Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Spirituality Cafe

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Spirituality Cafe

Article excerpt


"If you can find a place where God is not, go there and sin with impunity." (Saint Anselm,


Because of so much piety surrounding Maria Goretti's choice to die a virgin rather than submit to rape, she has been a difficult saint for many modern-day Catholics to embrace. But as Kathleen Norris reminds us in Cloister Walk, the July 6 feast day of Maria Goretti contains elements that are worth pondering today, especially in light of reports about clergy sexual misconduct and the abuse of women all over the world:

"Something about Maria Goretti must have struck a spark with the women in the village who tried in vain to stop her bleeding, the ambulance drivers who carried her by horse-drawn cart to the nearest hospital, the doctors, nurses, and priests who attended her on her deathbed....

"I like to think that somehow she touched hard people in a hard time and place: her innocence, the radical fact that a young girl had dared resist a man, the appalling consequences that she faced as a result.... Maybe those around Maria Goretti as she died were struck by the courage of someone deemed by society to have no significance at all.

"Why should Maria Goretti be so hard for us to understand and accept? A recent Newsweek contains a grim account of a married couple in Canada who habitually kidnapped, tortured, raped, and sometimes murdered teenage girls. Because they videotaped their victims, the defiance of one 15-year-old, Kirsten French, is on record. `Ordered to perform a particular sex act,' the article notes, `she refused, insisting "Some things are worth dying for."'

"Some things are worth dying for: there is nothing joyful about it, except possibly deep within, some inner defiance, some inner purity and strength that defies the sadist and the power of his weapons. The mystery of holiness infuses such defiance. I am haunted by the idea that Kirsten French's killers may have responded to this spark of holiness in her....

"I am haunted also by the countless women whose names we'll never know, who have faced their rapists with a holy resistance, and possibly even forgiveness, known only to themselves and God. Rapes reported and unreported in so many societies such as our own, which paint themselves as respectable and deny the commonplace, daily reality of rape. …

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