March is here! I love March for several reasons. First of all, it means we are closer to Spring! The 65 degree day we had last weekend was glorious! I was able to get outside and get some sunshine, fresh air, and exercise, all of which were much needed. Of course the flurries have returned, but such is “Sprinter” in Buffalo! March is also the month we observe the feast of Saint Patrick, and with Irish roots, it is always a fun month of celebrating. March also marks the start of Lent, with Ash Wednesday on March 2. Lent is a beautiful time of prayer, fasting, and giving to others, a time to dive deeper into our relationship with the Lord. Part of that deep dive for me is spending this year getting to know the Saints. I spent the month of February getting to know Saint Maria Goretti, and I’m excited to share her life and example with you today.
Maria Goretti is the youngest Saint ever canonized by the Catholic Church. She was only eleven years old when she died on July 6, 1902. Maria’s family lived in severe poverty in Italy. Her father died when she was nine, and little Maria helped her mother raise her five siblings. In addition to caring for her family, Maria also performed chores for her neighbors such as cooking and cleaning.
One of Maria’s neighbors was Alessandro Serenelli. Alessandro was older than Maria and developed an attraction to her. The twenty year old was overcome with lust for her and eventually began demanding and attempting to take her virginity. Maria refused him every time, citing the sin that it would be. She greatly valued her purity and their souls. She was concerned for Alessandro’s soul, reminding him that he would surely go straight to hell if he did such a horrible thing to her. But Alessandro did not listen to her. Eventually, after Maria fought off another attempt to steal her virginity, Alessandro stabbed Maria fourteen times. Maria died the next day. Although she lay dying in the hospital, Maria’s faith never waivered. She forgave Alessandro on her death bed, her last words being, “I forgive Alessandro, and I want him with me in heaven forever.”
Alessandro was imprisoned for his crime. After years of imprisonment, he had a vision of Maria. She appeared to him and handed him fourteen white lilies, one for each of the stab wounds he inflicted upon her. Maria was offering him forgiveness. Alessandro was so moved by the vision and Maria’s forgiveness that he experienced a dramatic conversion, ultimately becoming a Franciscan lay brother. Once released from prison, Alessandro sought out Maria’s mother and asked for her forgiveness for what he had done to her daughter.
Maria was declared a Saint on June 24, 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Her canonization drew the largest crowd in history up until that time, over half a million people. Alessandro was present at her canonization. After his death in 1970, a letter was found among Alessandro’s personal things. It was an open letter to the world that Alessandro had written about his life and his sin. You can read the letter here.
Today Saint Maria Goretti is the patroness of purity, young women, and victims of assault. Her feast day is July 6. Anyone who has suffered abuse or assault should consider learning more about this “Little Saint of Great Mercy,” and ask her help in healing and forgiving.
A Prayer to Saint Maria Goretti
Oh Saint Maria Goretti who, strengthened by God’s Grace, did not hesitate even at the age of eleven to shed your blood and sacrifice life itself to defend your virginal purity, look graciously on the unhappy human race which has strayed far from the path of eternal salvation.
Teach us all, and especially youth, with what courage and promptitude we should flee for the love of Jesus anything that could offend Him or stain our souls with sin.
Obtain for us from our Lord victory in temptation, comfort in the sorrows of life, and the grace which we earnestly beg of thee (pause, insert special intention here), and may we one day enjoy with thee the imperishable glory of Heaven. Amen.
Pray an Our Father …
Pray a Hail Mary …
Pray a Glory be …
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!