Friday, July 6, 2012

St. Maria: The heroism of forgiveness

In 1902, at the age of 11, St. Maria Goretti was repeated stabbed by her neighbor, Alessandro Serenelli, in an attempted rape. In fact, she was stabbed fourteen times; a number that would prove significant later on. As St. Maria was being stabbed, she cried out: "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" About twenty hours later, on July 6th, this little eleven year old Saint inherited her reward. But before she passed on to life eternal St. Maria made it clear that she forgave her killer, Alessandro.

Arguably, the virtues which prepared St. Maria for her martyrdom were her ardent love for our Eucharistic Lord and her purity of heart. It was the custom of her parish priest in her day to ask each child what they wanted before receiving First Communion. Many of the children, if not, most, expressed a desire for some material or earthly blessing of sorts. But St. Maria simply requested that she wanted to receive our Lord in the Eucharist yet again. Keep in mind that frequent Communion, especially among children, was not widely practiced in many Catholic parishes. Nevertheless, this aspiration impressed her pastor so much that he gave her special permission to approach the altar on a more frequent basis.

As for Alessandro, he was sent to prison for murder. For a long time he was obstinate about what he had done and showed little remorse. However, due to his bad behavior in prison, he was sent into solitary confinement where the prisoner would see one hour of day light a day. It was then that his sanity tested. Having spent so many hours in the dark, this hardened criminal began to soften up. One night he had a dream and St. Maria Goretti appeared to him with fourteen beautify flowers as if to represent the fourteen stab wounds that killed her. This dream marked the beginning of his conversion. To make a long story short, Alessandro was released from prison on good behavior.

Upon getting out of prison, Alessandro immediately went to the house of St. Maria’s mother. When she answered the door Alessandro asked her if she could ever forgive him for killing his daughter. The virtuous mother then said: If the Lord can forgive you and if my daughter forgave you, then I forgive you.

It so happened that for the Christmas Eve Mass, just days away, the mother of St. Maria Goretti and Alessandro together would carry the gifts of offering down the aisle. And even more remarkable, in 1950, when Pope Pius XII canonized St. Maria Goretti, both were in attendance.

This story just goes to demonstrate that the sanctity of an eleven year old girl can help conquer such strong and natural passions. It would have been too easy and even understandable for the mother of St. Maria Goretti to harbor hatred for Alessandro Serenelli; but she didn’t. She allowed the grace of God, the same grace that elevated her eleven year old daughter to sainthood, to penetrate her heart in order to see the goodness in a man once given to sin and crime. In no small measure, then, did the love of a mother and daughter inspire Alessandro to live out the rest of his days in a Capuchin convent doing penance and praying for sinners.