He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken. On that day it will be said: “Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
St. Maria Goretti died a martyr’s death as an eleven-year-old in July, 1902. Her family was very poor but devout and close. When Maria was six, her father moved the family from the east side of Italy to the west in an attempt to find a better life. Sadly, just three years later, when Maria was nine, her father contracted malaria from a mosquito bite and died. Her mother was forced to move in with another family as she and Maria’s brothers and sisters, except for the baby, worked in the fields. Maria cleaned the house, cared for the clothes, cooked the meals and watched over her baby sister each day. She also had to cook and clean for the neighbors with whom they shared living quarters. The neighbors, a man and his 20-year-old son Alessandro, helped in the fields.
Alessandro began saying impure things to Maria, and she would try to keep away from him. When he started to make sexual advances and she told him it was wrong and would be a sin, he threatened to kill her. Still, she held onto her virginity. One day, when Alessandro knew the family would be in the fields where he should also have been working, he saw Maria sitting on the front steps doing some sewing. He tried to rape her and said he would stab her with his awl if she refused. Still, she was able to stop him from doing so at the cost of her life. She screamed, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” Alessandro stabbed her fourteen times. Maria’s baby sister, awakened with the commotion, began to cry, and her mother came to see what was wrong. She found Maria on the floor bleeding. The family rushed her to the hospital, but the surgeon could not do enough to keep her alive. He asked Maria to remember him when she got to heaven, and she said she would. Even more astounding, the next day as she lay dying from her wounds, Maria said, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli.” She also expressed the desire that he, too, should go to heaven. Alessandro, unrepentant at the time, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The judge took into consideration that his father was an alcoholic and that mental illness plagued his family.
During his prison sentence, Alessandro saw Maria in a dream. They were in a garden and she handed him some lilies which immediately burned in his hands. Even more, though, she also expressed forgiveness and love. This filled Alessandro with sorrow for his crime, and his life changed forever. He became a holy man, even becoming a lay brother and serving his Franciscan brothers until his death at age 81.
While Maria has worked countless miracles, she stands out as one who knew the Lord would wipe away her tears. That knowledge gave her the power to forgive her attacker, to love him into holiness of life. Both Alessandro and her mother were present when Maria was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950. Today she continues her work of loving forgiveness to those who ask for her intercession.
St. Maria Goretti is today’s Ornament of Grace.
OBSERVING THE BEAUTIFUL ORNAMENTS
- Can you forgive someone who caused you physical, emotional, or spiritual pain? How do you show forgiveness?
- Can you trust the Lord to wipe away your tears when you are suffering?