Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Chastity, Mercy, and Love of Saint Maria Goretti

During my sixth grade year of Catholic school, Sister James Alma taught us about Saint Maria Goretti – the young patroness of chastity, rape victims, and merciful forgiveness. Although my knowledge of sexuality was immature, the affinity felt for this young saint of chastity touched a chord deep within my heart. To think that someone so young would choose death, rather than submit to the sinful lust of a robust neighbor boy was inordinately stirring. That she was able to love her attacker and offer forgiving mercy was incomprehensible. Yet, fate would put me in a similar experience a mere two years later.

It Happened to Me

My willowy adolescent body was no match for the advances of the virile young man down the street. His forceful advances were unsuccessfully fought off and six weeks later pregnancy was confirmed. To be honest, Saint Maria Goretti was far from my mind during the ensuing time of waiting. This year, however, is different. In anticipation of her feast day on July 6th, my mind turned to her as I prayed the prayers of the first day of her Novena this morning.

Unlike Saint Maria Goretti, forgiveness didn’t come easily. After denials from the perpetrator and his family, my family simply went into survival mode. A child was born, adopted by my parents, and we continued life in the same small town. Although open animosity was avoided, relationships remained strained. It took years of life, prayer, and coping before I could even think of facing the reality of what had happened to me.

Sharing Can Be Mercy

Eventually, my experience became a valued tool in counseling young girls and their families. As executive director of our local Right to Life group, my ‘ace in the hole’ story was privately shared with those who could benefit. My survival and successful graduation, marriage, college, and career gave tangible proof that life doesn’t end at rape conception and fully living the pro-life stance.

However, even more time was necessary before it was possible for me to publicly share my story. Finally, in 2012, at the age of fifty-four, something that had happened forty years prior was put into printed word. It was cathartic yet nerve-wracking at the same time. Seeing the most impactful experience in my life put in print shattered the carefully crafted wall I had built. Nightmares returned and the paper thin wall of peace crumbled. Yet I moved forward, sharing and finding a comforting balm by the kind words received in response to my story.

While I have mostly recovered from the unexpected aftershock of sharing such a personal aspect of my private life, a deep dark place will remain with me. There is no hostility toward the others in this experience, only a calm ability to forgive, pray, and move on. My faith and family sustain me. It is my prayer that the others who experienced such a horrific betrayal are moved by mercy and love to do the same.

Saint Maria Goretti – Chastity and Mercy

What a strength of faith and will this young girl possessed! Not only had her father died when Maria was nine, she was in charge of her siblings as her mother worked in the fields to provide sustenance for her family. In addition to caring for her own family, Maria was tasked with cooking and cleaning for a neighbor and his son.

This is how she was placed in the path of her attacker, Alessandro Serenelli who developed an impure attraction to Maria. After months of crude insults and sexual advances, which Maria successfully fought, Alessandro attempted rape. In her successful struggle to prevent violation, Maria was stabbed and died the following day. The numerous brutal stab wounds became infected. Maria’s last words reflected her purity of heart and soul, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli…and I want him with me in Heaven forever”.

The First Fruit of Merciful Forgiveness

Subsequently, Alessandro was imprisoned for his crimes against Maria. Again, her heart of mercy was revealed. After he had served six years in prison, Maria appeared to Alessandro in his cell. Her vision was surrounded by lilies, the symbol of purity, and she spoke words of forgiveness. Maria’s act of mercy and love spurred contrition in Alessandro, allowing grace to enter his heart. After serving his sentence Alessandro lived a life of holiness. Maria’s mother also granted her daughter’s attacker pardon and made the merciful gesture of attending Christmas Mass with him. There he publicly confessed his sin and asked pardon.

Having found mercy, Alessandro eventually became a Franciscan lay brother. Before he died, Alessandro penned an open letter to the world. In it, he shared his admiration of Saint Maria Goretti.

"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.”

In what appears to be a direct response to Maria’s wishes, he added, “…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 and her dear mother, Assunta.”

Personification of Chastity, Mercy, and Love

We are all called to chastity, according to our station in life. Love enters in when we show, by our example, that we are followers of Christ. Saint Maria Goretti exemplifies all that Jesus asks of us – even to the point of loving and praying for our enemies. In her mercy and love, she spiritually embraced her attacker with forgiveness – even to the point of wishing him to spend Eternity with her in Heaven. That he shared the same wish in his final letter, shows that he accepted and understood the mercy extended to him by his little victim.

Novena of Saint Maria Goretti
Prayers for the First Day
O St. Maria Goretti, beautiful model of purity, you defended your virginity unto your death. Even at the age of 11, you held dear to your heart what is dear to our Lord: your purity.
Pray for me that I may do the same, especially when I am tempted.
Please pray that God will give me the strength to avoid sin and say yes to a life which will lead to eternity in Heaven with you and our Lord.
Please pray also for (mention your intentions here).
As we traverse the murky waters of a society entrenched in sins of the flesh, Saint Maria Goretti is a beacon of hope in the ability of mankind to live a life of chastity. In this Year of Mercy, let us look to her as an extraordinary example of God’s mercy and love. By the grace of God, may we sincerely strive to emulate her saintly life:
“Those who were acquainted with little Maria said on the day of her funeral: “A saint has died!” The devotion to her has continued to spread on every continent, giving rise to admiration and a thirst for God everywhere. In Maria Goretti shines out the radical choice of the Gospel, unhindered, indeed strengthened by the inevitable sacrifice that faithful adherence to Christ demands.”
Pope St. John Paul II, - Message for the Centenary of the Death St. Maria Goretti, 5

Monday, June 27, 2016

When 'I'm Pro-life Except' Really Happens…

A B O R T I O N:

The rationalizations are many…

“Why have a baby born into a family who does not want ‘it’?”

“What about school/career?”

“Should we really force a woman to bear a child against her will?”

“What if the baby is deformed or not mentally ‘normal’?”

“Maybe the woman just can’t afford a child right now!”

“It’s not my place to make such an intimate decision for someone else.”

“I’m personally opposed to abortion, but…”

I’ve heard them all. As someone who was in high school when the infamous Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton decisions were being discussed and then handed down, I have been transfixed by the topic for years.  The research that was required  for my first Social Studies debate on the topic, caught fire in my heart and soul and has been a burning flame of conviction ever since.  An otherwise timid public speaker, I could rattle off facts and arguments with fluid ease when pro-life issues were involved. Some of the rationalizations were very simple to dispute with Developmental Charts and Biological Facts. Others would tweak at the heart and seem difficult to counter – but were they?

“What about the rape/incest exception?”

Aha! Yep, that one makes folks a bit more squeamish. Would you really expect a woman to carry her attacker’s child? Well, in a word, ‘yes’! After all, why punish a child for his father’s crime? Wouldn’t that just create another victim? That child has committed no crime, has been convicted by no jury, and is given a death sentence through no fault of his own. But, but, but…

“Wouldn’t the woman’s life come to a screeching halt,
with no chance of a future?”

In a nutshell, no! What makes me so sure about my answer? Well, my ‘ace in the hole’ response comes from a very personal story…

Sometime in the 70’s I found myself the recipient of unwanted advances by a neighborhood boy – I was barely 14 years old. Weeks later I would reluctantly tell my mother the facts of that encounter and she would surmise that my persistent bout of nausea wasn’t the flu after all. She would fall to the floor with the shock of it all and I would be forced to let go of the denial that had kept me halfway sane. The ensuing months were a blur and yet time stood still. My early high school career came to a screeching halt and was substituted with a ‘homebound’ teacher and an algebra tutor. Time, however, marched on and adjustments were made. This wasn’t an era of ‘baby mommas’ and ‘baby daddies’, this was a more sheltered time and after a while we began to attend Mass in a neighboring town.

Then early summer hit and with it ‘the time’. I remember the kind-faced nurse with the gold watch who held my hand – no visitors in the labor/delivery area were allowed then. She kept me somewhat calm by talking about mundane things – like my nice tan. The hours ticked by and the pain increased. There was a recurring little stream of tears at the corner of my eyes but I never called out. I just looked at that gold watch on the nurse’s arm.

Then there he was – a blue eyed bundle of around 7 pounds. They laid him in my lap and I timidly poked at him – counted the fingers and toes, because that’s what I’d heard you did, and then quickly bundled him up again. I felt more fear than joy – more spent than at peace. I don’t remember much more of the hospital stay but I do remember the early days of being back at home. My jeans fit again quickly and I hesitantly went outside for a walk on the sidewalk in front of our house. I looked ‘normal’ again but couldn’t quite get the idea of what had happened to make sense in my 14-year-old brain. The sun was still shining but somehow it didn’t sink its warmth into my skin.

Inside the house were my sisters and that little wooden cradle with ‘him’ in it. My parents had stepped up in support of us and decided to adopt the child and raise him as my brother. We were a family of firm Catholic faith and there could be no other option. They would add this child of mine to their brood even though my mother was 4 months pregnant at the time of his birth. He would soon have a little brother! The adoption papers were drawn up and there was no fuss or disagreement – after all I was still a minor. This plan was for the best – for all of us. Sacrifices were made in families every day – for the good of all – especially the smallest, weakest members. This was our Catholic faith in action!

