Maria Goretti is a very misunderstood saint. Many people think that she represents an impossible ideal because she’s too “perfect.” They forget to look at how much Maria and her family suffered. When you have a hard life, it’s easy to hide behind that and blame the world. The Goretti family, however, has a story that stands in contrast to the victim mentality. In fact, each aspect of what happened to Maria Goretti and her family follows the Beatitudes.
Let’s travel back in time to the late 1800s. Maria Goretti’s father was a farmer, but he didn’t own any land, so he hired himself out to a wealthy landowner. Unfortunately, Maria Goretti’s father died of malaria two years after he started working on the farm, leaving behind his wife and six children, with Maria being the eldest. Since her mother took over the farm work, it was up to Maria, who was no more than a child at the time, to do the housework and take care of her siblings. So already, Maria Goretti and her family were living out the Beatitude of being poor in spirit.
Maria Goretti was a girl who was pure in heart. It’s a hard concept to put your head around because we tend to see purity as something fragile or impossible to maintain. According to Bishop Robert Barron, however, being pure of heart means having a heart that desires only to please God. That desire was clearly evident by how hard Maria worked to adjust to her new life as surrogate mother and housekeeper. However, she also kept her guard up, especially around her neighbor, 19-year-old Alessandro Serenelli.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: An older guy acts all nice to your family in the hopes of getting something from you. He harasses you when nobody’s around and there’s nothing you can do to get him to stop. Then when you don’t give that guy what he wants, he beats the living crap out of you. Sisters in Christ, Maria Goretti suffered all of that and then some. Alessandro attacked Maria with a sharp weapon and left her alone and unconscious. When Maria regained consciousness and tried to escape, Alessandro was quick to return to finish the job once and for all. Thankfully, those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness were satisfied when Alessandro was sentenced to prison for killing Maria.
Now you think that would be the end of the story. In fact, it’s only the beginning. Six years into his prison sentence, Alessandro had a vision where he saw Maria Goretti picking 14 lillies in a garden. Then she gave those lilies to him one by one. What he didn’t realize until that moment was that when Maria Goretti died, her last words were “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli and I want him with me in Heaven forever.” In that act of forgiveness and in that vision, Maria Goretti made peace with her killer.
So what happened after that? For starters, Alessandro began to change his life for the better. When he was released from his thirty-year prison sentence, he made amends with Maria’s family. Then he joined an order of Capuchin friars and remained there for the rest of his days.
In spite of the fact that Maria’s brothers and sisters were taken away from their mother after the death of their sister, the Goretti family still lives on. Maria’s brothers emigrated to America and had families that continue on to this day. So even though the family started out with humble origins, they eventually inherited a new home in a whole new country.
One of the descendants of Maria’s brothers was at the Mass I attended the night I venerated Maria’s relics. It was my first time really meeting Maria Goretti. During the homily, the priest who celebrated the Mass asked everyone to pray a litany asking St. Maria Goretti to help them forgive the people who’ve hurt them and to most of all forgive yourself. I prayed this litany during the Offertory hymn. It was a powerful experience for me because I have no idea if the people who’ve hurt me were even sorry for what they did. And yet through forgiving them, I chose to let my anger go.
A couple of weeks after I venerated Maria’s relics, I went out with my friends. Towards the end of my night out, I passed by somebody who looked like a person who triggered my first anxiety attack in college. As I went home later on, I thought to myself “How would I feel if it actually was that person?” The answer was “Nothing.” Never have I ever thought that feeling nothing towards a person would ever be a good thing, but in this scenario, it’s a major milestone. This peace that I feel, the fact that I could look the person who hurt in the eye and feel absolutely nothing at all is better than revenge. It’s a release. It’s a new kind of strength. It’s a very beautiful thing. I hope that through the intercession of Maria Goretti that you find the strength to forgive whatever has been hurting you, especially if you need to forgive yourself.
Reflect: Which Beatitude is the hardest one for you? Why?
Reflect:Who or what situation do you find hard to forgive? Why haven’t you let go of it yet?
Act: Spend some time in Adoration or at least one hour in prayer. Pray a litany of forgiveness, asking Maria Goretti to help you let go of whatever anger you have towards the people and situations that have hurt you. End the litany by forgiving yourself.