July 22, 2012
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1 Jer 23:1-6
Responsorial Psalm Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Reading 2 Eph 2:13-18
Gospel Mk 6:30-34
In the gospel, we have heard how, once Jesus comes upon a “vast crowd,” “His heart is moved for pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”Here, then, we have been given a privileged insight into the very heart of Jesus, the very heart of God, where divine love sees the need of His people, is moved to pity, and desires to teach them the ways of God. Just what is this heart like, this heart of Jesus, this divine Heart?
The bishops gathered at the Second Vatican Council help us to know where to look to examine this divine heart more closely, when it said, “God shows to humanity, in a vivid way, his presence and his face in the lives of [the saints,] those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ (cf. Heb. 12:1). He speaks to us in them and offers us a sign of God’s kingdom.” So, if we want to know the heart of Christ, the son of God, our Church directs us to the saints. So, today, I present a privileged 11-year-old teacher of the Heart of Christ, St. Maria Goretti, a child who has much to teach us!
Maria Teresa Goretti on October 16, 1890 in the Kingdom of Italy, to Luigi Goretti and Assunta Carlini. She was the third out of six children. By the time she was six, her family had become so poor that they were forced to give up their farm, move, and work for other farmers in the mosquito-infested, poor region of Italy called the Pontine Marshes. Soon, Maria's father Luigi became very sick with malaria, and died when Maria was just nine. While her brothers, mother, and sister worked in the fields, Maria would cook, sew, watch her infant sister, and keep the house clean. It was a hard life, but the family was very close. They shared a deep love and faith for God. She and her family lived in a building, "La Cascina Antica," they shared with another family, which included Giovanni Serenelli and his son, Alessandro.
On July 5, 1902, finding eleven-year-old Maria sewing alone, Alessandro Serenelli came in and threatened her with death if she did not do as he said; he was intending to rape her. She would not submit, however, protesting that what he wanted to do was a mortal sin and warning Alessandro that he would go to hell She desperately fought to stop Alessandro, a 19-year-old farmhand, from abusing her. She kept screaming, "No! It is a sin! God does not want it!" Alessandro first choked Maria, but when she insisted she would rather die than submit to him, he stabbed her eleven times. The injured Maria tried to reach for the door, but Alessandro stopped her by stabbing her three more times before running away. The following day, twenty hours after the attack, having expressed forgiveness for her murderer and stating that she wanted to have him in Heaven with her, Maria died of her injuries.
Alessandro Serenelli was captured shortly after Maria's death. Originally, he was going to be sentenced to life imprisonment, but since he was a minor at that time, the sentence was commuted to 30 years in prison. He remained unrepentant and uncommunicative from the world for three years, until a local bishop, Monsignor Giovanni Blandini, visited him in jail. Serenelli wrote a thank you note to the Bishop asking for his prayers and telling him about a dream, "in which Maria Goretti gave him 14 lilies, one for each wound he inflicted, which burned immediately in his hands."
After his release following 26 years of incarceration, he moved from job to job, often terminated when his notorious past became clear. Finally, the local parish priest invited him to join in a Christmas Eve dinner, cautioning him that he should not be alone on this holy night. Arriving at the rectory, he found as the priest’s housekeeper Assunta Goretti, the mother of Maria. Assunta embraced him and forgave him, saying that if her daughter had forgiven him, so must she. Alessandro reportedly prayed every day to Maria Goretti and referred to her as "my little saint.” He attended her canonization, together with the mother Assunta, in 1950. Serenelli later became a laybrother of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, living in a monastery and working as its receptionist and gardener until death peacefully in 1970.
What is the heart of Christ like, that looked with pity on the crowd? What is this pity? Remember, Jesus looked at the aimless crowd, had pity, and then began to teach them. His pity was a pity that saw them as lost, aimless, and needing direction. His act of pity was to teach them.
So too with St. Maria Goretti. She saw the heart of her assailant with Christ-like eyes, had pity, and began to teach him. She taught him about forgiveness, about mercy, and above all about hope. For, as with all martyrs, St. Maria taught Alessandro Serenelli and us that death is not the end, that hope endures, that we are to forgive those who have hurt us, to teach them of the mercy, the love of God. This is what the heart of Christ is like: forgiveness, mercy, hope and love.
Can we have a heart like that? Do we want a heart like that? Jesus has pity for the crowd, he begins to teach them—ultimately on Calvary, that God’s dream for us is our freedom in forgiveness, mercy, and love. Can we have a heart like that? Forgiving, having mercy, and loving to the depth of wanting only the good of the other? Yes, because St. Maria Goretti did it—with the grace of God.
The scriptures teach us that, on the cross, the pierced heart of Jesus poured out gifts of mercy—blood and water—gifts for us traditionally seen by the Church as water—baptism, and blood—the Eucharist. So, here at this altar, the heart of Jesus, that is forgiveness, mercy, hope and love, is poured out for each of us, if we will but come and accept it. The result—life in Christ, with the possibility of a heart transformed to one like Christ’s.
This Eucharist, this outpouring of the heart of Christ, is given not just for us, but to change our hearts to be like Christ’s, so we can then go and show forgiveness, mercy, hope, and love to others. The question is: do you want a heart like this? For this is what the heart of God is like: seen in Jesus’ heart longing for the good of the crowd in the gospel, seen in St. Maria’s heart’s longing for the good of the man who assailed her and killed her, and, God willing, seen anew in each of our hearts, as we receive from the heart of Jesus in the Eucharist to have hearts like Christ’s, to show hearts like Christ’s to others, so they may know the heart of God—forgiveness, mercy, hope, and love.