Little Girls Can Surprise You

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Saints have a way, it seems, of lending themselves to the times and cultures which need them most. That is why some spend centuries in anonymity before they are venerated… and why others spend scarcely a decade.

St. Maria Teresa Goretti, the young girl canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1950, was called the “St. Agnes of the 20th century.” Like St. Agnes, Maria Goretti died at the commencement of a new century, a martyr for purity and a torchbearer for virtue in a culture of sexual permissiveness. And like St. Agnes, Maria Goretti is needed by the Church today, for her example and intercession.

We need her because in our own day, young girls especially are fed lies about their dignity. They may not be spared the contraceptive and abortive pressures of being unwanted, unplanned, or inconvenient even from their earliest moments of life. Raised in a culture that often derides purity and the beauty of chastity, they are told that their value comes from appearance, appeal, and worldly prowess. Studies do not weary of showing how young girls today struggle with self-image, suffer from eating disorders, and practice unchastity more frequently than virtue. Add to this picture the disastrous proliferation of pornography, the rising availability of contraceptives to minors, and the continued practice of 3,000 abortions per day even after the horrors of the Gosnell trial, and it is easy to see that we are wading in a tide of impurity with disastrous consequences.

In the face of such a storm, one needs the courage of a martyr. One needs the courage of Maria Goretti.

Maria’s father died of malaria when she was nine, and in order for the family to survive, her mother took his place working out in the fields. Young Maria kept the house while she was away, and the Gorettis barely made enough to feed themselves.

On July 5, 1902, the young Alessandro Seranelli, son of the farmer with whom the Gorettis worked, approached Maria, forced her into a bedroom, and threatened her life for a sexual favor. Though he had made such advances before, he had never threatened her severely with a weapon; but rather than concede to his threats, Maria insisted: “No, it is a sin! God does not want it!”

She was 11 years old. Little girls can surprise you.

Twenty hours later, Maria died in the hospital from fourteen stab wounds, with words of utter forgiveness on her lips: “Yes, for the love of Jesus I forgive him… and I want him to be with me in Paradise!” After nearly thirty years in prison, a profound conversion, and reconciliation with her mother, Alessandro would be present for Maria’s canonization Mass in 1950. In the homily, he heard:

Above the unhealthy marshes and filth of the world, stretches an immense heaven of beauty. It is this heaven which fascinated little Maria; the heaven to which she longed to ascend by the only road that leads there, which is, religion, the love of Christ, and the heroic observance of his Commandments. (Pope Pius XII)

St. Maria Goretti’s sacrificial love for her Christ still sings today, joyful with forgiveness and hope. In her witness we catch a glimpse of the passion and purity of Jesus, who also forgave and stood firm in love for the Father and all mankind – even unto death.

The Saints of our age will also be characterized by fortitude, a gift of the Holy Spirit we all received at Baptism. When mockery and derision are the weapons of evil, the courage of a martyr is needed. We must face many possible “deaths”: death to our own pride and need for affirmation, death to our own ego or ideas, even death to our reputation as a “nice” person, if “nice” means not standing publicly for Christ and his Church.

In this Year of Faith, let us pray for the faith and valor of a child – a child like Maria Goretti – so that we might stare temptation in the face and choose death over the loss of our souls!

Sweet and innocent Saint Maria Goretti, pray urgently for us!

Hayley Seng

About Hayley Seng

Hayley Seng recently graduated from Franciscan University at Steubenville and married her husband, Aaron. They are thrilled to be expecting their first child (of hopefully many!) and are so very grateful for the beautiful Faith we share as Catholics.