Friday, July 6, 2012

"For the love of Jesus, I pardon him, and I want him to be with me in heaven"
Maria Goretti, patron saint of forgiveness

Today is the day the Church honors St. Maria Goretti, one of the holy people featured in my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

Maria is known as a martyr of chastity, which she is, but in My Peace I talk about how she is also a patron saint of forgiveness. You can read why in an online excerpt from the book, in which I write:
"For the love of Jesus, I pardon him, and I want him to be with me in heaven." That was Maria’s response when her parish priest, before giving her what she knew would be her final Communion (known as viaticum, when the Eucharist is given as "food for the journey" to heaven), asked if she could imitate Jesus' forgiveness of the penitent thief and forgive her attacker.

Maria's forgiveness reveals that she embodied chastity on a eucharistic level. Chastity finds its highest expression in mercy: forgiving from a wounded heart makes the body most like that of the risen Christ. Those who evaluated her cause for beatification found it no coincidence that Maria's heart poured out its pardon on the day the Church marks as the Feast of the Most Precious Blood.
I also seek in My Peace to correct inaccurate notions of why martyrs of chastity such as Maria are saints. Speaking of her and another such martyr, Blessed Laura Vicuña, I write:
The life stories of these "martyrs of chastity" speak deeply to victims of childhood sexual abuse, offering inspiration, guidance, and hope for healing. Yet, many Catholics do not understand why the Church honors them, as their legacy has been misrepresented both from within and without the Church.

Maria Goretti in particular has suffered from bad press. On one side, critics of the Catholic faith, particularly those opposing its sexual ethic, assert that her canonization proves the Church values a woman's physical intactness more than it values her life. On the other, some upholding her as a model of purity unwittingly reinforce the critics' view by implying she is called a martyr of chastity because she was not violated. The truth is that the term "martyr of chastity" does not refer to whether the saint died physically intact, but, rather, whether the saint died resisting an attack on his or her purity. This teaching goes back at least to the time of St. Augustine, who wrote that Christian virgins who were raped before being martyred were still virgins.

The more I learn about Maria and Laura, the more I want to shout to their detractors and supporters alike: These holy ones are not caricatures. They do not exist to satisfy an agenda. They are real young women. It is worth taking the time to unearth their shining witness from beneath the politics and pious myths.
Learn more about My Peace I Give You at the Patheos Book Club.