The guest post below is by longtime FOTM reader and commenter Steven Broiles.
I was raised in the Catholic faith and my parents and teachers did their best. (I grew up during the changes of Vatican II). But I drifted and lost my faith, for the most part. About ten days ago I came across this website, http://www.mariagoretti.com, and in it I discovered that the relics of this Saint are touring the eastern half of the United States. (The tour schedule is listed on the site). I read the contents of the site and decided to go and see and honor the relics myself.
Maria Goretti was the third of seven children born to Luigi and Assunta Goretti. They lived in Italy in poverty as farmers. After the father died, Maria had to take responsibility for her siblings. At the age of eleven, one of the helpers of the farm, Alessandro Serenelli, caught Maria alone and made clear to her his intentions to rape her. She resisted, and Alessandro stabbed her nine times with a farm implement and left the house. When Alessandro returned, only to find Maria clinging to life, he stabbed her four more times. Upon returning to the house and finding her daughter gravely wounded, Assunta managed to get help to get Maria to a hospital, where she died during surgery the next day.
Maria’s last words were, “I forgive Alessandro, and I want him to be with me in Heaven forever.” She was beatified in 1947 and canonized in 1950 by Pius XII in the Catholic Church’s first outdoor canonization ceremony, attended by more than half a million people. It was the first canonization in Church history that was attended by the saint’s own mother. Some refer to her as “an American Saint” even though she never set foot on American soil during her life, in part because some of her surviving siblings moved to America and settled in Trumbull, CT and in New Jersey, having their own families there. (Yes: Relatives of this saint are alive and well in the United States).
The relics were in New York City, in Staten Island and Brooklyn, as well as St. Patrick’s Cathedral before going to Trumbull. Due to my own work schedule I was unable to make the local stops. So I drove up to Trumbull. A Novus Ordo Mass was being celebrated in St. Maria’s honor; unfortunately, I was about ten minutes late. Giving the sermon was Fr. Carlos Martins, C.C., and he spoke for a good half hour on the short life and heroic virtue of St. Maria, and he displayed some of the relics, including a farm implement about a foot long, of the type that her killer used to attack her (it was not the implement itself).
I became interested in paying a visit to the relics of this Saint for the following reasons. Two members of my family have been visited by saints. (I will not go into this now). But, more important to me and my own situation, after having grown up in the Church as its Liturgy changed, and as the quality of its priests—or at least their sermons—changed, I lost interest. This was not the only reason I lost my faith: I have to take responsibility for my own life. I was the one who alienated himself, from God and neighbor. As a consequence of this drifting, I substituted intellectual things for faith, such as the philosophy of existentialism and psychology. I became a high school English teacher. I thought, for a while, that I was winning at the game of life.
It was all a sham!
And I was lucky: A number of people who become so alienated and enamored of existentialism wind up committing suicide. I’ve known at least two such people. So I tried to return to Mass and the Sacraments. But that, too, was a sham, and it was not because of the priests or the Church. (Even though I don’t like what has happened to both, for the most part). Again, taking responsibility for my own life, my own thinking and my own choices, I have come to discover that looking at things through an intellectual lens has its time and its place, but it is not the be-all and end-all of life. I have been told that I am intelligent and articulate, but even that didn’t satisfy. One fellow, Joe (who has gone home to be with Our Lord) told me, “You know, Steve, you have academic knowledge. And it’s not a bad thing to have, but it’s academic. It’s not people knowledge.” And then it hit me: People get alienated because they harden their hearts. They harden their hearts because they take offense at what has been done to them, with or without just cause.
So when I discovered the Maria Goretti site and read it, things started to click. I felt as if I was given an invitation, of sorts. I listed my prayer requests on the site. Without conflating anything, I went to this Church, St. Theresa’s in Connecticut, with an open mind. I listened to Fr. Martins, and he gave an excellent talk on the life of St. Maria and the redemption of Alessandro, and how we can apply their examples to our own lives. He spoke in specifics, and gave examples of how prayer to St. Maria still works today. Yes, people still pray to this Saint and Martyr, and she still cures people. Fr. Martin gave two examples he knows of personally.
Intellectual things have their time and their place. But they are no substitute for what really bothers a man. An alienated man gets to the point where he becomes complacent in his misery, and take it from me, it is no comfort: It is a meaningless existential hell. And I have the acedia to prove it.
A plenary indulgence is given to those who attend the Mass for St. Maria and honor the relics, provided certain conditions are met. I forgot all of the conditions, but making a good confession and receiving within seven days of attending the Mass and honoring the relics is one of them. I will check the site out again for that. I believe that some day St. Maria Goretti will be declared a Doctor of the Church.
I have always been interested in the fact that the Catholic Church is the only religion in the history of the world which has given us wonderful examples of incorrupt saints. (There have been approximately 400 of them to date). (I missed out on the tour of the relics of St. Theresa of Lisieux, which made their way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral here in New York about ten years ago. But I did manage to venerate the relic of St. John Vianny (the Cure D’ars) at the parish church that bears his name in Massapequa, New York. (It was his incorrupt heart).) But this state of incorruption is not promised to last forever: although the remains of St. Maria have decomposed, we have her skeleton, which is in a wax effigy. But I do believe in the power of prayer more, now that I have made this pilgrimage, and I present the information here for those who may be interested. And kudos to the Knights of Columbus who were in attendance. One Knight told us that he was at the Church of St. Theresa’s all day, and he estimated that about “five or six thousand” people had come and gone throughout the day. Once again, go to www.mariagoretti.com for the remaining tour dates and locations, to see if they are near you.
See also joandarc’s post on St. Maria Goretti, “The little girl who became a saint“.
Here’s an audio demo tape of Broiles.