Today is the feast of St Maria Goretti, the 20th century saint who personified the ancient ideal of the virgin martyr, and inspired at least two other young Italian women who were later beatified as martyrs.
I recently read a book on that subject (I was running a book display at a conference, and the fish weren't biting, giving me plenty of time for personal updating...). What is great about this book by Father Michael Fuller is the way it provides a contemporary reading of the old pious stories, even in their most fanciful expressions.
I was especially impressed with the story of St Lucy (Santa Lucia of the song). When this Christian girl is threatened with what amounts to gang rape unless she surrenders her faith (with the presumption that the forced deflowering will render her Christian virginity null and void), she cheekily replies that her virginity is under the control of her will alone; that force itself is null and void before the power of her freedom, whatever the outcome of her trial on the physical level. Put in its ancient context, that is a remarkable view of a young woman's personal autonomy!
Of course, for Maria Goretti (and those later Italian martyrs), the option was not "give up your faith" but simply "give in to me." Maria's murderer had been attempting her seduction for some time, and finally tired of her rebuffs. But all three martyrs were "martyred" because they stood firm in a choice for something good.
And we need their example more than ever today, when virginity is something young people are ashamed of and pornography is being recrafted to engage and addict women. (Need a few examples? Here--be sure to read the comments, here and here. And for lagniappe, something else that corresponds to today's saint's story.) Hmmm. What is it about feminine purity that the enemy of human nature hates it so much?
Afternoon update: Here's a reflection on Maria and her message by Cristina Barba, courtesy of the Theology of the Body Institute.