Hosea 10:1-3, 7-8, 12
Psalm 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew 10:1-7
Today is the Memorial for Saint Maria Goretti
Maria Goretti was born to poor farm laborers in Corinaldo, Italy, in 1890. Like Agnes, Lucy, and Agatha, virgin martyrs of the early Church, Maria willed to suffer death rather than the destruction of her purity. She was eleven when nineteen-year-old Alessandro Sereneli attacked her, intent on raping her. Even as she struggled in Alessandro's grasp, Maria begged him to consider the gravity of the sin he was about to commit. He stabbed her fourteen times. She died two days later after great suffering, freely forgiving her attacker. Legend has it that she appeared to him in his prison cell and gave him fourteen flowers, one for each wound. Maria is the patroness of purity and protector of Catholic youth.
I was around four years old when I needed my first set of stitches. My cousin Michael and my brother Danny thought it would be funny to pretend to lock me into the chicken coup. I was deathly afraid of the chickens, especially that big white rooster. If you turned your back on him to get the eggs he would flog you from behind. Something about those wings flapping and the loud yell from his beak terrified me. They sent me in on a dare to get an egg and then acted like they were leaving. Then they sat down behind the chicken coup. In my fear of the rooster I ran terrified towards the door and through myself into it with both hands. I remember standing there with my head down because my neck hurt after having pushed right through the solid glass door. My cousin Michael ran up and asked me if I was OK and I just kept looking at the ground. Finally he said look at me, are you OK? When I looked up he saw all the blood and the last thing I remember was him calling out to my mom in a shaky voice.
We sometimes do that don't we? We run from something that is scary without looking to see the even scarier situation we put ourselves in. If I had known then that rushing through the glass would hurt so much I would rather have faced the rooster. We as Christians are called to an even scarier situation. The cross. We are called to face it, to be faithful to our covenant with God. The Israelites in the first reading for today were treating God like a good luck charm. They were scared of going back to where they had been, slaves in Egypt. Instead of just keeping the covenant and loving God with all their hearts, they build more temples, more altars. They couldn't see that in trying to run from Egypt they were running towards idolatry, towards sin.
When Jesus called the twelve he warned them continually that they would have to bear the same cross as He. As Christians that is what we are called to. We are called to face the cross... We can do it now or we can do it later.. but we must face it. Look at that list of twelve men. All twelve of them had to face the cross, they had to face death. Judas did it in betrayal... he ran from the cross towards the plan he wanted to live.. trying to force Jesus' hand. 10 of the others were martyred for their faith. Peter, the first among them, was crucified upside down. John? Well John stood at the foot of the cross with Mary, took her into his home, and when they tried to kill him years later? They failed. So they ended up exiling him to an island where he died of old age.
On the feast of Maria Goretti we are called to do something, to face our cross. To bear it with dignity, joy, and forgiveness. Maria went to her death protecting the covenant with God. She was faithful. She didn't try to force God to do it her way, but rather even tried to save her attacker. Like Christ she died forgiving him. We too are called to face that cross. Both by emulating Mary, the mother of God, and being present at the cross of Christ.. standing at the foot of it continually gazing up on our Lord; and like the Apostles and Maria Goretti, in being willing to bear our own cross... dying for our faith if necessary to bring others to God. Are you ready for that? Are there attachments holding you back? Have you become so attached to God that if faced with the option of betraying Him you would rather die?
“Humility is the safeguard of chastity. In the matter of purity, there is no greater danger than not fearing the danger. For my part, when I find a man secure of himself and without fear, I give him up for lost. I am less alarmed for one who is tempted and who resists by avoiding the occasions, than for one who is not tempted and is not careful to avoid occasions. When a person puts himself in an occasion, saying, I shall not fall, it is an almost infallible sign that he will fall, and with great injury to his soul.”
-- Saint Philip Neri
Our society makes purity and chastity into a joke. God calls us though to understand that intimacy is not just sex, and that love does not always fulfill itself with intercourse. Sometimes love requires that we hold back those desires we have for both the good of that person and ourselves. Why are we living our lives for this small time frame here, instead of for an eternity beyond? If we truly believed that eternity was awaiting those who lived a life of purity and chastity.. would any amount of personal pleasure be worth trading that for? Your'e going to spend eternity somewhere.. which way are you running? Today we are asked to choose... will you stand united at the foot of the cross? Or run headlong into a field for just a few silver?
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."