She was an obedient child by all accounts, taking care of her siblings and the housework so that her widowed mother could work in the fields, hoping against hope to bring in the crop that would keep her little brood together. That meant no time for school for Maria, but a kind woman taught her enough about Catholicism that the child was able to make her First Communion.
Maria hadn’t turned twelve yet when a pornography-addicted young man who shared the Goretti house attempted to rape her and when she resisted, stabbed her fourteen times. This brave defense of her purity would be reason enough to love and venerate Maria. But what happened next is jaw-dropping: On her deathbed, Maria offered total obedience and faith to the Lord. She identified her murderer, forgave him, and said she would see him in heaven.
As time went on, the young man had a conversion experience in prison, an experience that included Maria coming to him with white lilies, the flower of purity, one for each of her stab wounds. He was released after twenty-seven years, and asked Maria’s mother for forgiveness. He had taken more than her beloved daughter; the resulting financial disaster had broken up the family. The mother quickly said she had to forgive him; after all, Maria had. Maria’s murderer spent his remaining years as a Capuchin monastery’s gardener and caretaker, and may have been present at Maria’s canonization in 1950.
Anyone can have a conversion experience—convicted murderers, pedophiles, corrupt politicians, gossiping neighbors, backstabbing coworkers. We’re not called to be foolish and irresponsible about putting ourselves in dangerous situations. But like Maria, we must strive to forgive all, just as God does. Our actions and words, big or small, could help or hinder someone with a mustard seed’s worth of faith. Which will it be?
Our Lord prefers to wait Himself for the sinner for years rather than keep us waiting for an instant. (Saint Maria Goretti)
Have a prayerful conversation with God about where you can sow some seeds of conversion. It may be in your own life!
Maria may have had trouble with catechism, but she had no trouble with faith. God’s will was holiness, decency, respect for one’s body, absolute obedience, total trust. In a complex world, her faith was simple: It is a privilege to be loved by God, and to love him—at any cost.