Every autumn, people from all across Scotland – and beyond – gather in St Patrick’s Church in Edinburgh’s Cowgate for the annual pilgrimage to Venerable Margaret Sinclair’s tomb.
Many come seeking heavenly favours from Margaret. After all, we need to pray for a miracle to pave the way for her beatification. Others come to learn from her earthly example. Margaret belongs to the modern world – the world of mass industry, the movie theatre and the passing fancies of high street fashion. Her youthful face is captured on camera, not with Renaissance oils or Byzantine iconography. She is one of us. What is more, she is a very ordinary girl. This is why her example is so very useful to all of us who live similarly ordinary lives in the modern world. Holiness is for us too.
Growing up amid the poverty of Edinburgh’s Cowgate district, the Sinclair family faced continual financial struggles. Margaret’s mother would sometimes come close to buckling beneath the weight of worry and want. Her daughter’s refrain at such times, however, was always the same: “Dinna gie in!” That was the hallmark of Margaret’s short life, from impoverishment in her youth to ill-health in her final years. Don’t give in!
Such interior strength, though, was not born of cold duty or even steely stoicism. It was born of a deep love for Jesus Christ and a reliance on Our Lord, especially in the Blessed Eucharist. On a rare family holiday to the Midlothian town of Rosewell, Margaret suggested to her sister Bella that they attend Mass and receive Holy Communion every day. Bella was concerned that they weren’t holy enough. Margaret replied: “We're not going because we’re good; we’re going because we want to be good.”
Margaret Sinclair is a contemporary example of how each of us should pursue personal holiness. Firstly, she strove for sanctity wherever she found herself in life, whether that was the convent, the home or the factory. Secondly, her determination to do God’s will, often in the teeth of great difficulty, reminds us that saints are made, not born.
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