Tuesday, July 07, 2015

St Maria Goretti: Simcha Fisher has focused on the Virgin Martyr's heroic charity for her attacker ... Yet, Maria was beatified and canonized as a Martyr for Purity.

"The value of Christian virtue is so great, so overwhelming, so imperative, 
that it is worth more than life. Purity is not just a separate part of our being. 
It belongs to our existence as a whole, it is essential for our life. 
Purity brings us in harmony of body and soul." 

"No, it is a sin. God does not want it!" St. Maria Goretti

From the beatification homily of Pope Pius XII:
"Maria Goretti resembled St. Agnes in her characteristic virtue of Fortitude. This virtue of Fortitude is at the same time the safeguard as well as the fruit of virginity. Our new beata was strong and wise and fully aware of her dignity. That is why she professed death before sin. She was not twelve years of age when she shed her blood as a martyr, nevertheless what foresight, what energy she showed when aware of danger! She was on the watch day and night to defend her chastity, making use of all the means at her disposal, persevering in prayer and entrusting the lily of her purity to the special protection of Mary, the Virgin of virgins. Let us admire the fortitude of the pure of heart. It is a mysterious strength far above the limits of human nature and even above ordinary Christian virtue." - Beatification Homily Pius XII
So you see, Maria's place in the company of martyrs in heaven, recognized in and through the decrees of beatification and canonization, is on account of heroic virtue, in particular the virtue of Fortitude which is the safeguard of virginity, as Pius XII indicated.  
Fortitude is the moral virtue which strengthens the soul in the pursuit of the difficult good so that it does not allow itself to be shaken by the greatest obstacles. It should dominate the fear of danger, fatigue, criticism, all that would paralyze our efforts toward the good. It prevents man from capitulating in a cowardly manner when he should fight; it also moderates audacity and untimely exaltation which would drive him to temerity.
The heroic degree of the virtue of fortitude appears especially in martyrdom, undergone to give testimony to a truth of faith or to the grandeur of a Christian virtue. Outside of martyrdom, the virtue of fortitude, the gift of fortitude, patience, and magnanimity intervene each time that something heroic is to be accomplished or a great trial to be borne. - Garrigou-Lagrange
Fortitude, aka, courage.

At the age of twelve, St. Maria was not simply a pious young girl, she was actually a very virtuous and mature - as in responsible - young woman. She helped her mother raise, nurture and educate her siblings while attending to simple household duties. Attach to these attributes a deep devotion to our Lord and the Blessed Virgin, and we come to understand the authenticity of her piety and heroic virtue, which was proved by her martyrdom. While it is true Maria Goretti resisted her attacker to preserve her own chastity - not for the sake of selfish self interest or vanity, to be sure.  Her love of God necessarily included love of virtue, hence the love of chastity and virginity, of which fortitude is the fruit.

Attached to the virtue of fortitude is the virtue of magnanimity, as Garrigou-Lagrange says: "To the virtue of fortitude is also linked that of magnanimity, which leads to the lofty practice of all the virtues."   It also accounts for the martyr's ability to forgive the attacker.  What Fisher points out in her essay is Maria Goretti's concern for her attacker to avoid mortal sin, suggesting this is the reason for her canonization - or at least, this is the aspect we ought to focus upon.  While it is true that St. Maria's resistance to her attacker included her concern to prevent him from committing mortal sin, Alessandro did in the end commit the mortal sin of murder.  After her death, the Saint herself saw to his conversion after he had been convicted for his crime and was in prison serving his sentence.

Revisionist hagiography

These days everyone seems to be rewriting the lives of the saints to suit whatever their own personal interest story happens to be.  Christians oftentimes seem to not understand sanctity now what it consists of.  The don't understand the virtues nor do they comprehend men and women are canonized for their heroic virtue - even the martyrs.  Loving the virtues is God-like - it's not an ideology or cult practice.  Lacking virtue is not virtuous - they confuse virtue with merit.  We need grace and we need mercy - we need the merits of the Blood of Jesus Christ to infuse the virtues within us.  Loving the virtues is the fruit of genuine charity - love of God and our neighbor.  The soul loves what God loves, hence the love of chastity is indeed part of devotion.
The motive that should inspire chastity is the love of God. Chastity of heart and body is in reality the renunciation of every illicit affection out of love of God. It prevents the life of the heart from descending, so that it may rise toward God like a living flame ever more pure and ardent. Chastity of the body is like bark around chastity of the heart, which is the more precious. - Garrigou-Lagrange
We can't invent a new spirituality, as it were, to accommodate our shortcomings or the moral failures of our age.  Our remedy for that is recourse to prayer, the sacraments, and devotion to the mercy of God.

