St. Maria clearly knew that a violation of her body was an attack against a very important virtue of our Catholic faith – holy purity. How many young women or even men for that matter would sacrifice their lives in order to maintain their purity and virginity? In a culture that has convinced our youth that in order to be a mature person you must lose your virginity and sleep with anyone you can find, St. Maria’s death would seem bizarre and strange – A martyr of what???? In fact, we can already hear the derisive laughs and cynical remarks of those who think virginity and purity are for the emotionally stunted and immature idiots. And, of course, St. Maria’s courageous example would find little place among the hearts of those who believe in toleration of homosexual lifestyles and adulterous heterosexual liaisons. That’s because we have convinced ourselves that unfettered sex is the remedy to society’s ills. We have deluded ourselves with the demonic lie, which Eve fell into in the Garden of Eden, that we have power to choose what we can do with our bodies. “It is my body, my choice.”
St. Maria, however, would have found this mantra quite shocking and repellant. She knew that her body was sacred and holy because God made it that way. She also knew that her body was a temple of the Holy Spirit. 40 days before Alessandro’s attempted his rape and stabbing, St. Maria received her First Holy Communion. On May 29th, 1902, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the virgin martyr of chastity received with great joy the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Blessed Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. She received this Blessed Sacrament into her precious soul and offered it for her deceased father’s soul. St. Maria knew the power of the Eucharist and how it transforms our lives to become another Jesus. She chose Jesus to be Her Lord and Savior. Her body became a lovely temple of purity and holiness where the Holy Trinity reigned supreme. In effect St. Maria understood that her body belonged to God, not to the latest impure fashions, not to the modern theological views on sexual morality, not to the vulgar conversations of her peers, not to the lustful looks of men who are bent on nothing but sodomizing women.
Little do people understand that her attacker, Alessandro had a very rough upbringing. His mother tried to drown the infant boy and was summarily consigned to a psychiatric hospital where she eventually died. Alessandro’s brother also was sent to a psychiatric hospital and died there. His father Giovanni was a raging alcoholic and was abusive to the boy. When the Serenelli family moved in with the Gorettis, the mother of St. Maria Assunta, was cleaning the rooms of the house. When she went into Alessandro’s room, she stumbled upon piles of very primitive pornographic magazines and pictures. At first she wanted to take everything out of the young man’s room, but hesitated for fear of the horrible reaction she would receive from Giovanni in his drunken stupor and the fact that her husband Luigi had died. Without Luigi, she was helpless. Little did she realize how these pornographic materials began to shape the mind of Alessandro.
Some people today may be surprised to learn that Ted Bundy, the notorious killer of the college students at FSU, eventually admitted before his execution at Florida Prison that he had a terrible addiction to pornography. With the advent of the internet and home computers and tablets and smart phones, millions and millions of men and women are drawn into the seductive world of pornography in the privacy of their homes. There are so many walking wounded. The cases of sexual molestation and abuse continue to rise. The numbers of sexual predators are growing alarmingly and they now live unknowingly near our homes and in our neighborhoods. We are immersed in a culture of licentiousness. Pornographers are reaping in billions of dollars from unwitting and not-so-unwitting consumers. And the result has been immensely tragic.
No wonder our young people are sarcastic about purity. For them, purity or chastity is a big joke. How often do our teenagers ask their priests or religion teachers or youth ministers, “So, how far can we go?” And of course, proponents of sexual education believe that the more information we give on the sexual act the better our kids will be prepared for the challenges of living in the modern world. Well, folks, that experiment has not worked! In fact, it has failed miserably. How many of our teenager girls are forced by their parents to get on the pill or our teenage boys told to make sure they keep condoms with them??? So many parents cede the battle of purity with their children. What a tragedy! And yet Assunta Goretti made sure to form the conscience of her daughter Maria, reminding her how important it was not only to refrain from impure thoughts and actions but to dress modestly. This worked so well that it is no wonder that shortly after St. Maria’s First Holy Communion the little girl was shocked and horrified by the impure talk of her peers one day.
On this special evening, as we gaze fondly upon the body of this amazing young lady, let us consider the following thought: What was precious and holy to St. Maria should also be precious and holy to all of us! To our young men and women, you may say, “This is impossible. Let’s be realistic. How on earth can I have a relationship with another person unless I sleep with him or her?” The answer is courage. What we need today is courageous men and women who have the ability to say, “No! No! No! It would be a terrible sin and you will go to Hell. God forbids it.” That courage comes from the frequent reception of the sacraments and a deep and lively prayer life. One thing to note about St. Maria is that she deeply and admired the Blessed Mother. Her mother recounted how she always had her rosary beads next to her as she did her daily chores. St. Maria loved the woman whose name she took in her baptism. So should all of us cultivate a tremendous love for the Mother of God. A daily devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Heart and the faithful recitation of the Holy Rosary will help us battle the demons of lust and promiscuity.
There is one more thing we need to discuss about this brave young woman. It was that she harbored no hate in her heart for her attacker Alessandro. You know the story. As she lay dying, the priest who was administering her the Last Rites asked, “Do you forgive Alessandro?” “Yes, of course, Father,” replied St. Maria. “Jesus forgave the penitent thief on the Cross and I shall pray that Alessandro may be penitent.” Here is one of the bravest acts of mercy! This young lady forgave her attacker. And even though Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years in prison because of his youth, that act of mercy would finds its culmination in the man’s eventual conversion. In a remarkable dream, St. Maria appeared to Alessandro and gave him lilies. Upon receiving the lilies they burned in his hands. Upon awakening from this dream, the prisoner asked for a priest immediately. Monsignor Giovanni Blandini visited the now grieving man and hear his confession. Alessandro was a changed man. He would go on to lead a life of great piety and holiness after his discharge from prison and act as the gardener of a Capuchin monastery for the remainder of his life. At his death, Alessandro could never forget the mercy and kindness of this young girl who forgave him so much when he truly deserved hell.
So, it is with all of us. We must forgive others and ask St. Maria to help us to love those who have harmed us deeply. This is the other hallmark of this bright and radiant star in heaven. St. Maria Goretti pray for us and help us to walk in the path of purity and mercy.