One of the shinning examples of recent memory comes from the life of St. Maria Goretti.
Maria was born in 1890 in Corinaldo, Italy to a family struggling in poverty. Her father moved the family when Maria was 6 years old to the opposite side of Italy in hopes of a new life. Tragically, three years later he died and her mother was burdened with the task of producing crops, while Maria raised her siblings.
One of their neighbors, a 20-year-old boy named Alessandro, would help her mother in the fields and began to take an impure liking to Maria. He soon made sexual advances toward her and threatened to inflict violence if she did not let him have his way.
After several months, Alessandro became angry and frustrated with Maria and made one last attempt to rape her. Maria prevented him once again and in retaliation Alessandro stabbed Maria multiple times. She died the next day.
However, her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”
Even though Maria was only 11 years old at the time of her death, she had great faith and a love that went beyond the ordinary. She despised the terrible things that Alessandro inflicted upon her, but it did not stop her desire for mercy.
After her death, Maria appeared to Alessandro in prison and forgave him. That was a turning point for Alessandro who committed himself to a life of holiness and eventually became a Franciscan. Before he died, he wrote this letter to the world,
"I'm nearly 80 years old. I'm about to depart.
"Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself....
When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed.
If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault. Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I've been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel and her dear mother, Assunta.
I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life." (Alessandro)
This example from the life of St. Maria Goretti displays perfectly the mercy of God. It is a mercy that does not delight in the death of the sinner, but sincerely desires their salvation.
It is up to us to learn from little Maria and to have a heart as big as hers.
Would we forgive Alessandro? What is holding us back from being "Merciful like the Father?"
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