In conclusion, Simcha Fisher is a bit confused, Maria Goretti really did die for her virginity - just as St. Agnes and the first virgin-martyrs of Rome had.  That's the faith of the Church folks.  Don't get your religious education from bloggers and journalists.

Serenelli, Maria's murderer knew exactly why the saint died.
A few days before his death at the age of 88, Alessandro Serenelli who at the age of 18 had tried to rape Maria Goretti, and who later acknowledged that his repentance was due to her heavenly intercession, was asked if he had any advice to give to the youth of his day (this was the year 1970). He wrote the following words which have not lost their immediacy:
"I sincerely ask pardon of God and of the entire world for the crime which I committed against the martyr, Maria Goretti, and against purity. With all my heart I plead with you to avoid all immoral literature and shows, and whatever else will lead you into sins of impurity."
Alessandro would often repeat besides the picture of his victim: "I killed a saint, and now after 69 years of penance and prayer, by God's mercy I am going to join her in Heaven." - Source
So did John Paul II.
"She did not flee from the voice of the Holy Spirit, from the voice of her conscience. She rather chose death. Through the gift of fortitude the Holy Spirit helped her to 'judge"- and to choose with her young spirit. She chose death when there was no other way to defend her virginal purity. Maria Goretti's blood, shed in a sacrifice of total fidelity to God, reminds us that we are also called to offer ourselves to the Father. We are called to fulfill the divine will in order to be found holy and pleasing in His sight. Our call to holiness, which is the vocation of every baptized person, is encouraged by the example of this young martyr. 
Look at her especially, adolescents and young people. Like her, be capable of defending your purity of heart and body; be committed to the struggle against evil and sin, nourishing your communion with the Lord through prayer, the daily practice of mortification, and scrupulously observing the commandments. Do not be afraid to take a counter-cultural stance, to reject the world's idols when it is a question of courageously witnessing by your lives that you belong to a chaste and poor Christ. Always esteem and love purity and virginity. - (L'Osservatore Romano- English ed., 10/7/91)

St. John Paul counselled to always love and esteem purity and virginity. Love of God generates love of virtue, and love of neighbor. Never denigrate that dimension of holiness, never claim that there is something wrong with one's devotion, whose love is strong as death - as the Song of Song's notes. Never cheapen the grace of God suggesting misinterpretations of why she died such as the claim: "In Maria Goretti’s case, she was focused on her rapist — and it was her love for him, and not her blindingly pure devotion to chastity that converted him ..." Where did Fisher learn that? Maria was focused upon God, she struggled against her would be rapist and indeed cried out to her attacker: "No! It's a sin! God does not want it!"

Knock off the revisionism people.  Goretti died for her virginity - I knew that as a kid in Catholic school.  Sanctity of life is not bathwater - the virtues are indispensable for holiness.

We need humility to understand the greatness of the saints and martyrs.

For those of us who have not 'resisted sin to the point of shedding blood' remember that the Precious Blood of Jesus brings forth virgins... even after physical virginity is lost. I think the example and intercession of Maria Goretti is especially important for young men and women who have lost their virginity, especially victims of rape - whose physical virginity was violated against their will, as well as the offenders-perpetrators of the crime.

Sometimes the example of the saints can be intimidating, and often times well intentioned religious people use the saints to castigate or shame the worldly - and yet it is just the opposite with God. He makes saints to attract us to virtue, to holiness, to Himself. The example of the saints should never be used to denigrate, intimidate, condemn or repel a soul attracted to virtue. St. Maria Goretti proves this through her apparition (intervention) to her murderer, convincing him of God's merciful love. I think it is through their example that many of the saints condemned a sinful world, yet charity remains the compelling force which moves them to heroic love for the sinner.


  1. Patheos bloggers would be the last place I would access for Catholic teaching.

    1. Adrienne, they at least try to think with the Mind of the Church and aren't Francis hating, possibly Latin Mass attending radicals who rarely, spout any good spiritual fruit. They aren't perfect but they are many steps above the hypocrites parading the dark corners of the Internet.

    2. Mark Shea is a closet trad - what?


    3. Julian, the exact point of all of those quotations are that, whatever their intent, they clearly WEREN'T thinking with the mind of the Church.

      And that Patheos is better than the dark corners of the internet might have been the clearest case of the soft bigotry of low expectations I've ever seen. Yes, they are. And yes, that's still not saying much.

  2. Good points, Terry, I was wondering myself.

    Still, what makes me so confused about the story is that it seems to be saying that it is better to die than be raped, or indeed to imply that one loses the virtue of virginity or chastity through rape.

