Fr. Poage's short biography on the life and times of St. Maria Goretti is a remarkably in-depth work, maybe even more so, because the book does not even comprise 100 pages. It is written in a clear and matter-of-fact style. And the literary eloquence of the language is not at all compromised due the bluntness of the fact telling. This little biography will give a reader as thorough a look into the life and actions of this brave little girl that no such voluminous collections of hagiography could probably come close to adequately conveying. At least it would not be able to do so without including unnecessarily pious and sanctimonious overtones that can be off putting to readers who are also striving to God themselves but feel extremely limited due to their own weaknesses. That is what is so refreshing about how Fr. Poage tells Maria Goretti's fascinating story. It is done so with earthiness and genuine interest. Yet, it is an interest that is kept at bay. He let's Maria Goretti's story speak for itself, and thankfully, he does not incorporate into his writing trite gushing platitudes.
It seems that in every generation lust is a dangerous evil that stalks humanity. It does so with an intensity that never quits, and when off guard, can become quite consuming for the individual who falls victim to its prey. It was no different in Maria Goretti's time. She and her very devout family did not have an easy time of it, certainly not in respects to finances and economics. They were itinerant farmers, so-to-speak, who were just looking for a break and a place to settle and make roots. When they left the mountainous region of Corinaldo for the swamplands of Ferriere near Nettuno in Italy, they hoped that it would be their final destination. But things only worsened after they settled. While Maria Goretti's family always had a degree of upheaval to it, the stabilizing force that overshadowed their tumultuousness was their deep Catholic faith; it was the bedrock that made everything tolerable and sometimes even joyful. And Maria's mother, Assunta, educated her daughter and her siblings well in a manner that was respectful, grounded and honest. While Assunta could neither read nor write, she led by example, as did the father, Luigi, who died of malaria when Maria was just nine.
As a family they were prayerful, and those traits shone through. They prayed the Rosary and had other devotions that centered on the Holy Eucharist, the true presence of Jesus Christ. They had a down-to-earth humility and goodness about them, and they accepted their lot without many incessant complaints. Yet, it was not easy for them either, especially when the Goretti's shared their living quarters, known as La Cascina Antica or The Cascina Ancient, with an aged widower named Giovanni Serenelli and his wayward son Alessandro, a young man whose mind was perverted with images of pornography and fused with fantasies of violence. The lack of love, warmth and compassion in his own life were certainly the building blocks that hardened his heart. Living in such close confines, Alessando quickly turned his gaze upon the industrious and pious Maria, primarily because she was the exact opposite of everything that he was. There was an aura of inherent goodness and love about her, and in his contaminated thinking, holiness just wasn't in the scene. But that is what she, in her humility, possessed, for she wasn't made a saint solely on the fact that she was a virgin martyr; she had the other hallmark virtues of holiness, characteristics that made many take notice of her, and for Alessandro, that was exactly what he wanted to defile. He made numerous advances on her and badgered her with fowl language and inappropriate remarks, all this under the radar of Maria's family. But Maria simply prayed and tried to make the best of her situation without upsetting the necessary living dynamics. Yet, Alessandro would progress the tensions to an unheard of level, and it is in these specific circumstances where Maria Goretti's mettle, and her ultimate forgiveness of Alessandro, would be severely tested and where her heroic virtue would be universally acknowledged with sainthood.
This was a real gripping read that certainly does have the power to inspire; it is an in-depth biography (with novena prayers at the end) that is a stellar companion piece to the documentary Fourteen Flowers of Pardon (the number of times St. Maria Goretti was brutally stabbed), of which Fr. Poage is also a commentator. I recommend this work to parents, especially to those who have daughters and are concerned about this lust riddled age. But it is truly a work for all. Stories like this, however, are not limited solely to St. Maria Goretti, for others are on the path to sainthood, too, who have followed her example. They are certainly worth mentioning and studying up on. They are in no chronological order: Blessed Albertina Berkenbrock, Blessed Karolina Kozkowna (the Polish Maria Goretti), Blessed Teresa Bracco, Blessed Antonia Mesina, Blessed Laura Vicuna, Blessed Pierina Morosini (who incredibly attended St. Maria Goretti's canonization in 1950), Servant of God Santa Scorese, Servant of God Josephina Vilaseca and Servant of God Isabel Cristina Mrad Campos.
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