Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The secret of a grateful heart

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY | Published August 15, 2013

I wonder what their secret is! This is what I usually think when I meet someone in their nineties—and immediately envision some daunting diet or elaborate exercise regimen.

Recently, though, I visited a remarkable woman, Margaret Mayer Mascotti, who is 98 and whose secret has nothing to do with calories or calisthenics—although it does involve the discovery of an ancient formula.

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But before you start clamoring for the name of an elixir you might find in a health-food store, let me assure you this lady is not seeking to turn back the hands of time. You see, the formula in question has nothing to do with endless youth, but everything to do with eternity.

My husband and I visited Margaret when we journeyed to her home at St. George Village, a senior community in Roswell. After parking outside, we headed up the elevator and traipsed along thickly carpeted corridors to arrive at her apartment where we heard distant strains of music from within.

A young woman opened the door and led us to the piano where our hostess sat playing—quite magnificently. As she sang, “When I grow too old to dream,” I suddenly saw Margaret in my mind’s eye as she might have looked long ago.

Over a glass of wine we learned a bit about Margaret’s life. How she’d grown up during the Depression in a Catholic family of eight children and how her mother would provide sandwiches for the hungry men who showed up at their door to beg.

When the family coffers were severely dwindling, her parents never stopped putting money in the church envelopes. And one time, after the last coin had been donated, there came a telephone call—”out of the blue”—offering her father, a musician, an additional engagement.

As her father put it, long ago, “You can never outdo the Lord in generosity.” And that thread seems to be woven throughout the fabric of this woman’s entire life. She relishes every moment as God’s gift.

Her own generosity to me nearly brought me to tears when she showed me a large stack of my newspaper articles, which she collects and photocopies to share with family and friends. Frankly, this kind gesture reminded me of my own mother, who would be expending the same effort if she were still alive.

When Jef and I remarked on Margaret’s lovely home and the manicured grounds at St. George that include a little winding creek, she emphasized how fortunate she was to be living there. When we headed down to the dining hall for a sumptuous feast—her treat—she said how appreciative she was of being served such good meals. And, of course, before we dug into the feast, she bowed her head and led us in saying grace.

Like anyone in their nineties, Margaret has her struggles. She has some difficulty getting around and can no longer do many things she once took for granted. But she doesn’t dwell on the hardships at all.

In fact, over supper she told us about a friend who had gotten a thorn embedded in her arm while pruning her roses. It was quite painful, Margaret said, and her friend’s husband helped her remove it.

But the moral of the tale wasn’t how awful life can be or how terribly we suffer.

As her friend put it—and this is a lesson that deeply impressed Margaret: “That was just one thorn. Can you imagine the crown of thorns pressed into the Lord’s head? Now that is real suffering.”

As we said goodbye we learned that Margaret was on her way to the chapel to spend a few hours praying before bedtime. “Say a prayer for us,” I beseeched her, and she assured me she would.

In my own prayers that night, I asked God to take care of Margaret and thanked him for a new friend. I also thanked him for revealing her secret formula, the elixir that leads to a full life on earth and hopefully to eternal happiness in heaven—which is the gift of a grateful heart.

Lorraine’s most recent books are “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a spiritual biography of Flannery O’Connor, and “Death of a Liturgist,” a novel. Artwork is by Jef Murray, whose collection of illustrated short stories is titled “Seer: A Wizard’s Journal.” Readers may contact them at