The Lord is the king of martyrs: come, let us adore him.
Year: C(I). Psalm week: 1. Liturgical Colour: Red.
|St Maria Goretti (1890 - 1902)|
Maria Goretti was the third of seven children of a poor peasant family living near Corinaldo in the province of Ancona in Italy; owing to extreme poverty the family later migrated to a village near Anzio.
In order to make ends meet, Maria’s father entered into partnership with a man called Serenelli, and shared a house with him and his two sons, one of whom was called Alessandro. Her father died in 1900, when Maria was ten.
Maria impressed everyone with her radiant purity. She was naturally pious, kind, and helpful. She was also outstandingly beautiful – and Alessandro Serenelli was an outstandingly passionate and undisciplined man. She resisted his attentions, which only made her the more desirable, and narrowly managed to escape a serious sexual assault, which he made her keep secret by means of threats of murder.
A month later Alessandro arranged things so that he would be alone in the house with Maria; and he had a dagger. She tried to resist, begging him to have care for his immortal soul, but he thrust a handkerchief into her mouth to prevent her from crying out, tied her up, and threatened her with the dagger. She could, the theologians say, have consented then, with no danger to her soul; but her love of purity was too great. Alessandro, enraged, stabbed her fourteen times.
She did not die, though her entrails were hanging out from one of her abdominal wounds. She was taken to hospital, seven miles of bad road in a horse-drawn ambulance, and was operated on for more than two hours. She lived for twenty hours more, became a Child of Mary, received the Last Sacrament, and specifically forgave her murderer. She died in the afternoon of 6 July 1902, at the age of eleven years, eight months, and twenty days.
Alessandro narrowly escaped being lynched, and was tried and sentenced to thirty years’ penal servitude with hard labour. For the first seven years or so he maintained a cynical and defiant attitude, but he repented, and dreams of Maria herself figured largely in his repentance. (You might say, he pretended to repent so as to get his sentence reduced – but the most sceptical experts were convinced, and he had to remain in prison for another twenty years, which is a long time to sustain a pretence).
Maria was beatified in 1927. Alessandro was released in 1928; and he and Maria’s mother received Communion side by side on Christmas Day 1937, and they spent Christmas together.
Maria was canonized in 1950. Her mother was present at the ceremony, the first time this has ever happened. Some people say that Alessandro was there too, others not; but it is certain that he spent his last years in a Capuchin monastery: he died in 1970.
The trouble with purity nowadays is that we don’t believe in it – or at least we say we don’t. When we read of one saint or another that he or she was a virgin, we are more inclined to deride than to admire. And that is sad: here is not the place for a long disquisition on sex, but suffice it to say that sex is a valuable thing that should not be squandered or used trivially; any more than one should use champagne for cleaning floors.
Even if we find it difficult to admire virginity as such – even when it is a positive virtue and not a negative one – we should still, even as pagans, admire purity. For whatever alternative set of moral standards one may adopt, purity, decency, and self-respect are all-important and always will be. (The standards of what is or is not decent may be different – in Victorian times it is said that it was indecent to let ankles be seen, while a few centuries earlier large codpieces were the fashion for men – but decency itself is always there, however the ways of measuring it may change).
One may admire or praise Maria Goretti for all manner of other things if one likes – some people have a great fondness for sentimentality, melodrama, and wet plaster saints – but at the end of it all, the heroic virtue that she exhibited was a blazing affirmation of purity and integrity. Even if her standards are not ours, we must still have standards of some kind; and if we are faced with a threat to them, we must defend ourselves with the same passion that she showed. To behave otherwise, to tell ourselves “well, it doesn’t matter really”, is to commit slow moral suicide.
|Other saints: Saint Moninne (c.432 - c.518)|
She founded a community of female hermits in County Armagh; there is a tradition that she received the veil from St Patrick. Late in her life she founded the convent at Killeavy, where she died.
|Other saints: Our Lady of Budslau|
The multi-ethnic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was destroyed by the Prussian, Austrian and Russian Empires in 1793. Budslau (Belarusian: Будслаў, Polish: Budsław) is in the Mińsk district, which was taken over by the Russian Empire. Between the wars it formed part of the restored Poland; after the Second World War it was ethnically cleansed and became part of the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1989. It is now part of the newly independent country of Belarus.
The miracle-working icon of Our Lady of Budslau has been a focus of pilgrimage since the 16th century. A monastery grew up to serve the pilgrims, and was later destroyed in the wars and revolutions that swept the area; but the icon survived wars, revolutions, and even the attempts by the Soviet secret police to destroy it.
Pilgrims have come from all the successor states of the Commonwealth: Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine: secretly in the late 20th-century times of oppression and persecution, but openly since 1992.
This feast was traditionally celebrated on 2 July but in 2012 it was moved to the first Saturday of the month, because “Many believers, including students and priests, expressed their wish to celebrate the feast of Lord’s Mother of Budslau on Saturday because they want to do it to the full. Previously that was not possible because the feast often occurred to be on a workday.”
Red is the colour of fire and of blood. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate the fire of the Holy Spirit (for instance, at Pentecost) and the blood of the martyrs.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 Kings 8:60-61 ©|
May all the peoples of the earth come to know that the Lord is God indeed, and that there is no other. May your hearts be wholly with the Lord our God, following his laws and keeping his commandments as at this present day.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Jeremiah 17:9-10 ©|
The heart is more devious than any other thing, perverse too: who can pierce its secrets? I, the Lord, search to the heart, I probe the loins, to give each man what his conduct and his actions deserve.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Wisdom 7:27,8:1 ©|
Although she is alone, Wisdom can accomplish everything. She deploys her strength from one end of the earth to the other, ordering all things for good.