My lips will praise you, Lord,
for sweeter than life is your merciful love.
The land of amore may have given the world Casanova, but it has also given the Church a great company of witnesses to the virtue of chastity, a group of heroic women whom we acknowledge as the “virgin-martyrs.” St. Lucy, St. Cecilia, and St. Agnes all hail from Italy, as well as a latecomer to their noble band, the saint we remember today, Maria Goretti.
The virgin-martyrs continue to witness to Christians the order contained within the virtue of charity. All loves, and especially our disordered loves, must of their very nature be subordinated to the love of Christ. In the love of Christ, all other loves find their healing, rectification, and right ordering. The virgin-martyrs knew this truth, and they offered their lives to Christ before settling for any love smaller and indeed cheaper than his.
St. Maria Goretti’s witness continues to capture the modern imagination, albeit negatively at times. The culture’s sometimes disbelieving response to her life and death reveals how easily we can lose sight of chastity’s importance, and how little we can trust the the reality and power of the love of Christ. Still, Maria’s witness offers a healing salve to our weakened sensibilities, and her intercession can reintroduce us to the love she knew.
From Catholic Online:
Maria was born in Corinaldo, Ancona, Italy, on October 16 1890. Her farmworker father moved his family to Ferrier di Conca, near Anzio. Her father died of malaria and her mother had to struggle to feed her children.
In 1902 an eighteen-year-old neighbor, Alexander, grabbed her from her steps and tried to rape her. When Maria said that she would rather died than submit, Alexander began stabbing her with a knife.
As she lay in the hospital, she forgave Alexander before she died. Her death didn’t end her forgivness, however.
Alexander was captured and sentenced to thirty years. He was unrepentant until he had a dream that he was in a garden. Maria was there and gave him flowers. When he woke, he was a changed man, repenting of his crime and living a reformed life. When he was released after 27 years he went directly to Maria’s mother to beg her forgiveness, which she gave. “If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withold forgiveness,” she said.
When Maria was declared a saint in 1950, Alexander was there in the St. Peter’s crowd to celebrate her canonization. She was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950 for her purity as model for youth.
She is called a martyr because she fought against Alexander’s attempts at sexual assault. However, the most important aspect of her story is her forgiveness of her attacker — her concern for her enemy extending even beyond death. Her feast day is July 6. St. Maria Goretti is the patroness of youth and for the victims of rape.
source of innocence and lover of chastity,
you gave Saint Maria Goretti the privilege
of offering her life in witness to Christ.
As you gave her the crown of martyrdom,
let her prayers keep us faithful to your teaching.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.