They realized that they were vulnerable; they realized that they could be hurt by the other. And so they covered themselves and hid. They felt the full weight of sin.
But God came looking for them repeating, with concern, over and over “Where are you?” “Where are you?” And in answer to this question they gave excuses. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent. But God wasn’t looking for excuses; He was only looking for His friends and a simple contrite heart.
In 13th century Laviano Italy there was a young girl by the name of Margaret. She was an only child and she was very beautiful. In their devotion to her, Margaret’s parents spoiled her. She grew to be willful, restless, and very dissatisfied. Very dissatisfied with what she had, she wanted more. What she wanted was more life and more excitement, more of anything than what she found in her small sleepy town. And because of her good looks she learned how to use men and to get what she wanted. And there were always men who were only too happy to comply.
As a teenager Margaret’s mother died and her father quickly remarried. Margaret and the step-mom did not get along. The step-mom was amazed at Margaret’s self-indulgence. By the time Margaret was 17 there was just too much turmoil in the house so she moved out. She went to the next town over, Montepulciano, and hired herself out as a servant in the castle. She was finally free of her stifling home; she could now live as she pleased. She soon caught the eye of the Master of that castle. He made her his mistress and he gave her anything and everything she wanted. He indulged her every whim. She lived this way for nine years.
But every so often she would think of home. And that maybe it wasn’t as unhappy as she had thought. She had traded her freedom in that little town of Laviano for the slavery of riches and pleasure. These riches are misery she would think. It’s as if our Lord was saying to her, as He said to Adam and Eve, “Where are you? Where are you Margaret?” But she pushed those guilty thoughts aside and went back to castle life.
The turning point eventually came when one evening the master failed to return home. His hunting dog came in all by himself, but no master. Margaret grew concerned so she went in search of him. Eventually she found him. He was out in the woods hidden under a pile of brush. Someone had murdered him and tried to hide the body. In her conscience our Lord said to her again, “Where are you? Where are you Margaret?”
She began to wonder, “What happened to the soul of her master?” He had the same attitude towards life as she did, focused more on pleasure and self than on anything else. Where is his soul? Margaret then began to wonder what would happen to her if she were to die at the moment. This moment became her moment of conversion.
She went home to her father’s house, and like the prodigal son of scripture, she fell at her father’s feet begging him with tears and repentance to give her shelter. Her father forgave her right away.
Margaret spent the next 33 years working at putting her focus on God and her neighbor; she did this by working with the Franciscans helping the poor. She worked at learning humility. Margaret’s long conversion was not always easy; as we can imagine, there were still moments of great temptation when she wanted to return to her old way of life. When things got difficult she was very tempted to just run away and return to that old way of life. It could’ve happened but with grace Margaret successfully overcame those temptations. With God’s grace we now know Margaret as St. Margaret of Cortona, a patroness to invoke against temptations.
At the beginning I spoke of those three words that God asked of Adam and Eve, He said, “Where are you?” We might ask ourselves, who is the God speaking these words? Is he the All Powerful, the All Holy, the All Supreme and Infinite One? Yes, He’s all of these, but I think these three words more accurately describe a loving Father looking for his children, wanting to restore a broken relationship. It is a loving father who asks the words, “Where are you?”
I think that any time we feel a good guilt that is our Lord saying to us, “Where are you?” any time we feel pain, that’s our body’s way of telling us something in our body needs attention. In the same way anytime we feel a good guilt that’s our soul’s way of telling us the soul needs attention. Our Lord wants to give us so much more, so much more than we are settling for. And that much more is found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley