Thursday, May 07, 2009

Could Maria Goretti have done more good?

St. Maria Goretti was canonized on June 24, 1950 by Pope Piux XII. She was one of the youngest people ever canonized, especially after the reforms which put the pope in charge of the process starting just after the year 1000 AD. This brave 11 year old girl fought off her attacker who was trying to rape her. She did not want him to commit a mortal sin by raping her, and she always wanted to maintain her virginity. Her motives could not be more pure and she is an example of chastity that is worth emulating. But recently many critics have spoken out against her actions. They claim it would have been better for her to be raped and then live a life doing good for others. Some say her actions tell rape victims that they must die before they would ever be raped and if they don't, well they just didn't try hard enough and are, in fact, somewhat to blame. Still others say someone's choice to die rather than be raped could be bad since perhaps she was integral to many people's lives, so for her to die could put them in a very bad spot. These opinions come from our modern day society and have several errors.

The first issues is whether she could have done more good by living, rather than dying. This question could be asked of many martyrs. There is an expression that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. It is from Tertullian's Apologeticus. Tertullian is famous for having coined the term "trinity". He unfortunately fell from orthodoxy later in life, but many of his teachings remain valid. What does Tertullian mean by this? In the beginning of Christianity, the most famous Christians were the martyrs, those who gave their lives for the faith. Their example would be far reaching. Many Christians were killed in the Colosseum and other places in Rome and elsewhere. Their example led many to embrace the faith. Their martyrdom was an expression of their great hope in Jesus Christ. We cannot underestimate the power of the martyrdom of most of the Apostles, as well as Paul, Stephen, and more. I believe their willingness to give everything for the faith is a far greater example than to simply live as a "good" person.

Jesus is of course the ultimate example. Though sinless, he endured the greatest death, with more suffering than we can ever experience in this world, because he bore the sins of all. Jesus could have chosen to live a long life instead and do good works for lepers and so on, but Jesus had a much greater plan. He wanted everyone to know his great love for them. This would never have happened had he just lived a simple of life of charity.

St. Maria Goretti is revered throughout the world now. Schools, churches and other important places are named for her. She gives us a great example. But it is more than what she did specifically. Another aspect of her martyrdom was her incredible faith. She realized that we are here only for a moment on this Earth, but that our true home is in Heaven with God. She did not worry about the insignificant temporal things of this world, but rather, she concerned herself with the everlasting glory of the world to come. Those who say people should save their lives instead of becoming martyrs do not realize the glory of God and Heaven and how much more significant they are than this flash in time we know as our Earthly lives.

Maria's decision to maintain her chastity at any cost does not in any way make light or blame those who are victims of rape. What Maria Goretti did was heroic, not usual or normal. The Catholic Church makes a distinction between morally good or neutral acts and heroic acts. We are required to choose actions which are neutral or good, but there is no "requirement" to do heroic acts. This is similar to the fact that we are required to attend Mass once a week on Sunday, but going to Mass daily is meritorious. For a girl to save her life by being raped, she is doing something which is good. But what Maria Goretti did was heroic. If we truly love God, we do not ask what we MUST do, the bare minimum, we ask what is the BEST thing to do.

By proclaiming a great act which someone has done, we are not comparing them to others or saying they are better than other people. Rather, we hold them up as a great example of our values. Mother Teresa could have lived a great life in Albania, giving part of her salary to the poor, but instead she chose to live in the slums of Calcutta with the poorest people and do many great works. We do not diminish the greatness of others by speaking of her, rather we give example as to what humanity is capable of when we trust in God.


  1. Great post. Since Christ is the ultimate model of sacrifice St. Maria Goretti truly followed Him resulting in perfect sanctity! What a beautiful model. I don't believe for a second that her calling was any different then the way her life played out. 'Doing good in the future' is a moot point as she sacrificed her life for the sake of chastity and ultimately Christ. That IS the ultimate good.

  2. As a victim of a "completed rape", I think it will be just as heroic to live the rest of your life dealing with the repercussions of shame, guilt and grief in as holy a manner as possible. St Maria Goretti might have had to deal with the same thing had Alessandro not chosen to stab her in such a violent way. There are many ways to die....