July 5, 2016

Saint Maria Goretti: The Virgin Martyr Who Defended Her Chastity Unto Death

St. Maria Goretti
On July 6th, the Church celebrates the feast of its youngest canonized saint. Saint Maria Goretti (1890-1902) was born in Corinaldi, Italy, the third of seven children to a poor peasant family. Known for her cheerful piety, Maria grew in many virtues. When she was nine, her father, Luigi Goretti, died from malaria. To make ends meet, the Gorettis shared a house with Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro. Maria took over household responsibilities while her mother, brothers, and sister worked in the fields. Dispensing her duties, Maria was a source of encouragement, never complaining about her chores.

Alessandro Serenelli noticed Maria's beauty and began to have impure thoughts. He would speak cruelly and make sexual advances toward her often. Maria always rebuked him saying, "No, never, that is a sin! God forbids that and we would go to hell!" The harassment continued for months.

On July 5, 1902, Alessandro approached Maria and demanded she submit to him. Maria said she would rather die than allow him to sin. When she refused, an enraged Alessandro stabbed her fourteen times. Maria's younger sister saw the attack. Her screams summoned help.

Maria was rushed to the nearest hospital. From the outset it was apparent her injuries were beyond repair. Halfway through surgery, Maria woke up. The pharmacist said to her, "Maria, think of me in Paradise." She responded, "Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first?" "You, Maria," he replied. "Then I will gladly think of you," Maria said. 24 hours after the attack, having reiterated her forgiveness of Alessandro and her wish for his salvation she succumbed to her wounds.

Pope Pius XII's Homily at the Canonization of St. Maria Goretti


"It is well known how this young girl had to face a bitter struggle with no way to defend herself. Without warning a vicious stranger (actually Alessandro Serenelli who lived with his father in the same house as the Goretti's.) burst upon her, bent on raping her and destroying her childlike purity. In that moment of crisis she could have spoken to her Redeemer in the words of that classic, The Imitation of Christ: "Though tested and plagued by a host of misfortunes, I have no fear so long as your grace is with me. It is my strength, stronger than any adversary; it helps me and gives me guidance." With splendid courage she surrendered herself to God and his grace and so gave her life to protect her virginity.

The life of this simple girl — I shall concern myself only with highlights — we can see as worthy of heaven. Even today people can look upon it with admiration and respect. Parents can learn from her story how to raise their God-given children in virtue, courage and holiness; they can learn to train them in the Catholic faith so that, when put to the test, God's grace will support them and they will come through undefeated, unscathed and untarnished.

From Maria's story carefree children and young people with their zest for life can learn not to be led astray by attractive pleasures which are not only ephemeral and empty but also sinful. Instead they can fix their sights on achieving Christian moral perfection, however difficult and hazardous that course may prove. With determination and God's help all of us can attain that goal by persistent effort and prayer.

Not all of us are expected to die a martyr's death, but we are all called to the pursuit of Christian virtue. This demands strength of character though it may not match that of this innocent girl. Still, a constant, persistent and relentless effort is asked of us right up to the moment of our death. This may be conceived as a slow steady martyrdom which Christ urged upon us when he said: The kingdom of heaven is set upon and laid waste by violent forces.

So let us all, with God's grace, strive to reach the goal that the example of the virgin martyr, Saint Maria Goretti, sets before us. Through her prayers to the Redeemer may all of us, each in his own way, joyfully try to follow the inspiring example of Maria Goretti who now enjoys eternal happiness in heaven."

Collect Prayer

O God, author if innocence and lover of chastity, who bestowed the grace of martyrdom on your handmaid, the Virgin Saint Maria Goretti, in her youth, grant, we pray, through her intercession, that, as you gave her a crown for her steadfastness, so we, too, may be firm in obeying your commandments. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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