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The Life of St. Maria Goretti

July 6, 2011
Today, Wednesday, July 6th, is the feast of St. Maria Goretti, and Salt + Light will mark the occasion by airing a film about her life this evening, at 8pm ET / 9:00pm PT.
[singlepic id=40 w=320 h=240 float=right]The film tells the story of a young girl, Maria Goretti, not even 12 years old, and a boy, Alessandro Serenelli, 18. They enjoy a very close friendship, until one of them, Alessandro, gives in to his violent passion.
It is not a common story of a victim and her executioner, on the contrary, it is a story that shows us how the communion with God and forgiveness can be stronger than death.
Maria Goretti was a real person, who lived a life of sacrifices in difficult times, at the beginning of 1900, in the most unhealthy living conditions environment of the Pontine swamps, a countryside nearby Rome. She was given the heavenly gift of Fortitude, which you will see depicted in the movie.
In a 2002 homily commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. Maria Goretti, Pope John Paul II said, quoting St. Paul:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1Cor.1:27-29)
On April 27th, 1947 Maria Goretti was beatified by Pope Pius XII, and on June 25th, 1950 , canonized by the same Pontiff. A huge crowd of faithful – over 200,000 – attended the ceremony. It was also the first time that a mother (Assunta Goretti) was present for the canonization of her own daughter.
She was canonized because her life was an example of fortitude and purity, of silent heroism; and, most of all, as Pope John Paul said, because “She teaches us to rediscover in Christ the value of the truth which frees the human being from the slavery to material realities, to cultivate a taste for authentic beauty and the good which overcome evil.”
How can this be fulfilled in our everyday life?
Maria Goretti was a beautiful and brave young woman indeed! Yet, what the Church saw in her to be worthy of canonization was not the glory of freely chosen virginity, but the virtue she was gifted with, her superhuman fortitude which only grace could sustain. She was able to resist the temptation. However she was at the same time so human to understand Alessandro’s danger, more than her own, when she cried “No! It is a sin! God forbids it! You will go to hell!”
And on her deathbed a day later, she was able to forgive her murderer when asked from the priest: “Maria…Jesus died while forgiving the penitent thief at His side. Do you forgive with all your heart your attacker and murderer?” and she replied: “Yes! Yes! For the love of Jesus, I forgive him, and I want him to be with me one day in Heaven!”
Indeed, the conversion of Alessandro a few years later was one of St. Maria Goretti’s greatest miracles. Alessandro himself revealed that on October 10, 1910, while in prison, he had a dream in which Maria appeared to him all dressed in light and handing him white lilies, that once in his arms, turned into flames. Later on, the embittered and unrepented murderer admitted his guilt and his victim’s innocence and virtue, and accepted to spend 18 more years as a means to expiate his crime. He was often heard to say “I hope for salvation, since I have a saint in heaven for me”.
The example of St. Maria Goretti is a grace from heaven poured on this troubled society of ours, in which centuries of Christian teaching on the relationship between the sexes have been abandoned and forgotten. Today we are witnessing the harmful effects of a culture of pretended ‘sexual equality’ and ‘children’s liberation’ from families.
St. Maria Goretti was aware of the importance of chastity both for her personal union with God and for social life. She embraced St. Paul’s words in his 1st Letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4:3-5 :
What God wants is for you all to be holy. He wants you to keep away from fornication, and each one of you to know how to use the body that belongs to Him in a way that is holy and honourable, not giving way to selfish lust like the pagans who do not know God.
She had been taught by her parents, and her beautiful soul had been educated to be aware that Christians belong to God totally, body and soul. She realized that her body was “God’s Temple” and that “The Spirit of God was living” among us (cfr. 1st Cor. 3:16) as in St. Paul’s address to the Corinthians.
That is why the Church presents us these words from the Gospel of St. John (12:24-26) on St. Maria Goretti’s Feast day, July 6th:
I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life. If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too. If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Through the gift of fortitude from the same Holy Spirit she rather chose death to defend her purity of heart and body.
The Church canonized her because there was – and there is now more than ever – a tremendous need to encourage especially adolescents and young people to look at her. We are encouraged to consider St. Maria Goretti's commitment to fight against evil and sin, by nourishing our soul with a constant communion with the Lord, through daily prayer and observance of his Commandments. On the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. Maria Goretti, John Paul II preached:
Marietta, as she was familiarly called, reminds young people of the third millennium that true happiness calls for courage and a spirit of sacrifice, the rejection of any compromise with evil and readiness to pay in person, including with death, for one's faithfulness to God and to his commandments.
How timely is this message! Today, pleasure and egoism, or even immorality, are often exalted, in the name of false ideals of freedom and happiness. It is necessary to reaffirm with clarity that purity of heart and body must be defended, because chastity "safeguards" authentic love.
Maria Goretti is a gift from God to the world, where the de-Christianization of nations has led to widespread corruption of sexual morals. We are flooded by countless obscene movies, TV programs and commercials; not to speak of pornography and child abuse on the internet. In other words, what Pius XII saw prophetically has come to pass: the increasing rejection of Christianity and its norms and values for human behaviour. St. Maria Goretti was really a “a model of Christian life” as Pope John Paul defined her, “a model of authentic holiness” and “the Agnes of the 20th century”, since she truly was a countercultural sign to a world that rejects God. She continues to radiate the light of Christ amidst our society’s decadence.
She is a child of the Beatitudes, “Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God” (Mt.5:8), and by forgiving her murderer she fulfilled Jesus’ new commandment: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt.5:44)
A few days before his death at the age of 88, Alessandro Serenelli was asked if he had any advice to give to the youth of his day (it was the year 1970). He wrote the following words which are of an extraordinary immediacy:
I sincerely ask pardon of God and of the entire world for the crime which I committed against the martyr Maria Goretti, and against purity. With all my heart I plead with you to avoid all immoral literature and shows, and whatever else will lead you into sins of impurity.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation