In 1558, had Queen Elizabeth I imposed harsher penalties for who refused to accept the tenets of the English Reformation, initiating a decades-long period of persecution that claimed the lives of hundreds English, Scottish, and Irish Catholics. In response, the Ball family provided a safe house for any Catholic clergy passing through Dublin. Despite their faith and courage, Margaret’s son, Walter, became a member of the Church of England in order to advance his career. Walter was eventually appointed Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes (in support of the Church of England) and later installed as mayor of Dublin. Shortly after taking office, Walther had Margaret and her private chaplain arrested and taken to the dungeons of Dublin.
Although the rest of the family protested, Walter maintained that he would not allow his mother to go free until she “took the oath,” recognizing the English monarch as the head of the Church. Margaret—who was crippled with debilitating arthritis—died in prison in 1584, after years of suffering the effects of the cold, wet environment of the dungeon.
Blessed Margaret Ball was beatified with Bishop Dermot O’Hurley (who had been arrested in 1577 while saying Mass in the Ball home), Francis Taylor (the husband of Margaret’s granddaughter), and 13 other Irish martyrs in 1992.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells two parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, including the Parable of the Mustard Seed. That image of the tiny mustard seed, growing up into a great tree with its large, sheltering branches, is both a metaphor for the Reign of God but also a key to understanding the life and witness of Blessed Margaret Ball. A wife, mother, and woman of faith, her small acts of courage and fidelity not only helped provide safety for bishops and priests, but they helped keep the Catholic Faith alive in Ireland during a time of ferocious persecution.
Reflect today on a time in your life when a kind word or small act of kindness helped you through a difficult time. Ask Blessed Margaret Ball to help you be aware of opportunities for you to be a sheltering support for someone in need.
Prayer +O God,
by whose gift strength is made perfect in weakness,
grant to all who honor the glory of blessed Margaret Ball
that she, who drew from you the strength to triumph,
may likewise always obtain from you
the grace of victory for us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Martyrs—For a Holy Woman Martyr)