Friday, July 06, 2007

A Problem Like Maria (Goretti)

Today's saint has turned out to be surprisingly contoversial for a twelve-year-old. It seemed an open and shut case, akin to the stories of the Roman virgin martyrs. Virtuous girl spurns propositions, faces threats without giving in, dies for Christ. That's how Maria's story was understood for almost a century, too: the fatherless child of a poor farm family, Maria withstood the attempts by teenaged Alessandro to seduce her, even when he brandished a knife. She was held up as a martyr of purity, a role model for a sex-saturated culture.
Then about twenty years ago, Maria's story became politically incorrect. We were told that she was sending the wrong message to young women about rape (better dead than deflowered). They noted (and correctly, I'm afraid) that in a way Maria's whole cause for canonization hinged on the fact that, in the end, Alessandro had not raped her. (If he had had his way, even though it had clearly been a matter of force, the popular assumption in those days would have been that somehow Maria was at fault.) Even Pope Pius XII was accused of "engineering" the cause of canonization in order to have a youth rally to restore Catholic morale.
So Maria's story and witness were related to pious books and websites.
I think Maria's story should be trumpeted from the housetops: she was a young woman who, inspired by her Catholic upbringing and faith, boldly insisted on her right to refuse a man's advances, even when he threatened her. Maria fought for that right, too: she was covered in bruises that testified to her struggle. Maria was not a passive victim. She even tried to convince Alessandro that he was endangering his own soul. (Later, Alessandro wept over that memory.) Then there is another angle that is often skipped over: Alessandro had made numerous attempts to seduce Maria. And Alessandro had a porn habit. This porn connection makes Maria's story even more relevant today, when internet porn is, according to many confessors, a growing problem even among practicing Catholics.
So "the problem with Maria" today isn't "Maria's problem." It is our problem. How are you going to solve it?


harv681 said...

I'm afraid I don't understand the "controversy." We have always been told to fight, particularly when there is no weapon involved. Most of the time, rapists are looking for an easy target and fighting and screaming to attract attention would be discouraging at the very least.

Anonymous said...

It seems that a lot of people miss the point of Maria's death; the general consensus seems to be that she was saintly for preferring death to the sin of being violently deflowered by her attacker; but Maria herself stated to her attacker that she was not going to let HIM commit the sin of rape, because HE would go to Hell for it. Her actions and words were so selfless, and so full of love beyond her years, it is enough to humble me to tears. She died trying to save that young man from damnation. That, in my eyes, is what makes her a Saint.

xaipe said...

A beautiful and rich insight, anonymous, perfectly in line with the testimonies that have come down to us, even from Alessandro himself, who said that Maria kept saying to him, "No, Alessandro! It is a sin!"

Anonymous said...

You obviously have never been sexually abused as a child. If you had (like I have) the Catholic Church would have made you feel like you are a less than worthy person by promoting the story of Maria Goretti as a purity test.

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

I am so sorry that you had an already horrible experience turned back against you in such a way. Years ago, no one could have imagined how many children were all too familiar with Maria's situation. It was probably the farthest thing from your teachers' minds when they told Maria's story.
Given that there are many girls today in Maria's shoes--being groomed by predators or wooed by young men who just want to "score," how can we present Maria's heroic charity toward Alessandro?