Br. Pier Giorgio of Christ the King was ordained to the Sacred Order of the Diaconate on July 5, 2020. The following is his first homily, preached to the Carmelite community on July 6, the memorial of St. Maria Goretti:
“Courage daughter! Your faith has saved you.” And from that hour the woman was cured.
Matthew elaborates on Mark’s version of this Gospel. He omits Mark’s mentioning of the crowds around Jesus at this moment, but alludes to the Mosaic law requiring the inclusion of four tassels on the garments of Israelite men. Matthew is contrasting the ritual impurity of the hemorrhaging woman because of her bleeding, with the Mosaic observance of Jesus and the tassels of his garment. Jesus’s response is telling. He is not ashamed of her impurity, even in public. Despite her impurity, her faith has saved her.
If a bleeding woman was impure in the time of Jesus, coming into contact with a corpse was even more problematic. Between the healing of the unclean woman and the raising of the official’s daughter, Matthew tells us something striking about Jesus: he is not afraid of our impurity. We need only to have faith.
But twelve years is a long time. Between seminary and Carmel, I have been in formation for ten years, and that feels like an eternity! Imagine for a moment being ostracized from your community for that length of time. A seemingly endless isolation because of something that you are helpless to cure. We do not know what caused such a wound, and perhaps the woman did not fully understand either. In twelve years of ostracization, surely the people around her would know who she was, or at least to avoid her. And yet in this daring faith to seek out Jesus, she is healed.
Jesus is not ashamed of our woundedness. He is not ashamed of our impurities. I believe that he has called most of us not in spite of our wounds, but because of them. To unite our woundedness to his own suffering and death on the cross. Matthew is especially good at telling this story. All throughout his Gospel, he demonstrates the full humanity of Christ. This is the evangelist who just a chapter earlier to today’s passage reminds us of Isaiah’s words (printed on my holy card from this weekend): “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.”
Even in our woundedness, he calls us like he called Israel by Hosea’s prophecy, if only we turn to him in faith: “I will betroth you to me forever: I will betroth you to me with justice and judgement, with loyalty and compassion; I will betroth you to me with fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.”
One of the miracles of the martyr we celebrate today is the conversion of her murderer. St. Maria Goretti was martyred as a young girl. Murdered by a 20-year-old farm hand in the heat of passion, when she resisted his attempted sexual assault on her. In her dying moments, she forgave him. Her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli served 27 years in prison. Alessandro was a deeply wounded young man. His dad was an alcoholic and his mother died in a psychiatric hospital when Alessandro was only a few months old. His mother had tried to drown him as a newborn. His older brother committed suicide while studying to become a priest. Jesus called Alessandro through St. Maria Goretti’s faith. Upon his release from prison, he worked as a laborer for the Capuchin friars, who eventually accepted him as a lay brother. Towards the end of his life, he wrote the following in his will:
I’m nearly 80 years old. I’m about to depart. Looking back at my past, I can see that in my early youth, I chose a bad path which led me to ruin myself. My behavior was influenced by print, mass-media and bad examples which are followed by the majority of young people without even thinking. And I did the same. I was not worried. When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Maria Goretti, now a Saint, was my good Angel, sent to me through Providence to guide and save me. I still have impressed upon my heart her words of rebuke and of pardon. She prayed for me, she interceded for her murderer. Thirty years of prison followed. Little Maria was really my light, my protectress; with her help, I behaved well during the 27 years of prison and tried to live honestly when I was again accepted among the members of society. The Brothers of St. Francis, Capuchins from Marche, welcomed me with angelic charity into their monastery as a brother, not as a servant. I’ve been living with their community for 24 years, and now I am serenely waiting to witness the vision of God, to hug my loved ones again, and to be next to my Guardian Angel