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Summary: The life and death of Maria Goretti teaches us something about resisting evil.

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July 6, 2012

St. Maria Goretti

Mt 5: 38-41

The commandment to not resist the evildoer is one of the most stark and, admittedly, controversial ones in the NT. A few Christian pacifists have interpreted it to mean that we can neither resist evil persons or evil actions in any way. But that is patently false, because Jesus Himself was constantly resisting evil. He preached against Phariseeism, ritual observance without piety and justice, theft, violence, pride, lustful thoughts, and all the other vices.

What a careful reading of the Greek text of Matthew tells us is not to avoid all resistance to evil, but to avoid resisting evil by using the same evil, violent means taken by the evildoers. So, to give a good example, we resist the grave evil of abortion by standing in prayer outside abortuaries, but we condemn the bombing of these places of murder. We resist the pressure to comply with religious organizations paying for contraception, sterilization and abortion drugs by prayer, vigil and voting, and, in the extremity, even by going to jail rather than paying the fine. We may only take up arms in legitimate self defense, preserving our life or that of another innocent person.

The story of Maria Teresa Goretti is not as well-known as it should be. Born in 1890, she was a beautiful and pious young girl on a farm near Anzio, Italy. Her dad had died of malaria, so the family lost the farm and became impoverished. There was a neighbor named Alessandro Serenelli, a violent and impious man. When she was just eleven, he approached her and tried to rape her. She pleaded with him but he insisted, and ultimately stabbed her fourteen times. She died after surgery, but not before telling all that she forgave her attacker. Alessandro was caught and put in prison; during his incarceration he had a vision of Maria, in which he heard her forgiving him. He came out of the vision a changed man, and ultimately was in St. Peter’s square to witness her canonization by Pius XII.

Her short life was a testimony to the power of God to bring good out of evil, but what about her action? Does it not fly in the face of what modern criminology tells us about resisting rape? Rape is not a crime of sex; it is a crime of violence, a crime in which someone wants to show his power over a woman. Remarkably, most such sins are not accompanied by physical violence. The subtle forms of sexual assault are accompanied by threats that the man will leave the woman, or intimations that unless the woman submits, she doesn’t really love him. That’s one of the reasons the Church has consistently taught that the marital act must be reserved for marriage, and even in marriage must always be a sign of mutual and total self-giving. Never forced.

Now, back to Maria Goretti. The testimony Alessandro gave proves that she was as concerned over Alessandro’s spiritual death by sin as she was with her own virginity and chastity. She warned him that the assault would destine him to hell. She was right. Of course, her eleven-year-old mind didn’t have the maturity to talk him out of the assault successfully, but even in her death she witnessed to an irrefutable fact–any pain, any inconvenience is insignificant when compared to the torture of eternal separation from God.


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