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The Trinitarian Interior Life of St. Maria Goretti

by James Likoudis
Mr. Likoudis is the former President of Catholics United for the Faith.



"Martyred at the age of 12, St. Maria Goretti is now in the glory of Heaven, honored by the Father. She sees the Triune God 'face to face' in the company of all the Angels and Saints, having received the reward of the Blessed (i.e. those who keep the Commandments, who follow the Lamb of God in all innocence and purity, and having lived in this life as an image of Him who was the Immaculate Lamb of God, Jesus Christ). Her shrine at Nettuno under the care of the Passionist Fathers (which I had the pleasure of visiting some years ago) has brought forth much fruit as a place of prayer and meditation and center of spirituality."


As has often been recounted, the story of the martyrdom of Maria Goretti is a rebuke to a society sunk in materialism, worldliness, sexual permissiveness, and a growing hostility to the spiritual values of the Christian and Catholic tradition. Throughout the West society has been rapidly de-christianized after two great World Wars which have shattered the moral fabric of what was once called "Christendom". In the nations of the West we are confronted with the resurgence of a neo-paganism. Here is a description of the moral condition of Rome in the days of Emperor Augustus, the same Emperor who is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke:

It would be unsavory to describe how far the worship of indecency was carried;how public morals were corrupted by the mimic representations of everything that was vile, and even by the pandering of a corrupt art... The social relations exhibited, if possible, even deeper corruption. The sanctity of marriage had ceased. Female dissipation and the general dissoluteness led at least to an almost entire cessation of marriage. Abortion and the exposure of newly-born children, were common and tolerated; unnatural vices, which even the greatest philosophers practiced, if not advocated, attained proportions which defy description.

-The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,
by Alfred Edersheim, Vol. 1, p. 258

In writing about his own country, France, the great Catholic philosopher-journalist Marcel Clement, wrote the following which could well apply to our own country in terms of the tragic influence exerted by legislators, educators and Media elites:

France is in a state of serious decadence, and this has been imposed by laws, by educational establishments, by the transmission by radio and television of items in which misconduct, grossness and contempt for the body are increasingly emphasized. The fear of reminding people that God is Love and that the faithful and fruitful love of spouses is blessed, has affected even the churches, where for years the social aspect of the Gospel has been emphasized. What has been overlooked is that, if the majority of a people do not accept moral uprightness as the norm, social problems will become even more acute, and social collapse will be the eventual result.

If the family is no longer held in honor, this is due in no small measure to the effects of the law and the influence of the culture. Easy divorce, generalized concubinage, legalized abortion, homosexuality recognized and celebrated, the condom proposed as the guarantor of safe sex, the population decline camouflaged, virginity ridiculed, fidelity discouraged, genuine married life no longer to be found in books and TV screens, or the example of public figures...such is the invisible background to [the activities secular governments are engaged in].

The moral corruption and decadence described by Edersheim and Clement is all too evident in this part of the world. As Pope John Paul II has repeatedly warned, unless this process is reversed, what awaits us is the total collapse of the social order, and a descent from a civilized way of life into barbarism. In one of his 1998 addresses to American Bishops on their ad limina visits to the See of Peter, the Pope specifically referred to "a new spiritual crisis" the signs of which are already ominous. He warned that "a new era of barbarism" rather than the long-hoped-for new "springtime for Christianity" could well follow this "century of tears".

Some author whom I cannot recall has well said that is it the saints of God who keep the right hand of God from destroying a faithless people worshipping - as of old - at the altar of pagan gods and seeking (like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah) every possible pleasure and self-indulgence, no matter how base and unworthy of a human being they may be. The spiritual man, par excellence, is, of course, the saint. It is the saint who is the bearer and manifestation of Catholic spirituality. The saint lives in God and speaks about Him in both word and deed. He or she manifests the radiance and splendor of Christ and the resurrected Christ's Victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil - all three of which seek the ruination of the human person "made in the image and likeness of God." The holiness of God, the Blessed Trinity, is embodied in the person of a saint such as St. Maria Goretti, and it is important to stress that the saints of the Church of God are not merely good people or dull moralists who make sanctity unattractive, or simply those who are good natured. Rather the saint is the person who has responded to the grace of God, is faithful to Christ's teachings, and who submits to and acts upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit within the soul. Each saint is a marvelous work of the Holy Trinity, and it has always been acknowledged by all the faithful that

"the mystery of the Blessed Trinity is the central mystery of the Christian faith and of Christian life. God alone can make it known to us by revealing Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." (CCC, 261)

