A White Martyrdom Turned Red – Part 2
The account of St. Maria Goretti is not simply one of good versus evil. Rather, it further serves to bring to the forefront that her sanctity was not based on that one single moment of her attack. That was the culmination of something already there. The reason she was to obtain the palm of martyrdom was because of her fidelity to the path of preparation God’s Providence had provided from her early years. In spite of the horror of the tragedy, we receive a saint for our altars, the conversion of at least one hardened soul (of which we know heaven rejoices over), and a model for youth, both in piety and purity. Juxtaposed against the devout Goretti family are the two Serenelli’s, the wheat and weeds intermixed we may think, and a great deal of suffering because of that, yet we find reason as to why the weeds are not pulled out until harvest (cf. Mt. 13:29).
Little Maria learned early to offer all things in union with Christ; that came from her parents in the form of a devout father with an honest work ethic, and an even more devout mother committed to her husband and children, no matter what the cost. Prayers and Mass were important, they were operative in the family. Luigi and Assunta Goretti knew they did not need much, because they had each other in union and partnership with Christ. Their marriage was certainly not perfect; no doubt there was a return back to the Author of their marriage every day and a seeking of Him through their trials, of whose weight was particularly heavy.
For Maria, this example taught her the value of patience, it taught her the love of the Cross and how to love like Christ, with firm commitment and resoluteness. In return she was given to realize the gifts Christ had given her, most notably – after her Faith – her purity. Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God. And why?
Because purity is synonymous with clarity, the pure and chaste heart strengthens faith, giving insight into God’s work and into the mysteries of redemption. Sense is readily made of trials and crosses, and one experiences a closeness to God that permits trials to be borne to even heroic degrees because of the perceived union it leads to with Him; one does not give up under duress. As a result, a pure and chaste heart strengthens the conscience. Alessandro became fixated on one thing and was enslaved to it, and eventually was unable to stand the presence of innocence; St. Maria, quite to the contrary, was free and for that reason was able to receive the grace to make that final heroic act for love of God.
Even more so, this strength of faith and perfection of charity is demonstrated in Maria’s simplicity – in the midst of a violent attack, there was no time for nuances and justifications. Maria did not think to herself that Alessandro was justified in what he was doing – after all, he did not have it as good as she did, his mother went insane and neglected him, his father was a drunk, siblings didn’t care, and he got in with the wrong crowd. No.
She warned Alessandro of damnation for his actions. Right was right and wrong was wrong. There is a law of God, and for her it was God before sin, and her resistance was not only for her personal welfare, but so as to not render herself a stumbling block to his salvation. Is not such the entire point of modesty?
St. Maria Goretti demonstrates then that the devout life is a holistic life. Everything is connected – all the virtues work together. Her purity and modesty were fruits of her charity – her love for God and the Cross – that had matured from her generous spirit of sacrifice for love of neighbor, and God would ask of it from her in a heroic way to save the soul of Alessandro.
Some words, then, of Pope Pius XII from her canonization should serve to inspire us all:
Why has Maria Goretti so quickly conquered hearts? The reason is because there is still in this world, apparently sunk and immersed in the worship of pleasure, not only a meager little band of chosen souls who thirst for heaven and its pure air – but a crowd, an immense multitude on whom the supernatural fragrance of Christian purity exercises an irresistible and reassuring fascination. During the past fifty years, coupled with what was often a weak reaction on the part of decent people, there has been a conspiracy of evil practices, propagating themselves in books and illustrations, in theaters and radio programs, in styles and clubs and on the beaches, trying to work their way into the hearts of the family and society, and doing their worst damage among the youth, even among those of the tenderest years in whom the possession of virtue is a natural inheritance. Dearly beloved youth, young men and women, who are the special object of the love of Jesus and of us, tell me, are you resolved to resist firmly, with the help of divine grace, against every attempt made to violate your chastity? All of you who are intently listening to our words, know that above the unhealthy marshes and filth of the world, stretches an immense heaven of beauty. It is the heaven which fascinated little Maria; the heaven to which she longed to ascend by the only road that leads there, which is, religion, the love of Christ, and the heroic observance of his Commandments.
July 13, 2021