    While it might be a supererogation for a woman or a man to tell a would-be rapist "you'd have to kill me first", how is it then that the corrollary of allowing it to happen after a reasonable struggle in order to save your life (especially if you have a family) not indicative of lack of virtue or trust in God?

    I guess, what I mean is that what makes the story so discomforting to people is what it seems to say about women who don't resist rape unto death. This is why I get leery about the story.

    1. I mean, should a father/mother tell their daughter "God would rather see you dead than raped"? Or that, if someone holds a gun to your head and forces himself on you, it's better to resist let him shoot than to be raped?

      How do these stories avoid the conclusion that someone who is raped is "damaged goods"?

    2. I thought of you when I wrote this. I also thought I presented a fair example at the end of the post as to why Maria's example is just fine for people who maybe weren't able to avoid rape or incest. Maybe I was too subtle. That said - the Fisher article has attitude - but the attitude ends up twisting the facts to pacify modern squeamishness.

      Another friend of mine, Dawn Eden addresses these points in her book, My Peace I Give You.

      The Goretti martyrdom is so much deeper than simply preserving chastity - and probably that's what Simcha was trying to say, but missed. Here's how Dawn Eden sees it:

      "the Church “has always taught that virginity resides in the will to remain a virgin.”

      “According to St. Augustine's City of God and St. Thomas Aquinas's 'Summa Theologiae' – and this remains official doctrine today – a virgin,” Eden explained, “who was raped is still a virgin in the eyes of the Church. He or she is not a 'secondary virgin,' but a true virgin.”

      In the case of St. Maria Goretti, Eden clarifies in her book, “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (Ave Maria Press/$16.95),” that Goretti's sainthood comes not from the fact that she “wasn't violated,” but “because she lived a holy life and was always making of herself, body and soul, a gift to God.”

      “Because of her recognition that her body was a temple of the Holy Spirit,” Eden said, “she resisted her attacker. But her sanctity came from her will to resist." - CNA

      I hope that helps.

      There are a few other 'girl' saints/martyrs from the 20th century who fought off attackers in the same way as Maria. There are most likely martyrs who weren't successful - yet, as Dawn notes, they remain virgins despite forcible violation.

      The moral theology regarding the fine points of involuntary submission is beyond my expertise. The essential point in the Goretti story is she died rather than cooperate with or submit to the advances of the neighbor boy.

      No matter how we react to these stories, we can't just make things up and reinterpret the facts to suit our sensibilities. Goretti was canonized because she resisted to the death. She forgave her attacker, and later in a dream was instrumental in his conversion - she pleaded with him not to commit this sin and he murdered her - committing an even graver sin. If her intent was simply for her attacker to avoid mortal sin, she could have submitted - according to modern thought - because she wouldn't have wanted him to commit the greater mortal sin of murder. So I hope you see why Fisher's interpretation doesn't really work.

    3. {\rtf1\ansi\ansicpg1252
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      \f0\fs26 \cf2 \cb3 \expnd0\expndtw0\kerning0
      \outl0\strokewidth0 \strokec2 Well, that kind of helps, and I definitley see your issue with Simcha Fisher's article. But I still don't think it's a "modern" idea to say that passive involuntary submission to rape as an alternative to death is blameless - that goes a way back. It's not just if you *try* to fight to the death but can't. People with other obligations, such as mothers, for example, might be required by their state in life to not resist unto death.\
      I guess it's something similar to self-defense in the case of a threat to the body. It is by no means sinful, and may even be meritorious, to fight back against an attacker, even unto death. But yet there are saints who simply allowed their assailants to beat them to a pulp without so much as a harsh word, as supererogatory exercises of charity.\
      So perhaps the ordinary way is resist within reason, but passive submission of the body to preserve life is not to be frowned upon, and might even be required of some people.\
      Still, it's hard to see how to a woman who was raped, the story doesn't indicate "sure, it's nice you didn't submit in your heart, but it would have been better if you died." And in any event, I just think it's weird that we can even speak of culpability at all, no matter how slight, or deficiency in virtue, when it comes to rape.}

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    5. I mean, what would you advise to a young woman who might be raped one day? It's more virtuous to let him kill you that passively sunmit to the indignity of rape?

      I don't think the squeamishness comes from the fact that Maria died for the virtue of chastity out of love of God, but because there seems to be a corollary that indicates that there is some fault in being raped, and especially some fault in those who did not at least try to resist unto death.

    6. I wouldn't advise a young woman or a young man. I don't know what the current catechesis is on the matter. I've had things done to me and I didn't choose death. I doubt many people would.

