On Faith: Forgiveness can be a multifold blessing

I believe that a good deal of our suffering stems from unforgiveness. It can be difficult to forgive someone who has gravely wronged us, and even more so when that same person refuses to ask for pardon or believes that he or she did nothing wrong to begin with.

If you find yourself sometimes struggling in this area, you might be interested in knowing more about St. Maria Goretti. Born in Italy in 1890, Maria lived with her parents and five siblings on a farm very near a widower and his teenaged son. The families shared a common kitchen and would often run into one another in the close quarters. Eventually Maria's father passed away, and the family was left on its own.

The teenage boy, Alessandro, had no real religious upbringing and vulgarities regularly came from his mouth. His advances towards young Maria would not cease, and one day he threatened to kill the girl if she would not give in to his demands.

Maria refused, preferring to die preserving her virginity rather than allow her chastity to be violated. This did not bode well with Alessandro, who stabbed Maria 14 times, leaving her for dead. Maria was able to drag herself over to the door and was taken to the local hospital. The surgeons had to act quickly. They determined anesthesia would be too hard on her body, so operated for two hours without it. Despite the intense pain, not a sound was heard from her lips.

While Maria did not survive, on her deathbed she had a forgiving disposition:

"I forgive my murderer out of my love for Jesus. Alessandro will join me in heaven, as I have forgiven him and I pray God will too. Soon I will meet Him face to face."

For his part, Alessandro was sentenced to 30 years of hard labor in prison. His heart remained hardened. Then one day, years later, Maria appeared to Alessandro in a dream and handed him 14 roses (one for each stab wound).

He realized she forgave him, and later confessed to the authorities that he had lied about the sequence of events. He had insisted that it was Maria who was pursuing him and that he was trying to defend himself. After he fessed up, admitting that he was the perpetrator, the Church beatified Maria, in effect proclaiming her to be in heaven. Many miracles were attributed to her intercession before and after.

The story gets even better. Once Alessandro was released from jail, he immediately paid a visit to Maria's mother, begging her for forgiveness. The mother figured that if her daughter was able to forgive, she could as well.

In 1950, Maria was canonized a saint at St. Peter's basilica in Vatican City. In attendance was Alessandro. He had become a Benedictine Brother and was assigned the duty of gardener. None of this would have happened were it not for Maria's forgiving disposition.

We see the great things that took place due to one young person's willingness to forgive. We should follow her example. I reckon there are a decent number of people who are holding grudges or otherwise refusing to let go something from the past or present.

Not only can an act of forgiveness have an overwhelmingly positive effect on another person, it can bless the one doing the forgiving. A major step in the healing process is the willingness to forgive, which admittedly can be a tall order. It is easy to say "forgive us our trespasses" when we recite the Our Father, but often hard to really mean "as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Catholics and others look to the saints' virtuous lives for inspiration. We also believe those in heaven can pray for us. Let us take this opportunity to pray to St. Maria Goretti for young people, that they strive always to keep their purity intact and for anyone finding it difficult to forgive, that they be assisted by her prayers and come to the point of forgiveness.

THE REV. STEPHEN DOKTORCZYK is the parochial vicar at St. Joachim Catholic Church in Costa Mesa.

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