What St. Margaret of Scotland Can Teach Modern Moms

St. Margaret understood that her mission in life, as it is in all of our lives, was to unite herself as closely to God as possible and thus to point others toward him as well.

Stained glass shows a depiction of St. Margaret in her namesake chapel at the castle in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Stained glass shows a depiction of St. Margaret in her namesake chapel at the castle in Edinburgh, Scotland. (photo: Weho / Shutterstock.com)

I find saints who were mothers to be distinctly disconcerting. They hit just a bit too close to home. 

Sainted women who were nuns, or sworn to perpetual virginity, are on a different plane from us moms, you see. They lived in convents and spent their days in chapels with no distractions, able to kneel in adoration before the Eucharist for hours at a time. Their stories are unique, beautiful and oftentimes wildly unrelatable, inviting a sense of fatalism. 

There is no way, it seems, for a mother to achieve that level of holiness. No toddler interrupted these blessed women’s prayerful meditations with demands for yet another reading of Go Dog Go. No baby shrieking in a crib disturbed their mystical encounters with Our Lord. They could sit through an entire Mass without little people clambering all over them. 

We moms cannot possibly attain an intimate union with Christ similar to what these women did while we referee dog-toddler wrestling matches, change countless diapers, and fold a never-diminishing pile of laundry. 

Does any good come out of our scattered moments of prayer? Can God really work with the mere seconds of undivided attention we are able to give him at Mass? Since we cannot achieve the holy devotion we see exhibited by so many of our Church’s great saints, is there really a need for us to bother with it at all? 

Of course God, knowing the weaknesses of his beloved children, sees this dismal picture of resigned self-pity and in his tremendous mercy he gives the world a woman like St. Margaret. 

A queen and mother of eight children, St. Margaret of Scotland was no cloistered nun or holy mystic, and her life serves as a challenge for every mother who operates under the misapprehension that she is too busy to try to get herself and her family to heaven. 

Incredibly devout, St. Margaret dedicated her impressive energy to educating her large brood while simultaneously instituting reforms and bringing a new vitality to the Catholic Church in Scotland. Her husband, King Malcolm, himself a goodhearted if uncouth and illiterate man, was greatly moved by Margaret’s faith. Under her gentle influence he evolved into the Christian ideal of a virtuous king. Entrusted by Malcolm with the kingdom’s domestic and religious matters, St. Margaret was instrumental in founding the Benedictan monastery at Dunfermline Abbey. She built churches around the country and established a ferry service to help pilgrims travel to St. Andrews Cathedral, where the apostle’s relics were kept until the Scottish Reformation. Famously devoted to the poor, St. Margaret washed the feet of beggars on her way to and from daily Mass and served food to orphans before she found the time for her own breakfast. 

St. Margaret’s extraordinary accomplishments are a testament to her commitment to her personal faith. Despite the demands of her children and her duties as queen, Margaret cultivated a rich interior life. She fasted often and frequently rose at midnight for Mass. Sleeping little, Margaret chose to dedicate her time instead to prayer and reading Scripture. 

Like every other canonized mother, St. Margaret’s spiritual discipline is a sharp reminder that motherhood does not preclude a life of prayer. I can stand in awe of saints like Thérèse of Lisieux and Teresa of Avila, even as I wave away any possibility of truly trying to emulate them. Their vocation was to sit in Jesus’ presence and pray. Of course they could be holy. This is, of course, not to say their lives were easy. They, too, had trials and tribulations and experienced sickness and sorrow.

With St. Margaret, though, there is nowhere to hide. My excuses, already built upon the shakiest of foundations, fall away completely. How many times have I dropped onto my bed at night, claiming exhaustion as an excuse to ignore the rosary on my nightstand, and choosing instead to scroll through my phone for a few moments before falling asleep? When morning comes, how often do I protest that it is too hard on the children to bring them to daily Mass? What I really mean, of course, is that it’s far too much of a hassle for me. 

St. Margaret is a firm rebuke to such spiritual apathy, but she is even more so a radiant example of the great variety found in the Communion of Saints. No Catholic saint followed the same path to heaven. Men and women from all vocations and walks of life are honored in the Church’s calendar. Indeed, my vocation is not to live in a convent. But St. Margaret’s life is a great reminder that all vocations can, and should, lead to God.

St. Margaret’s entire life was oriented around her faith, and in so doing, she brought everyone around her closer to Christ. We may not have the resources to found churches and ease the passage of pilgrims as St. Margaret did, but she was not canonized because she was a queen. The tools she used to achieve sanctity are tools that the Church has lavishly given to us all: prayer, fasting, corporal works of mercy and the sacraments. 

St. Margaret understood that her mission in life, as it is in all of our lives, was to unite herself as closely to God as possible and thus to point others toward him as well. Mothers are called to serve as witnesses of Christ’s love through our joyful service to our husbands and our children. My duty as a mother is to create a home that gives my family an earthly precursor to heaven and to raise my children to walk confidently and steadily toward eternity. Our mission of Catholic motherhood is no different than that of this holy Scottish queen’s, and thank God that he has given us St. Margaret as a shining beacon to guide us in this pursuit. 

St. Margaret of Scotland, pray for us!

Kelly Marcum writes from Virginia.