      The victims of ISIS and other Muslims who subjugate and enslave women and girls are certainly no more at fault than any other woman who is raped.

      I don't know what to say or how to reply to the concerns you raise.

      I often think of what scripture says of the martyrs, "Love for life did not deter them from death."

      I don't see Catholic moral teaching as shaming or incriminating victims of rape or sexual abuse.

      I'm not passing judgement on anyone here - I'm simply making the point that Maria Goretti's martyrdom occurred in defense of her virginity. I'm not telling anyone what to do in such cases, nor do I have the authority to do so.

    7. Terry, I know that you would least of all people pass judgment like that.

      It's my own neuroses that drives these questions. And genuine confusion that gets easily twisted into simplifications that are grotesque and not really the church's teaching.

      I am thankful for your honesty, your friendship, and your prayers.

    8. Back at you Merc. I appreciate your comments and POV - which is obviously shared by many.

      The thing is martyrdom is a special grace, it is the greatest conformity to Christ in his passion and death - and it is efficacious for the many - hence, though all may not be called or able to give such heroic witness - the grace of God is our salvation - the saints intercede day and night for us. The mercy of God is inexhaustible - we do not rely upon our own merits but the Precious Blood of Christ - Courage of martyrs... The blood of the martyr's cries out - for us. This is why devotion to the martyrs exists.

    9. Mercury honey, have you read Dawn's book, that Terry mentioned above? I would highly recommend it. Dawn explains the Church reaching so well. If a virgin is raped, which implies it is against her will, it is not a sin at all for her. She is not damaged goods and is still considered a virgin in spirit. To resist is heroic virtue. Even if Maria was indeed raped in the course of the attack, the fact that she fought back, which made her attacker more violent so that he stabbed her, was heroic. Let us remember that she was forced to live in the same house with that creepy guy so she knew what he was like. Anyway, Dawn explains it better than I can. So does Terry.

    10. A virgin who is raped against her will is eligible for the Order of Virgins, according to then Archbishop Burke when he was episcopal moderator of Consecrated Virgins. Since she was violated against her will, the Church does not hinder her from this canonical change in state of life.

    11. Exactly. That's what Dawn says in her book.

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  4. Since I had a past that required a loooong confession (or two or three) St. Maria Goretti is not for me. She makes me feel dirty and ashamed - even though I know I am redeemed and loved by God as much as she was. I appreciate her virtues and fortitude but honestly - I couldn't even read your post. She makes me squirm that much! Now, I do love St. Therese of Lisiuex - a young virginal and cloistered nun. So what's the difference?? Apparently St. Therese was emotionally promiscuous - now that's ansomething I understand. She gave too much of herself emotionally in order to make connections with people. If I think of Maria Goretti at all (and I try not to) I prefer to think of her as a patron of forgiveness. I know that's missing the point but that's the best I can do with her.

    1. That's cool - some saints simply do not resonate with us.

      I grew up in an Italian neighborhood - I grew up with Maria Goretti and Dominic Savio. None of the boys or girls in my neighborhood imitated either saint. But we had great devotion for them.

    2. I grew up in an Italian neighbourhood too - my most vivid memory are the Last Supper prints in the dining room and ugly lamps and lots of gold trim. I remember Mrs. Brunoro making pizza for lunch - I didn't like it because I was used to Pizza Hut crap. Now I live in a Portuguese neighbourhood - many similarities to the Italians and Our Lady of Fatima reigns supreme!

    3. I love that!

      So anyway - we had a boy like Alessandro and many of the girls happily lost their virginity to him.

      The girls in the Maria Goretti club were in awe of Maria, but ...

      One of the girls who was president turned out kind of slutty after she divorced her husband.

    4. I should be shocked but your comment made me lol!

  5. I have not read Simcha's post, but I just wanted to say that this exposition of the virtues, and the quotes you have found, Terry, are excellent.

    1. Thanks Diane. I was searching for more from Dawn Eden and came across the most astonishing comments by people who seem to have no understanding of martyrdom.

  6. How I always understood it:

    Her sainthood was not because she was raped, that she died defending herself from rape, etc. Her actions that led to her death sprang forth from her views on purity, and her paying the ultimate price for those views is an example of uncommon holiness we should all strive towards, especially in a culture that places such a small emphasis on purity.

  7. The moral theology I've done would probably get Alessandro off the hook, so far be it from me to weigh in.

    As Kevin points out, it is the intention that matters. She died defending her purity and virginity which as John Paul points out is something to be esteemed.

