06 July 2010

Thirsting for Heaven

At the Canonization Mass of Maria Goretti, Pope Pius XII said: ‘There is still in this world, apparently sunk and immersed in the worship of pleasure, not only a meagre little band of chosen souls who thirst for heaven and its pure air -- but a crowd, nay, an immense multitude on whom the supernatural fragrance of Christian purity exercise an irresistible and reassuring fascination. Know that above the unhealthy marshes and filth of the world, stretches an immense heaven of beauty. It is the heaven which fascinated little Maria; the heaven to which she longed to ascend by the only road that leads there, which is, religion, the love of Christ, and the heroic observance of His Commandments. We greet you, O beautiful and lovable saint! Martyr on earth and angel in heaven, look down from your glory on this people, which loves you, which venerates, glorifies and exalts you. On your forehead you bear the full brilliant and victorious Name of Christ.’

In more recent times, Pope John Paul II, speaking about Saint Maria Goretti, said: ‘Her martyrdom reminds us that the human being is not fulfilled by following pleasurable impulses, but by living his life in love and responsibility’.

That perhaps is the lesson that cries out from this saintly youth more than all others: Being responsible Christians, being all that God made us to be, following in the Footsteps of Christ, hearing and accepting the call to holiness.

No doubt, if Maria Goretti were living in our world today, she would find reading the breviary, praying the Rosary, daily Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, spending time with Our Lord in the Scriptures much more preferable and fruitful activities than all those pleasurable impulses that seem to take precedence over our own reaching out to touch the garment of Jesus. Pope Pius XII spoke of an immense multitude who are fascinated by the supernatural fragrances of saintly people. Indeed, the funeral of Pope John Paul II was the largest in this world’s history. There was mass media coverage of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta when she passed from this world. The limited resources of the 1960’s, compared to today’s technology, gave its all for the passing of Padre Pio.

These great Christian heroes seem to fascinate the world, and when one passes from this life we have a tendency to wait and see who God will raise up next. The truth is that God calls all of us to extraordinary sanctity; maybe not on the world stage, for that requires supernatural humility, but certainly in our own little corner of the world.

Alessandro Serenelli, Maria’s murderer, had a major conversion experience during his incarceration which he credits to a dream he had of Maria Goretti. In the dream he said that Maria had handed to him some lilies that she was gathering, and the lilies suddenly appeared to have a heavenly radiance, and he felt her forgiveness. No surprise that he would dream of her forgiveness since she was concerned for his soul as he was attacking her. She said: ‘No Alessandro! It is a sin. You will go to hell’. Alessandro Serenelli became a model prisoner and was released from prison three years before his sentence was completed. Unfortunately Maria’s forgiveness did not stretch out to the rest of the community, and Alessandro was forced to live as a snubbed vagabond doing some gardening work at various monasteries. It was at a Capuchin community where he died at the age of 87.

Saint Maria Goretti is a model for all of us, teaching us to prefer Christ to all things. She is also a wonderful role model for our youth, teaching them the importance of chastity and their own dignity as children of God.