Blessed are the pure in heart: St. Maria Goretti

Lust’s opposing virtue, chastity, deserves an equally unforgettable advocate. St. Maria Goretti knew the importance of chastity for union with God and its necessity for the wholesomeness of both personal and social life. Today we commemorate her in the liturgy of the Church.

In every age, the saints of God have proven that they were God’s servants by their lives of faith and purity of soul. In St. Maria Goretti, youth have a heavenly patroness who, in Pope John Paul’s words, is "a model of Christian life," "a model of authentic holiness," and "the Agnes of the 20th century." Not yet 12 years of age, she was a countercultural sign to a world in the process of rejecting God and genuine love.  In the 1947 Decree of Beatification of the Congregation of Rites (a section of which was transformed in 1969 into the Congregation for the Causes of Saints), we read the following concerning the heroic virtue of the young girl who died after being stabbed 14 times by the would-be rapist, 18 year old Alessandro Serenelli :

"Never has there been a time when the palm of martyrdom was missing from the shining robes of the Spouse of Christ [the Church]. Even today in our very degraded and unclean world there are brief examples of unearthly beauty. The greatest of all triumphs is surely the one which is gained by the sacrifice of one's life, a victory made holy by the blood-red garments of martyrdom. When, however, the martyr is a child of tender age with the natural timidity of the weaker sex such a martyrdom rises to the sublime heights of glory."

This is what happened in the case of Maria Goretti, a poor little girl who did not hesitate to struggle and to suffer, to shed her life's blood and to die with heroic courage in order to keep herself pure. She is the model of the evangelical Beatitude ‘Blessed are the pure in spirit, for they shall see God. This is the very Beatitude which is spelt out in flowers when you arrive at the shrine at Nettuno where Maria Goretti lived.  In today’s culture it is becoming increasingly more difficult for young people to live chastely. To live this way of life is to go against the tide of a society which is over-sexualised. In 2011, the Canadian Bishops Conference issued a pastoral letter for youth with the theme of chastity. It can be read and downloaded here. It is well worth a read. I particularly like how they define chastity:
"From the dawn of creation God gave us more than one language to speak. Besides the gift of speech, he gave us our body. This body expresses itself through gestures that are themselves a language. Just as our words reveal who we are, so also does our body language. The Lord intends that we speak this 'sexual language' truthfully because it is the way to live our sexuality joyfully. This truthful living out of the sexual language of our bodies is what the Church calls 'chastity.'"

Almost fifty years later on June 24, 1950, Pope Pius XII stood on the steps of St. Peter's in Rome and pronounced Maria Goretti a Saint and Martyr of the Universal Church to half a million people. He proposed her as the Patroness of Modern Youth and set July 6th as her feast Day. Her mother, and her murderer, attended the canonization ceremony together. This was the triumph of the little girl who loved God and hated sin. Maria Goretti had led a very ordinary life. But in spite of her simplicity, her great faith and love for God made her truly extraordinary.

Pure in Heart Mission Team giving their talk
on chastity and relationships
Yes, we live in extraordinary times but thankfully in the Church, many  prayer groups and youth movements are growing which continue to explore the beauty of chastity and the theology of the body. Once such group with which I am familiar in Ireland was Pure in Heart. If you look at their website, you can read: “Our message focuses on self-respect and respect for others.  We help people to understand just how beautiful unique they are and challenge them to see that there is another way to find the love they are looking for. Chastity helps people to retain their dignity as human persons never to be used for the sake of anothers pleasure.  The living of chastity helps love to develop to its fullness.”

St. Maria Goretti knew the importance of chastity for union with God and its necessity for the wholesomeness of both personal and social life. The Pope continues saying: “In her silent heroism, Maria Goretti is a teacher of truth, consistency, and true love. She teaches us to rediscover in Christ the value of the truth which frees the human being from the slavery to material realities, to cultivate a taste for authentic beauty and the good which overcomes evil.”
Dostoevsky once said “Beauty will save the world”. The beauty of pure love will always overcome evil. We saw it in the disfigured face of Jesus on the Cross, we see in the martyrdom of a young girl who refused to give what should be given in loving marriage to a lust filled young man. We see it every day in our brothers and sisters who walk the journey with us and who mirror Christ to us. Let us ask St. Maria Goretti to intercede for us as we seek to live a pure life, respect of our dignity and the dignity of those around us.