Monday, July 11, 2011

On Heroic Virtue

The feast of Maria Goretti (July 6) from what I can tell is a disturbing one for modern man. It is understandable at first when one hears the details. A poor 12 year old girl choose to die rather than be used as an object for her assailants pleasure.

It seems even those who defend chastity seem to struggle with the witness as a model of purity*. Indeed the offering of one's life for any cause these days, much less a misunderstood virtue as chastity, is often a fight that seems doomed from the outset. The modern mind it appears to me to value this temporal life as the highest calling. All other considerations are to be cast aside when danger to life and limb is near.

For my own mind it took some time to contemplate the significance and meaning of St. Maria Goretti's sacrifice. At first glance it would appear that the wiser thing would have been to submit to her attacker's monstrous desires. The most logical course of action, according to our modern doctrines, would be to survive the attack and to preserve one's life at all costs. It is true (and should not be understated) that she would not have been at fault. She would not have been guilty of anything, either in the secular mind or in the view of the Church (to my knowledge).

Heroic virtue however is a higher calling. It is a grace given by God to those whom He calls to a higher purpose. Our calling as Christians can at times demand not only our time and treasure, but our very lives in the image of Christ. He died on the cross to show His love for us and to show us what it means to be His disciples. At any time a follower of Christ must be ready to lay down His life for Him and the Truth.

An analogy is perhaps needed. Consider the early martyrs of the Church in Roman times who were threatened with death unless they renounced the name of Christ. All it would have taken was a simple lie. They were threatened with death. No one would have thought less of them for saving their lives at the expense of telling a untruth that they didn't want to tell in the first place. Instead, they gave their lives to bear witness to Christ and to the Truth. Theirs was the highest calling, to offer their lives as the Master had done. This is heroic virtue. It is, to use a military saying, "above and beyond the call of duty."**

St. Maria Goretti bears witness to Christ on a different but no less important topic. Her attacker wished to use her as an object of his lust. She refused. And paid the ultimate price. Her willingness to die rather than be reduced to an object proclaimed the integrity of both herself and her attacker, even if he didn't wish to listen. She gave her life to bear witness to the integrity of all people, that no one has the right to exploit another. In doing so, she answered the call of the Master, and showed the world heroic virtue. In this light it is not surprising that her attacker later asked for forgiveness from Maria's mother, and her mother gave it. The grace earned for them through her actions bears witness to that calling that all Christians have.

I speak as a 30 year old man that if I am faced with a situation where I am forced to choose between life and Christ that I have half the courage of that 12 year old girl. St. Maria Goretti, pray for us, that we may answer the challenge as well.

*For the record, I am a huge fan of Dawn Eden's work and miss her blog very much. But I think it would have done her good to reflect on this saint a bit more.

**The thought occurred to me that the analogy does not translate directly is one that I had considered. In the analogy, it would take the part of the martyr to lie in order to save himself, which is still a sin even if under duress. In St. Maria's case it would not be a sin if the attacker had overpowered her for example. But for the purposes of demonstrating heroic virtue I believe the comparison is apt.


Dawn Eden said...

Thanks for the insight. I've reflected upon Maria Goretti since writing that post and think you've said it well. Please ask St. Maria's intercession for me as I work on my next book, due at the publisher August 1. Thanks again and God bless you.

CatholicGuy said...

Ms. Eden,

Thank you for stopping by! Really appreciate the feedback and love your work. God bless.