Being A Victim Is Not Impure: On the Martyrdom Of Saint Maria Goretti

Being A Victim Is Not Impure: On the Martyrdom Of Saint Maria Goretti July 6, 2016
Robert Nanteuil (French, 1623 - 1678 ), Ecce Homo, 1653, engraving, Rosenwald Collection 1943.3.6435
Robert Nanteuil (French, 1623 – 1678 ), Ecce Homo, 1653, engraving, Rosenwald Collection 1943.3.6435

It’s that time of year again. Today is Maria Goretti’s feast day.

I can’t remember if it was last year or the year before, when I was in the Franciscan Sister-run thrift shop downtown and overheard a sister telling a customer about Saint Maria Goretti. Maybe it wasn’t even her feast, but that’s how I remember it. “Do you know who this girl is?” the sister said in a patronizing tone, proffering a holy card. “Do you know? This is Saint Maria Goretti. She died rather than give up her purity.”

I left the thrift shop as quickly as I could. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d had the self-possession and the guts to calmly and politely approach that Franciscan sister. I wish I’d had the tact to find a way to say, without accusation, how many people the sister might hurt by repeating the story in that way. I wish that I had, but I didn’t. I left.

Becoming the victim of someone else’s sin is never a sin. It wouldn’t have been for Maria Goretti, either. If she had been raped and then fatally stabbed, instead of fatally stabbed fighting off her attacker, she would have incurred no guilt. God would have still known her to be pure. It’s not a sin to be forced into sex at knife point. It’s not a sin to be someone who has been sinned against, sexually or otherwise. I don’t think people realize how badly they hurt survivors of rape or other kinds of abuse, when they suggest that Maria Goretti “died rather than give up her purity” and leave the story at that without qualification.  As if those of us who didn’t manage to die instead of enduring that violation, aren’t pure. Maria Goretti  would have been “pure” either way.

If the Sister thinks that about Maria Goretti– if she thinks sainthood involves keeping others from victimizing you–what does she think of Jesus?

Jesus was stripped naked, scourged, dressed as a mocked king, dragged uphill carrying a cross, then stripped naked again and hung up for the world to see until He suffocated– that’s how crucifixion victims die; they die of suffocation from trying to breathe while dangling by their arms like that. He wasn’t wearing a loincloth, He was naked, and His culture viewed that with far more shame and disgust than ours does. That’s physical and sexual violence; that’s sadism, that’s abuse that you and I can’t imagine. Christ could have forced them to stop with a word, at any time, but He did not. He allowed them to do everything they wanted. He could have willed to die from the scourging or the crowning with thorns, or at any point on the Via Dolorosa. But He didn’t. He remained alive until three o’clock, when the darkness covered the land. He cried out, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” He cried again “Into Your hands I commend my spirit,” and then He gave up the ghost.

Because of this, God greatly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every Name.

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