by Sharon Clossick - click for more info
Saint Maria Goretti has always been, in my mind, the epitome of forgiveness.
At this point in time, most people know her story. She was a poor girl from a poor family. Destitute, they had to give up their home to work with (and then for) another family, the Serenellis. Shortly after, Maria's father passed away from malaria, leaving her mother and siblings at the mercy of the Serenelli family.
For several years the Goretti family worked for the Serenellis. However, even before her father passed away, Maria (then only nine) had found herself on the receiving end of sexual advances from Alessandro Serenelli. She thwarted his attempts to sully her purity several times, and each time was threatened with death if she uttered to anyone his treachery.
However, at 11 years old (she was 2 months shy of her 12th birthday which is why so many folks incorrectly list her as a 12 year old), he found her alone after her mother and siblings had gone to work in the field. Maria was home taking care of her infant sister, Teresa. Maria had just placed Teresa down for a nap when Alessandro approached her - again - with the intent to force her into sex. He brandished a 10 inch dagger with which to subdue her. Maria, however, would not allow his perversion to tarnish her chaste purity.
Crying out, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it! You will go to hell." Maria tried to fend off his lustful advances. Enraged, Alessandro choked Maria. This, too, proved futile as Maria insisted she'd rather die than endure the desecration of her body. As a result, Alessandro stabbed her body 11 times times.
He left her bleeding on the floor of her kitchen to die alone, agonizing in pain as his dagger cut through her throat, heart, lungs and spinal column. Yet she attempted to crawl to the door to call for help. Alessandro (who was asleep upstairs) heard her cries of "Mother, I am dying!" and went back to finish his work. He stabbed her 3 more times - 14 in all.
Alessandro then fled upon hearing little Teresa cry out. Alessandro's father was awoken by the baby's cries and went down to chide Maria for being negligent. However, he found her bruised and bloodied body instead, and his frantic calls for help brought her mother running.
Maria was rushed to the nearest hospital where doctors, incredulous that she'd survived with such terrible wounds, did their best to help her. She underwent immediate surgery (without anesthesia), but doctors knew she would not last. A priest was brought in to perform Last Rites. It was to him she expressed her forgiveness of Alessandro, citing Christ's forgiveness upon the Cross saying, "I, too, pardon him. I, too, wish that he could come some day and join me in heaven."
It was this forgiveness that finally caused Alessandro to amend his ways. Having been convicted of murder and imprisoned, he spent many years brooding in his cell. However, no doubt through Maria's intercession, God allowed him the grace of seeing little Maria in her glorified state. In this dream, Maria handed Alessandro 14 lilies, one for each of the wounds he inflicted upon her. Each of these lilies burst into flames of forgiveness as he took them, one by one, from her outstretched hand. From that moment forth, Alessandro changed his life and sought to live out the same love of Christ that Maria had taught him through her pure and holy example.
Upon his release from prison, Alessandro went straight to the home of Maria's mother. When she opened the door, he flung himself at her feet, tearfully begging for her forgiveness.
Again, modeling the holy example of her own saintly daughter, Assunta said, "Alessandro, Marietta forgave you, Christ has forgiven you, and why should I not also forgive. I forgive you, of course, my son!"
The next morning, she led him by the hand to Mass where they received, together, the Eucharist.
Alessandro lived out the rest of his days in the service of monks. No doubt he is in Heaven with little Maria as she had promised so many years before.
And what a blessing that her mother and siblings were able to witness the canonization of their own. Assunta said of Maria, ""My God, I was not worthy to have such an angel!"
If only she understood that it was through her blessed example that Maria came to understand the love of the Lord. Through her witness, Maria came to love Him and strive for His Grace in all she did.
Not only were you worthy of Maria, Assunta - you helped to create her place in Heaven. May you both, together with Alessandro, forever enjoy the Beatific Vision. And may you all intercede for us still toiling below. Pray for us that we may always understand the power and blessing of forgiveness.
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