As for the Church itself, it exists to lead man to what the Greek Fathers of the Church termed "theosis" (i.e., divinization-i.e., to communion and union with God, the Blessed Trinity), and we can simply say the work of the Church is to "make saints". And in this "process" of [...] sanctification of fallen human nature, it is clear from the dicta of Divine Revelation that Catholic spirituality is Christ-centered since Christ is our Redeemer and Savior and it is His grace won for us on the Cross which is "divinizing" and salvific. Holiness is simply being like Christ. Thereby we mean that Jesus Christ is the pattern for us to follow. The more we become like Him, the more holy we are. This stands to reason since Christ is God, and a person is only as holy as he is conformed to Jesus, who was perfect in every human virtue because, though man, He was also God. Time and again, He bade us become like Him. "Learn of Me, for I am meed and humble of heart...I, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other's feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you...I give you a new commandment. Love one another just as I have loved you." This is the formula of sanctity: study the conduct of Christ and strive to do the same. If one does, and insofar as he does, one becomes holy. Already, one can perhaps glimpse something of the holiness of St. Maria Goretti whose love of God led her to pray for and to forgive her murderer Alessandro Serenelli. Even as she struggled with her attacker, she was to repeat, "Alessandro...I forgive you." When the priest at her deathbed inquired, "Maria, Jesus died while forgiving the penitent thief at his side; do you forgive with all your heart your attacker and murderer?" she answered, "Yes! Yes! For the love of Jesus, I forgive him, and I want him to be with me in Heaven." Interestingly, the priest who gave her the final Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion (the Archpriest Signori) had himself forgiven another murderer, the murderer of his father.

Catholic spirituality is also Holy Trinity-centered, since Christ is always united with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our Christological life ("life in Christ") cannot be separated or be independent of the Trinitarian. We cannot consider Christ apart from the Holy Trinity, since Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, and is united by nature with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The salvation of man is a common activity of the Trinitarian God. The works of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit are not two different things. Christ became man by the good will of the Father and by the cooperation of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and that the Holy Spirit forms Christ in our hearts, and thus God the Father is glorified. The Christ-life is lived through the power of the Holy Spirit who works through the Sacraments instituted by Our Lord.

The entire Christian life is a union with the Holy Trinity, and it is to be noted that all the Sacraments which are the vehicles of God's sanctifying grace are [...] spirituality is also Eucharistic since it is in partaking of the Lord's Body and Blood that we enter into the closest union with Our Blessed Lord Himself, and thereby with the other Persons of the Holy Trinity, since again, Christ is always united with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Catholic spirituality is also Marian and this too is exemplified in the life of St. Maria Goretti whose mother Assunta, the first mother in the history of the Catholic Church to be present for the formal canonization of her own child, was asked, "What did you do to rear a saint in your home?" Her answer was simply, "I taught my dear Maria to love God and to love our Blessed Mother." That was it, and that was enough. These few brief words are the answer to the sincere and anxious mothers and fathers of our confused and turbulent times who face the difficult task of rearing those who are not only their own children, but also children of God and children of the Mother of all the redeemed. Their primary and essential obligation towards their God-given offspring is to teach them, both by word and example, to love God with all their strength, and to love the Blessed Mother of God who is also Mother of the Church. If they fail in this, their children will amount to little or nothing as "co-workers with God" and will do little or nothing really worthwhile for God or for men.

It is interesting that the Gospel for St. Maria Gorettt's Feastday (July 6) is that of John 12:24-26, wherein we read:

"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. He who loves his life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world, keeps it unto life everlasting. If anyone serves Me, My Father will honor him."

Martyred at the age of 12, St. Maria Goretti is now in the glory of Heaven, honored by the Father. She sees the Triune God "face to face" in the company of all the Angels and Saints, having received the reward of the Blessed (i.e. those who keep the Commandments, who follow the Lamb of God in all innocence and purity, and having lived in this life as an image of Him who was the Immaculate Lamb of God, Jesus Christ). Her shrine at Nettuno under the care of the Passionist Fathers (which I had the pleasure of visiting some years ago) has brought forth much fruit as a place of prayer and meditation and center of spirituality. Along with millions of others, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II have visited this shrine to pray before the relics of a young virgin Saint who continues to inspire young people to live truly Christian lives and to abhor sins of impurity which cause the spiritual death of the soul. Psalm 118 rightly speaks of those who are: "Blessed because their conduct is blameless, who walk in the way of the Lord" and are characterized [...] for the Lord and obedience to His commandments. The same Psalm also speaks of the trials and tribulations and persecutions which await those who are devoted to the love of God and His Holy will: "The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I pay heed to and obey Thy commandments." Those who, like St. Maria Goretti, would live the life of the Beatitudes, invariably will be confronted by the godless philosophy of today's secularists.

All we have to do is place the 8 Beatitudes in one column and the 8 corresponding attitudes of our culture in another column, and compare the two. Where Christ advocates poverty, the world despises the poor and canonizes the rich. Where Christ praises gentleness, the world belittles meekness and extols those who succeed by crushing anyone that stands in the way. Where Christ encourages mourning and sorrow for sin, the world revels in pleasure and the noise of empty laughter. Where Christ promises joy only to those who seek justice and holiness, the world offers satisfaction in the enjoyment of sin. Where Christ bids us forgive and show mercy to those who have offended us, the world seeks vengeance and its law courts are filled with demands for retribution. Where Christ blesses those who are pure of heart, the world scoffs at chastity and makes a god of sex. Where Christ tells the peaceful that they shall be rewarded, the world teaches just the opposite in constant rebellion and violence and massive preparation for war. And where Christ teaches the incredible doctrine of accepting persecution and resignation to God's will, the world dreads nothing more than criticism and rejection, and human respect, which means acceptance by society is the moral norm." (Holiness in the Church, by Fr. John Hardon, S.J., pp.34-35)

