Fidelity challenges us in a particular way today because its difficulty has come to be associated with it being something unnecessary or unnatural. In fact, love draws us into a kind of commitment. God Himself shows that this commitment is fully intended on His side and generally lacking on ours. Infidelity begins when our will commits to someone else from that place within our hearts that is reserved for one alone. The vow of chastity is not just the withholding of one’s body from the marital act: it is the consecration of all the affections of the heart to God. This doesn’t produce people who are frigid, but, for those who “can accept it,” they become by their devotion tangible sparks and flames manifesting the kingdom already present now. All are loved, not for themselves, but because God is loved above all.
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.
Forgiveness is indeed essential to Christian life. If we want to be forgiven by God (and, indeed, we NEED to be forgiven by God), we NEED to forgive those who have wronged us. Sometimes grudges can hide quietly in the base of our gut when we decide to simply, “move on” or “let it go.” These pragmatic attitudes are actually not very Christian. We should not try to ignore our feelings, or bury them, but to face the fact that we have been wronged, we have suffered, we have been hurt, we have been treated unjustly. Whoever has done these this to us has become by definition our enemy. The first move as a Christian is not to excuse the wrong, but to forgive it. This is the work of God’s love in our hearts. Christian forgiveness is not given because it is deserved, or merited, or earned. Christian forgiveness is an attitude of heart that we accept because we receive the commandment of forgiveness from Christ in our heart. We allow our heart to be moved by His divine Word from brokenness, anger, frustration, bitterness, etc. to healing and peace.