Maria Goretti was born in 1890 in Italy. Her father died of malaria when Maria was very young. She helped her mother and siblings with cooking, sewing, cleaning her house, and watching her youngest sister, Teresa.

When Maria was about 12 years old, she was sitting outside her home sewing while her oldest brother was working on the farm. While focusing on her work, she was surprised by her neighbor, Alessandro, who tried to rape her. Maria fought bravely and told him she did not want to sin.

Hearing her words and seeing that his evil intent was not successful, Alessandro became very angry and began to choke her. Then, he got his knife and he stabbed her eleven times. He stabbed her another three times when he attempted to reach for the door.

Maria was taken to the hospital, where she underwent surgery, but her wounds were too severe. While at the hospital, before dying, she forgave Alessandro and said she wanted him to go to Heaven with her.

Shortly after, Alessandro was captured and questioned. He admitted to trying to assault her and, being unsuccessful, stabbing her to death. He also admitted he had harassed her in the past and attempted to rape her in other occasions. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

While Alessandro was in prison, he remained unrepentant for a long time until, one night, he had a dream. In the dream, he saw Maria giving him lilies (a symbol of purity), which burned in his hands. After this dream, he repented and changed his ways. After 27 years of prison, he was finally released. He visited Maria’s mother and begged for forgiveness, to which he said, “If my daughter can forgive him, who am I to withhold forgiveness?”

When Maria Goretti was canonized, in 1950, by Pope Pius XII, Alessandro was present at the ceremony. He later became a lay-brother of the Capuchin Order, where he served until the end of his life.

We hear in today’s Gospel, “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

This passage is particularly compelling because Jesus makes friendship with God depend on our reconciliation with our brothers. That brings into perspective how much the commandment of Love of God is connected with the love of neighbor. They are so interlinked that one cannot exist without the other. They are like two sides of the same coin, two different manifestations of one same love.

Jesus invites us to radical friendship. Friendship with him and with those around us. A love that has its basis in Christ but expands and transforms to everyone that comes in contact with us; a love that is radical to the point of loving and forgiving our enemies.
From the height of the Cross, Jesus taught us the same lesson with his example when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Our blessed Lord knew how hard this teaching is to our frailty, so he decided to practice it himself to the most heroic degree.

St. Maria Goretti manifested this radical love for Alessandro in three beautiful ways. We find this most generous love in the forgiving of her attacker before her death, in her intercession for Alessandro’s conversion, after her death, and in the holy life he led after that.

Feb 12 – Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time