St. Maria Goretti was able to live the life of the Beatitudes even as a child because her peasant parents though terribly poor and lacking formal education were profoundly Christian. Their child had been baptized in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and they had taught their child to love God, to converse with God in prayer, to adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and to be devoted to Our Blessed Mother, she who is "full of grace" and the beloved Spouse of the Holy Spirit. The crucifix in their simple home was a constant reminder to all of what the Son of God had endured for them, and why. Like St. Maria Goretti children today must be taught by their parents to love and to be faithful to the greatest of all prayers-the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is during this most important hour of the week that the faithful, young and old, offer God the sacrifice of atonement through which they, like the child martyr Maria, learn how to offer their bodies to God as holy and pleasing victims (Secret Prayer of Mass on her Feast). Children must be instructed to love and to make frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance and the Sacrament of Holy Communion. In the former as in the latter, they will receive the same strength to defend and preserve that purity of body and soul which God abundantly bestowed upon His handmaiden St. Maria Goretti. We read in the Letter of St. Paul that he had asked his Corinthian converts, "Do you not know that you are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16; cf.6:19). St. Maria Goretti knew that wonderful truth.

Her brief life can be the subject of countless lessons and commentary, including discussion of Christ's abhorrence of sin, an abhorrence reflected in the lives of His Saints. On the last day, the gentle Savior of the world will pronounce on unrepentant sinners the following judgment: "Go away from Me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Human language could not be more terrifying, and God wants us to be terrified at the prospect of eternal fire as the recompense for unforgiven, because unrepented sin. Christ's abhorrence of sin is thus perfectly revealed in the Final Judgment and no amount of rhetoric or theological speculation can remove the simple truth of our faith. God hates sin. Certainly He loves the sinner and is divinely merciful toward the humble who acknowledge their sinfulness. But a day will come when mercy will cease and divine justice will take over. The lesson for us is clear. If we are to imitate Christ in His abhorrence of sin we must abhor it. Nothing less. When we abhor something, we hate it, loathe it, we detest it. To abhor is to stay away from, to have a feeling of revulsion toward what we abhor.

This gives us room for a long, long pause. Let us examine our hearts and ask ourselves how sincerely we can say that we truly abhor what we know, on faith, is sinful and that God wants us to eradicate from our lives. The measure of our abhorrence of sin is the index of our imitation of Christ (Holiness in the Church by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., page 59).

In the Blessed Trinity's plan of salvation the sanctification of souls is particularly appropriated to the Holy Spirit. This is not surprising given the fact that He is the Divine Person Who proceeds from the Father and the Son as their Eternal Love and thus fittingly represents the whole Blessed Trinity Who is Love. "Of the Holy Spirit...we say, that He Himself comes to us with grace, He gives us Himself in grace, and that He really and essentially, in an unspeakably intimate manner, dwells in us by grace" (Scheeben). In commenting upon the words of Our Lord, "I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always," Pope John Paul II notes:

These words express the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as inner guest in people's hearts: in the heart of anyone among all the souls belonging to Christ who welcomes the Spirit. The Father and the Son too come to "take up residence" in these souls (Jn. 14:23). Therefore the whole Trinity is present in them, but, since this is a spiritual presence, that presence refers in a most direct way to the Person of the Holy Spirit. (General Audience, 9/26/90).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:

Through his grace, the Holy Spirit is the first to awaken faith in us and [in baptism] to communicate to us the new [divine] life, which is 'to know the Father and the one whom He has sent, Jesus Christ'. (Jn. 17:3; CCC, #684).

Let us again recall that the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are everywhere present together. When Our Lord says, "I and the Father are one," He means exactly that. He is also one with the Holy Spirit in the divine essence. He instructs us that their common life goes on in our souls and in the Blessed Sacrament and in heaven. In heaven, the Angels and the Blessed spend their eternity in the beatitude of that life of the Trinity. That is the fulfillment of the life of grace, the beatific vision, which is begun on earth in the souls of the faithful by sanctifying grace. It blossoms in us when we cooperate with the graces first received in baptism. As theologians have stressed, the possession of sanctifying grace is "the beginning of glory in us". Moreover, the realization - the clear awareness - of the indwelling of the Trinity in our souls is indeed one of the greatest favors the Christian can receive in this life.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that her life of "faith, hope and charity," the love of God and family and neighbor and even of her murderer Serenelli, which St. Maria Goretti exhibited to the admiration of all the faithful since her martyrdom - was assuredly the manifestation of the activity of the Triune God of Love in her. In the Opening Prayer of the Mass on her Feastday, the Father in the Trinity (from whom the Son is begotten and from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son) is thus fittingly invoked:

Source of innocence and lover of chastity,
You gave Saint Maria Goretti the privilege of offering her life in witness to Christ. As You gave her the crown of martyrdom, let her prayers keep us faithful to Your teaching.



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