A few weeks ago, on July 6th to be precise, it was the Feast of St. Maria Goretti. I associate it with summer and I often revisit Maria’s story around this time of year. As I am sure you know she was only twelve when she was brutally raped by a farmhand who was six years older than her. Alessandro had been sexually harassing the young Maria for quite a while and she had successfully managed to evade him. She was very clear and very consistent in her belief that what he wanted to do was wrong. In any case the day arrived when Alessandro, seeing his opportunity to get Maria on her own, trapped her and forced himself on her. He did this with great violence and savagely stabbed her many times. Maria was to survive a few days and though terribly mutilated lived long enough to express her forgiveness for her attacker and promised to pray for him in Heaven. Many remember her story because her attacker, after many years in prison, and indeed many years of remaining unrepentant, was eventually released and went immediately to Maria’s old mother to beg her forgiveness. This she graciously gave. Both he and her mother were to be present at Maria’s canonisation. The challenge for us as a faith community is to ask what is the gift of this modern young saint for today? What is the value of the Church putting someone like Maria in front of us? What is the spiritual legacy of Maria Goretti?
The first attitude to dispose of is the notion that Maria’s story is archaic, that it belongs to another world when things were simpler or at least different. The reality, though it may not be initially that obvious, is that Maria’s story has a very pertinent relevance. The spiritual legacy of her story is about sexuality. Sexuality is something we don’t do well. Certainly it would appear that as a topic it is not often the subject of the Sunday sermon. The seldom time it is addressed it is rarely done well. Unfortunately we as a Church have at times contributed to the idea that sex is dirty. Of course sex is dirty if it is about abuse, rape or trafficking. However in these instances it’s not sex itself that is dirty but rather what we do to it. It’s a bit like saying alcohol is evil. Of course in itself it is not evil, in fact alcohol is a beautiful gift from God. However when we abuse alcohol and end up as a result injuring ourselves or others then we must acknowledge the destructive nature not of alcohol, but our abuse of it.
For many sex is funny. This also is true. Some of the funniest jokes, and comedy sketches involve sex and have given many’s a laugh. This is true from Dave Allen to Benny Hill to more lately Mrs Brown’s Boys. Some will be offended and that’s why the remote control and the off button are handy to have. An interesting question though might be why we find ourselves offended. This may well be because something we hold dear, something that in our view is sacred, appears to be being mocked and ridiculed. However if we are honest sometimes we retreat into the fog of being offended rather than face the fact that good comedy often exposes our own insecurities and fears. We talk about humour sometimes being a bit too close to the bone. That skit or joke was a bit raw. We regularly encounter sex as funny, sadly sometimes sex as dirty, but how about sex as sacred?
Here’s a question for you! When we speak of sexuality and the Catholic Church in the same breath, does it have negative connotations, thou shall not, rules and what is not allowed? Do we see the Church and sexuality as about what is forbidden? Let’s put it another way. How often, in a Church context, have you heard sexuality spoken of as something lovely. Have you heard the priest at Mass speak about the beautiful gift that is our sexuality? Do we realise that beside the gift of life itself, sexuality is one of the great God – given gifts we have. In this gift we share in the divine, we share in creation. We share in making the world more beautiful. We bless the world. Its sad indeed when sexuality is made routine, when sexuality is cheapened.