Her story inspires such emotions in us, such a desire to bring ourselves to Jesus and His Mother Mary as pure buds, ready to flower into whatever vocation They desire for us, whether it be religious, lay people or as in the case of little Maria, Saints who gave their lives as martyrs rather than stain their immortal souls by committing a sin. And in that way, Saints like Maria Goretti become role models for young people in these modern times. We know the story of Maria Goretti with surface knowledge.
She is famous for what she obviously did, die rather than allow her relationship with Jesus to be compromised by giving into a sexual temptation. This is the obvious cause for her Sainthood, much as St. Maxmilian Kolbe's obvious reasoning for Sainthood was taking the place of a fellow prisoner in the death cells of Auschwitz during the Second World War. But these are only the apparent.
There is so much more to each life which calls for us to venerate them as special servants of God, true role models. We have written about St. Maxmilian Kolbe in two different books, trying to tell the story of this powerful man in the Church.
There were two other virtues of St. Maria Goretti which are so subtle, they get lost in the shadow of giving her life. One of them was selflessness. She cared more about her eternal soul than her bodily safety. And possibly even more than that, she cared about the soul of her attacker more than her own life.
As we get into the woeful story of her life and death, we can't help but realize that part of the reason for her determination not to give into Alessandro Serenelli was for his salvation.
Maria Goretti was a good little girl, a pure little girl. At eleven years old, she had such a love relationship with Jesus that she would rather die than allow her chastity to be compromised, rather die than take a chance on breaking relationship with Jesus. But how can that be? How could she possibly understand what path her Yes to Jesus would take her down? We're not talking about St. Agnes or St. Cecilia or Saints of the early Church who gave up their lives for Jesus.
This was the Twentieth Century. She was a product of that century. Where have we gone, how low have we become, that our young people can't possibly understand how a girl from their own century could sacrifice her life for her morals? Girls as young as eleven, are "sexually active," have become pregnant, have had abortions often with help of their own mothers, in many instances, and those who did not die on the abortionist's table, have died of AIDS in many instances.
We're at a time in our society when there are virtually no morals being taught or practiced either in the classrooms of our schools, in the pulpits of our churches, or in the homes by the parents of these children.
Our schools are giving children condoms and parents are putting girls on the birth control pill. We're being taught safe sex in an effort to avoid the spread of dangerous diseases and to keep the world population down.
Last on the list of priorities is the prevention of the spread of moral decay of a civilization, which in its final analysis will be much more deadly than any physical disease our children may contract. Maria Goretti is definitely a contradiction in terms. She is surely a paradox. She could not possibly exist in the last decade of the Twentieth Century, the end of the second millennium, and yet she is a product of our century.
Either she is completely out of sync, or we are condemned for the apathy we portray to our children by our behavior. Either Maria Goretti is wrong or we're wrong. Is it possible that we could be wrong?
But we're getting way ahead of ourselves. To begin at the beginning of this short, but brilliant life in the Lord, we have to go to the far north and east of Italy, to the Marches, the harsh area around Ancona and the Adriatic Sea. For those of us who visit the Holy House of Loreto, it seems a most pleasant place to be.
The month we usually choose, July, is not yet hot. The warm breezes off the Adriatic make it a most desirable time to visit our Lady of the Holy House there. But that's July in Loreto. Not too far away in Corinaldo, where our little Saint was born, things are not quite the same.
The winters are brutal. The howling winds coming off the Adriatic Sea pound against the rock-hard land, making it next to impossible to do any work on the farms. If this is not enough, the Spring and Fall bring hard rain and flooding, ruining any small amount of crops which could be planted. No matter how hard the farmers tried, this was not a good place to make a living. For the parents of Maria Goretti, Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini, it was home. They had lived here all their lives, as had their parents before them and their parents before them. But that didn't make their lives any more bearable. It was just consistent.
And this is where our little Saint was born on October 16, 1890. She was the second living child of the Goretti family, the first boy having died as an infant. She had an older brother, Angelo, and would have more brothers and sisters as time went on. When we wrote of the Little Flower of Lisieux, St. Thérèse, we said Saints beget Saints. Maria's mother in particular, Assunta, was a saintly woman. She had no formal education, but she was taught powerfully by her Church and given, we believe, infused knowledge by the Holy Spirit.
This love for God and her Church was passed on to her children, especially little Maria. She was baptized the day after her birth. Assunta did not want to have her child carry the stain of Original Sin any longer than necessary. Under the tutelage of Assunta and Luigi, Maria grew up a very selfless, giving girl. She cared more about pleasing others than for her own comfort. Little things had great meaning to Maria.
Perhaps because the family had always been and would always be financially very poor, she had no great need for possessions. They were not available to the family; Maria didn't think about them. Instead, she tried to do whatever she could to make her family's life more pleasant. She was a very normal girl, enjoying games and running through the fields. But her mother noted a strong spirituality in her from an early age. It never left her; it just became more intense. Little Maria and her family lived a happy life in Corinaldo, but they were always on the edge. The land was too small and difficult to farm. Luigi did the best he could, but it was not good enough. He insisted that he could not take care of his family in the proper manner under these conditions. He argued they would have a better chance in some far-off land, perhaps the big city, Rome. The grass was always greener somewhere else. Besides, anything was better than they had.
Assunta, on the other hand, was determined to not leave the place of her birth and that of her children, especially for a decadent place like Rome. But Luigi was resolved to give his family a better life. To make his case stronger, their very close friends and neighbors, Domenico and his sister Teresa Cimarelli, were planning to leave also. This gave Luigi courage to convince Assunta that they and their children should leave Corinaldo and head towards Rome.
The lure of the big city always attracted the people from the farms. But it had not helped those who left in most instances. Although there was work, very often there was no life. The wages were just above slave labor; the living conditions were impossible; the whole family had to work in different factories. The work of St. Don Bosco in the slums of Torino in the last fifty years of the Nineteenth Century had been proof positive that there were no streets lined with gold in the big cities, only heartbreak and very often the breakup of families.
Reference "Holy Innocence"
By: Bob and Penny Lord
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors and television hosts on EWTN, Global Catholic television. They are prolific writers about the Catholic faith, especially the Saints. Their website is www.bobandpennylord.com