“When Maria Goretti was canonized a saint in 1947, there was an unlikely participant among the quarter million worshippers in Saint Peter’s Square. Alessandro Serenelli, the man who had killed the young Maria after she resisted his attempts to rape her, knelt in prayer.
Maria was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer. She was sitting on the steps of her cottage when Alessandro, an eighteen year-old neighbor, attacked her. She died in a hospital about twenty-four hours after the attack. Alessandro was convicted of the murder and spent twenty-seven years in prison. Though unrepentant at first, he eventually regretted his violent act, reportedly after having a dream of Maria offering him flowers. When he was released from prison he visited Maria’s mother and begged forgiveness. He was in the large congregation of people who participated in the liturgy of canonization celebrated by Pope Pius XII.
A murderer celebrating the canonization of the young girl he had killed, along with her family and thousands of others: an unlikely story of reconciliation! In the midst of our own struggles with conflict and division in our lives, stories like this remind us that God’s reconciling grace is indeed very real and very powerful. They inspire us to keep hope alive.” -Fr Robin Ryan, CP (2011) Unlikely reconciliation
The stories we hear of the saints are for many of us just that, stories – stories of unusual acts accomplished by extraordinary people. People who live their lives loving others unconditionally and forgiving all kinds of hurts done to them are seen as one of a kind, rare and as doing things ordinary human beings would not do. They are seen as the exception rather than the norm. As a result of this reasoning people tend to think, “If I fail to forgive, if I fail to seek reconciliation, that’s okay because I’m only being human.” However, this thinking is fundamentally flawed and if not discerned as such, we can innocently find ourselves on the road to perdition.
The saints were not extraordinary people but rather ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things because of the graces given them by God. These graces were not necessarily given because the saints were deserving of them; but they were definitely received because the saints desired them, were consistent in their petitions to God for them and accepted them with humility.
In focusing on St Maria Goretti, we note her ability to forgive. How does a twelve-year old girl gain the strength and wisdom to forgive such a heinous act committed against her? Her desire to love and serve God outweighed her desire to live. How do we attain this state? It is by following the example of Christ who was fully God and fully man.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus proclaimed, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus petitioned His Father to remove the cup He was to drink, but ended His prayer, “not my will but yours be done.” This is a powerful message for us. The One who is equal with God submits completely to God’s Will. Shouldn’t we, mere humans whose lives are held in existence by God’s love follow and submit to Jesus’ example?
Love of God and by extension, love of neighbour, does not make us fanatic or self-righteous but submissive and open to God’s promptings which always leads us to salvation. Admittedly, when the chips are down it may be difficult to stay committed to our prayer routine. We may be tempted to turn away from God when God doesn’t seem to be working to bring a speedy end to our trials, but regardless of whether we feel angry or disappointed, we must always go to God.
May the story of St Maria Goretti remind us that even in the darkest hour God’s love is real and God has the power to save…even in death. God himself proved that when God conquered death on the Cross. May it also remind us that when it seems God has not responded to our cries that God has already answered our prayer and will redeem us according to God’s perfect plan.
As catechists and teachers we must pray for openness to God’s Spirit working in our lives.
O Holy Spirit, soul of my soul, I adore you.
Enlighten, guide, strengthen, and console me.
Tell me what I ought to do and command me to do it.
I promise to be submissive in everything that You ask of me,
and to accept all that You permit to happen to me.
Only show me what is Your will, and give me the grace to do it.
– Eastlyn Rawlinson, Archdiocesan Catechetical Office