    "Damaged goods" is an awful way to speak about anybody, but rape does do damage which is why it is considered so evil. I think it is one of the canonist saints who holds that the rape of a virgin is a more grave offence.

  8. As I commented elsewhere. Let's say that a 19 year old guy and a 13 year old girl were in a store and the older one attempted to persuade the girl to steal something along with him. If she says, "no, it's a sin" her most likely first interior movement is to reject this evil because it is offensive to God. Now, that could involve fear of hell, or pure love of God - the latter of which is perfect. I can't see how her first or primary interior movement wouldn't first be to reject the evil choice before her, and it's implication on her own soul, versus being motivated first by love of another (to not sin). Before we can even love ourselves or others, we must love God. He is the reason for every choice we make. Even Mother Teresa's work among the poor was motivated first by love of God and this was manifest in her self sacrificing love for others.

    1. When I was about Maria's age thing did happen to me - not sure why it was so frequent - but in two distinct cases I recall resisting with the exact same words: "No - that's a sin." Once I said - in horror - "NO! That's a mortal sin!" My disposition was all about avoiding a sin against chastity and avoiding mortal sin. I had no other motivation. I avoided the company of these people - who probably thought I was a simpleton. Later of course, I cooperated with others.

      Serenelli was after Maria - he made advances in the past. Lust deluded him into thinking he could have her. She knew he had evil intentions - her trying to convince him that it was sinful was sincere - nevertheless, she died fighting off his advances because she esteemed virginity as a greater good.

      There are similar martyr saints and blesseds since Maria's time who died in attempted rapes - or seductions. I'm thinking of Alexandrina - I think it was - who jumped from a second story window to avoid rape and was disabled as a result.

  9. I have not read Simcha Fischer's post on the saint.

    If she was in love with Serenelli and would have married her a few months later, had Italian laws allowed that, as certainly those of the Papal States had done (the limit there/then 14/12, the limits of Italy 18/18, and that already by the time of the events), the remarcable thing is she decided to stay pure.

    If she was not, the remarcable thing is her charity for him.

    Saying she died for purity argues she was in love with him.

  10. Or as "in love with" as a pure saint can be.

  11. Ah, I looked at Simcha now. Her words were she did not die "for her virginity".

    It would be more correct to say she died for keeping it up to marriage.

    1. OMGosh! She was not saving herself for marriage.

    2. Thanks for beating me to that one. Saw it and could not respond at the time. Looks like this is a good subject because errors are many

    3. Was there an indication that she intended perpetual virginity, or that she simply esteemed chastity and knew virginity was something to be given away *only* in a sacramental context. I know she did not have feelings for her attacker, but had she sworn off *ever* getting married?

    4. Mercury - What does her intent to marry or not have to do with anything?

    5. Nothing. I was just wondering.

    6. " She was not saving herself for marriage."

      Any specific indication she wanted to enter a monastery?

      I feel Mercury is more on spot.

    7. "I know she did not have feelings for her attacker"

      If she spent 24 hours while dying worrying on whether he could be saved from damnation, I find that is a point that needs some proving.

      That her feelings can have gone very "cold" since he went about it the wrong way is another matter.

      Her miracles include other things, but the most remarcable and remembered one (yes, more remembered than the healings, even if they saved lives) is the fourteen lilies given Serenelli in that dream, and making him one of the greatest penitents of the XXth C.

      And all through these years of penance, Alessandro kept up a hope of spending eternity close to her.

  12. It's good to dive into and meditate on the saints, and we all can get a bit off track.... But I know what Terry means. There are many who really are intentional revisionists.... the Seer of Our Lady of Good Help(Champion WI -approved apparition) was a third order Franciscan, but some champion her as a patron of "the laity" even though she lived most of her life as a religious. I'm sure we will see the revisionists come after the glorious St. Charles Lwanga soon enough, and it should be called out for what it is if it happens.

    1. The worst 'revisionism' happens with saints who people now claim were gay - St. Aelred, Cardinal Newman, and many others. The reasons for St. Charles Lwanga's martyrdom has already been redefined to be more a tribal-political plot rather than the martyr's refusal to consent or permit the king to have his way with the pages. It isn't exactly revisionist - it is often more an attempt to switch the focus for the purpose of politically correctness or downplay any doctrinal association.

    2. Father mentioned Charles Lwanga opposing the evil king for unspecified reasons at Mass, but there were young children present. That makes sense to me because he was sharing information appropriate for those listening.

  13. Thanks so much for writing this, Terry. It's a great critique, and I appreciate what you bring in from the tradition. God bless!

    1. Thank you too Dawn! You have done more than anyone in support of Church teaching regarding sexual ethics and chastity.


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