Saint Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr

Sketch by Brie Schulze

Saint Maria Goretti is certainly striking for her heroic virtue of chastity, but what is perhaps even more striking is her forgiveness.  Maria was not just relieved to have died without losing her virginity.  What makes her witness fully Christian is the forgiveness she showed to her attacker.  Her forgiveness was contagious to the point that even her own mother was able to forgive the man who stabbed her daughter to death.  We could even say that her forgiveness merited the conversion and sanctification of her attacker.  The attacks on purity, on innocence, on the weak, on the young and the vulnerable are so deplorable and awful.  What is even more awful, however, is when the disgust at these crimes leads to the impossibility of offering forgiveness.  The attempted rape and murder of a child turns a human being into a monster.  Is there any way to redeem a monster?  It takes the heart of a child, of a young girl who says, “I want him to be with me in heaven.”  How could she want such a thing?  Because she has seen the brokenness of humanity with the eyes of faith, through the gaze of Christ, and her heart is filled with God’s love: “Those who are well do not need a physician, the sick do.”  We will all die: some will die as virgins, some will die as monsters.  God’s grace, His mercy and forgiveness is able to heal and save all who approach Him with humility, contrition, and hope.  Our place in heaven will be as large as the forgiveness our hearts find for those who offended us.


Why did Jesus not call Matthew at the same time as he called Peter and John and the rest? He came to each one at a particular time when he knew that they would respond to him. He came at a different time to call Matthew when he was assured that Matthew would surrender to his call. Similarly, he called Paul at a different time when he was vulnerable, after the resurrection, something like a hunter going after his quarry. For he who is acquainted with our inmost hearts and knows the secrets of our minds knows when each one of us is ready to respond fully. Therefore he did not call them all together at the beginning, when Matthew was still in a hardened condition. Rather, only after countless miracles, after his fame was spread abroad, did he call Matthew. He knew Matthew had been softened for full responsiveness.
We may admire, incidentally, the self-effacing temperament of Matthew, for we note how he does not disguise his own former life. In his account he freely adds his own name and his own bad profession, while the other Gospel writers had generously protected him under another name. But why did Matthew himself indicate precisely that he was “sitting at the tax office”? To point to the power of the One who called him, underscoring that he was being actively drawn away from the midst of the very evils in which he was presently engaged and that he had not already abandoned his wicked business as a tax gatherer.1


“Tell your sins, and you will be justified.” Matthew also calls himself a publican to show his readers that no one must despair of salvation if he has changed for the better, for he was suddenly changed from a publican to an apostle.2


Now the tax collectors came together because they were of the same trade as Matthew was. For he took pride in the visit of the Messiah and invited them all together. The Messiah applied every form of healing. Not only while he was engaging in a formal discussion or healing or refuting his enemies, but even at breakfast he used to restore persons who were in bad condition. By means of these practices he taught us that every moment and every action can offer benefit to us.
Certainly the dishes Matthew set before him at that time had come from unrighteousness and covetousness. But Christ did not ask to be excused from participating in them, because the gain to be derived from it was going to be great. Rather, he shared the same roof and the same table with people who had erred in their manner of acquiring such things. For such is the nature of the physician. If he did not put up with the decay of the persons who are sick, he would not set them free from their sickness. Certainly Jesus got a bad reputation from this action, by eating with Matthew, by eating in his house and by eating with many tax collectors. This is why you see them criticizing him with this: “Behold a man who is gluttonous and drinks a lot of wine, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”3


Jesus’ sitting at table has more significance for Matthew than just dining. Jesus will be feasting not on food but on the return of sinners. He will call them back through feasting, collegiality and human affection, enjoying himself with their pleasant conversation while reclining at table. He knew that if they recognized him as a powerful judge they would be shattered by the terror of his majesty and overwhelmed by the sheer presence of God unveiled (nuda). Thus, veiled in a human body he was able to communicate with humans. He who wanted to assist the guilty hides the fact that he was a judge. He who did not deny dignity to faithful servants conceals his lordship. He who desired the weak to be embraced by a parent’s love covers his majesty.4


He had come for all. So why does Jesus say that he did not come for the righteous?… No one is righteous by reason of the law. He therefore showed the emptiness of boasting about the law, because with sacrifices imposed on the sick for their health, mercy was needed for all things set down in the law. For if righteousness came from the law, forgiveness through grace would not be necessary.5


According to the allegorical or mystical account, Matthew’s house is his mind, which Christ entered through Matthew’s faith in his grace. He is viewed as having truly “sat at table” there, for this same Matthew deserved to be the writer of this Gospel. Describing the Lord’s deeds and power, he presented a heavenly feast not only to the Lord and his disciples but also to all believers who, coming as publicans and sinners to the knowledge of Christ, deserved being included in so great a feast. In effect, Matthew’s house can be viewed as a church comprising publicans and sinners. He presents to all the leaders there the feast of his faith and preaching, with the Lord and his disciples seated at table.6



  1. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 30.1.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 176–177). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 1.9.9.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 177). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 30.2.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (pp. 177–178). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. SERMONS 29:4.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 178). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. ON MATTHEW 9.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 178). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 45.5.  Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 178). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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