Two Saints of Chastity

maria goretti tomb holy card
St. Maria Goretti, protect me everywhere!

A double saint-of-chastity day today. [Spanish]

One hundred sixteen years ago today, Maria Goretti died a martyr of chastity, before her twelfth birthday. She refused to give in to the sexual advances of a teenage boy. He threatened her life; she stood firm. He stabbed her to death. Maria Goretti made herself the young patroness of the #metoo movement over a century before Twitter got invented.

In our gospel reading at Mass, we hear the Lord call St. Matthew. Thanks to Matthew, we have “the Gospel of the Church,” a thorough compendium of Jesus Christ’s sayings and doings, written for readers already somewhat familiar with the Old Testament.

According to ancient Christian writings, St. Matthew wrote his gospel in the Holy Land, then set off to evangelize. He converted a pagan king, whose daughter Ephigenia made a vow of virginity to Christ.

A suitor then tried to persuade the princess to marry him. St. Matthew explained at Mass that Ephigenia had already committed herself. So the suitor killed St. Matthew in front of the altar.

There’s a little more… In AD 954, Christians brought St. Matthew’s remains to Salermo, in southern Italy, where they remain to this day. Your humble servant will visit the tomb next week. I will pray for you there!


Maria Goretti, the 20th-Century Famine, and Us

One hundred ten years ago today, St. Maria Goretti suffered martyrdom rather than consent to sexual impurity.

She became one of the first of the countless martyrs of the 20th century. One historian estimates that the last century saw 45 million martyrdoms, out of a total of 70 million over the whole course of the last twenty centuries. This would mean that two-thirds of all the martyrdoms that have ever occurred took place in the twentieth century. Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote, “At the end of the second millennium, the Church has once again become a Church of martyrs.”

In the first reading for today’s Mass, the prophet Amos warns of a famine. “Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but of hearing the Word of the Lord.”

A famine of hearing the Word of the Lord. The blood of the innumerable martyrs testifies to the fact that the last century endured just such a famine. The hard soil that did not hear God’s Word extended to many corners of the globe.

But God brings good out of evil. A lustful young man killed Maria Goretti out of willful malice. But he repented and turned to God. He attended her canonization Mass, at peace with her family.

If the twentieth century began with such a beautiful testimony to God’s all-conquering mercy, then only He can know all the good for souls that can come from the quiet suffering of so many millions of faithful Christians.

As the Lord teaches us, every faithful life bears fruit. Every earnest Christian bears witness in his or her little way. More good than we can know comes from it.

St. Maria Goretti feared sin more than death; she loved Christ more than she loved her earthly life. If we can say the same, then the famine of hearing God’s Word won’t last. We ourselves will water the soil with our faith.

Wholeness, Augustine, Lucrece, and Maria

Click here for a paean to St. Maria Goretti from ’09…

The virtue which makes life good has its throne in the soul, and thence rules the members of the body, which becomes holy in virtue of the holiness of the will. –St. Augustine

These days everyone strives for the great goal of “wholeness.” Shop green, eat clean, yoga, the right teas…wholeness awaits.

Now, I am not trying to make fun of anyone. The ancient Romans had a saying, Mens sana in corpore sano. A sound mind in a healthy body. Bodily temperance certainly aids us in the spiritual life.

But the ancient Romans also sang songs venerating one of their fabled heroines, named Lucrece. Lucrece had commited suicide when she concluded that her body had been ruined by the violation of a hostile invader.

St. Augustine answered by making his very important point: Personal integrity is found in the soul. We pray for bodily health and well-being. But no disease or violence of any kind can make a pure heart impure. And a pure heart is the center of genuine wholeness.

By the same token, of course, no bodily exploit can make an impure heart pure.

If a soul falls into unwholesomeness, the greenest grocery store cannot provide a remedy. Going to GNC or Trader Joe’s would just be a waste of time. Only contrition and penitence can purify the soul and make it whole again, by the blood of Christ.

So the real name of soul-body wholeness is ‘chastity.’ An honest soul governs an honest body. And the true heroine of chastity is not Lucrece of ancient Rome, but St. Maria Goretti of rural Italy.

The young farm girl willed only the good. When a young man tried to rape her, she prayed for him to repent and relent. She sought only to do God’s will. She did not choose death; rather, she was martyred because she refused to consent to a sin.

St. Maria’s body lies lifeless now in her shrine, wounded by repeated stabbings. She was killed 109 years ago. The man who killed her came to visit and pray–after he repented of what he had done, served his prison sentence, and then became a Franciscan.

He came to kneel at the feet of real wholeness. No body could be more ‘whole’ than one which is wounded like that of Christ.

Heroine of Chastity

Pope Paul VI praying at the tomb of St. Maria Goretti
Pope Paul VI praying at the tomb of St. Maria Goretti
Every word, every glance, every movement of Jesus Christ–all were perfectly truthful.

In everything the Lord did while He was on earth, He expressed true love, selfless love.

In Him, and in our Lady, we behold perfect harmony of body and soul, perfect integrity and purity, perfect control of bodily desire.

This is the virtue of chastity: being temperate and reasonable in all of our physical actions.

mother + assailantIn 1900, Maria Goretti’s father died. She was ten. When she was almost twelve, one of her father’s former co-workers began to make amorous advances towards her.

She rebuffed him. He threatened her with death.

She tried to dissuade him: “It is a mortal sin. You don’t want to go to hell.”

On July 6, 1902, lust got the better of him. He followed through on his threats. He stabbed Maria to death. As she died, she prayed that he would repent.

He did repent. After spending three decades in jail, he went to Maria’s mother and begged her forgiveness. They went to Mass and received Holy Communion together.

St. Maria Goretti, protect me everywhere!
St. Maria Goretti, protect me everywhere!