YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE MEMORIAL OF SAINT MARIA GORETTI
HOMILY THEME: ST. MARIA GORETTI: EPITOME OF MERCY.
BY: Fr. Evaristus Abu
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Matthew 9:13.
The life of Saint Maria Goretti who we celebrate today practically explains our Gospel passage. According to Wikipedia, Maria Teresa Goretti was born on October 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, in the Kingdom of Italy, to Luigi Goretti and Assunta née Carlini, the third of seven children: Antonio (who died in infancy), Angelo, Maria, Mariano (Marino), Alessandro (Sandrino), Ersilia, and Teresa.
By the time Maria was five, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers. In 1896, they moved to Colle Gianturco, about fifty miles outside Rome; and then in 1899 to Le Ferriere, near modern Latina and Nettuno in Lazio, where they lived in a building, “La Cascina Antica,” they shared with another family which included Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro.
Soon, her father became very sick with malaria, and died when she was just nine. While her mother and siblings worked in the fields, she would cook, sew, watch Teresa, and keep the house clean. It was a hard life, but they were very close.
On July 5, 1902, eleven-year-old Maria was sitting on the outside steps of her home, sewing one of Alessandro’s shirts and watching Teresa, while Alessandro was threshing beans in the barnyard. Knowing she would be alone, he returned to the house and threatened to stab her with an awl if she did not do what he said; he was intending to rape her.
She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning him that he would go to Hell. She fought desperately and kept screaming, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” He first choked her, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. She tried to reach the door, but he stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away.
The wounds penetrated her throat, with lesions of the pericardium, heart, lungs, and diaphragm. Surgeons at Orsenigo were surprised that she was still alive. In a dying deposition, in the presence of the Chief of Police, she told her mother of Serenelli's sexual harassment, and two previous attempts made to rape her. She was afraid to reveal this earlier since she was threatened with death.
She underwent surgery without anesthesia, but her injuries were beyond the doctors’ help. Halfway through the surgery, she woke up. The pharmacist said to her, “Maria, think of me in Paradise.” She looked at him and said, “Well, who knows, which of us is going to be there first?” “You, Maria,” he replied. “Then I will gladly think of you,” she said. She also expressed concern for her mother! s welfare. The following day, 24 hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for Alessandro and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, she died of her injuries.
While in prison, Alessandro stated that he did not complete the assault and Maria died a virgin. Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after the attack: the police taking him to prison overtook the ambulance carrying Maria to the hospital… He insisted he had attempted to rape her several times and decided to kill her because of her refusal and desperate crying. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. He wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, “in which Maria gave him lilies, which burned immediately in his hands.”
After his release, Alessandro visited Assunta and begged her forgiveness. She forgave him, saying that if Maria had forgiven him on her death bed then she could not do less, and they attended Mass together the next day, receiving Holy Communion side by side. He reportedly prayed to her every day and referred to her as “my little saint.” He attended her canonization in 1950. Alessandro later became a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and gardener until he died peacefully in 1970 at age 87.
What is my attitude to those who offend me? The same as St. Maria Goretti who forgave her murderer and desired to see him in heaven? Or something different? Jesus said: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Forgive someone today and let your forgiveness become a special offering to God.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, purify my heart, my mind and soul. Amen.
*Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Friday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Amos 8:4-12, Psalm 119, Matthew 9:9-13).