Another Baby In the Family

The blue-eyed angel grew a full head of blonde hair and five months later his dark-eyed, black-haired ‘twin’ would become his sidekick. He always knew that I was ‘special’ and that he was adopted, even before he knew what that meant, because my parents wanted him to know the truth from the beginning.  ‘The Boys’, as we called them, would grow up together as brothers with a bond that grew stronger and matured with adulthood. Our little family of 7 lived an idyllic life in our small town and acceptance was regained from most. The whispers would always be there but we all grew accustomed to them and we circled the wagons around our family and our Catholic faith.

Back to 'Normal'

I returned to high school and met a young man during the summer of my sixteenth year. He was someone my mother trusted and the first one I dated. We became quite the pair and were soon ‘going’ steady. Another reminder of that time would come when we parked in a quiet meadow and I told him my story. He had heard the murmurs but I needed to tell him myself – that it wasn’t quite the way it was portrayed in some circles. To my surprise and joy he accepted my tale with a loving calm! He was not in tune with the naysayers, his heart was his own – and mine!

We married the Thanksgiving weekend of my senior year, with the blessing of our parish priest. Our high school courtship had remained a chaste one – by our mutual agreement. After our wedding we approached my parents and asked if we could adopt the little one – now three years old – ourselves. My mother’s answer was an unequivocal ‘NO’!  She explained that he was now her baby and she simply could not give him up. We did, however, have ‘The Boys’ over quite a bit. They were our ‘practice kids’ in those early years.

That fall, after having graduated from high school, I began my college life. Although my scholarships were rescinded when I married, I gained 24 credit hours by taking the CLEP test. I remained on track to graduate on time. In what seemed like no time at all I found myself in my senior year of college – and I was also pregnant with our first child! Our son was born before I walked the stage to receive my diploma.

Life Marches On

Since that time many things have happened. After graduation with a BA in Art my various jobs have included Art Teacher, Office Manager and Catholic Book Store Manager as well as a Field Representative for a pro-life US Congressman. In the pro-life realm I have been an Executive Director of Right to Life of Owensboro (twice), served as Newsletter Editor and Board Member of several pro-life groups,. My life has been full and fulfilling. I tell you these things, not to brag about my credentials, but to enforce the point that your life is never over – no matter what cards you are dealt.

During our 36 years of marriage, my husband and I have had three children and married off two of them. We have welcomed 5 grandchildren – gifts from their happy marriages. The two children born to my ‘special brother’ and his wife, round out our total of seven grandchildren. They are all 7 years old and younger. I am Godmother to all seven of these angels and we are quite the tight-knit bunch. Life prevailed and has come full circle. Contrary to being ‘ruined’, I can honestly say that my 54 years on this earth have truly been blessed!

The Rest of the Story

When he was sixteen years old, I went for a drive with my ‘special’ brother. As we sat in an empty church parking lot, I filled him in on the grim details of his origin. I had, of course, gotten ‘our’ mother’s blessing. He had a right to know but it needed to be the right time for him. We talked and exchanged thoughts of Our Story. Our relationship had remained strong throughout the years and that would never change. We just needed to ebb and flow in our own time.

+   +  +

NOTE: This story and the addendum below were first shared in 2012

Fast-forward to a few days ago we discussed my idea of publicly telling Our Story . Of course the folks in our hometown know some version or another of the story and a few people currently in our lives know the details as well. I’ve also shared Our Story with frightened, pregnant girls and their mothers. I’ve shared it with intimate friends and fellow pro-life warriors. But it’s not mine alone to publicly tell. However, we are comfortable with each other and I knew he would honestly tell me how he felt. His answer was as straightforward as he, himself, is. He said, ‘’It’s Our Story and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Tell it like it is.’’
We are quite the pair – praise God!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rest in His Arms Always

We all have them – days when nothing seems to be going our way. Those are the days when we should rest in the arms of Jesus. He, alone, can bring us comfort and peace.

We all have them – days when the world is our oyster and everything is going our way. Those are the days when we should rest in the arms of Jesus. He, alone, can bring us temperance.

We all have them – days when some things are going right and other things, not so much. Those are the days we should rest in the arms of Jesus. He alone is our unwavering solace, companion, and Love.

No matter what the world hands us, we should consider trying to pray always. Make every day a day that we consciously have Jesus at our side. We need Him to tell us when we should act in love – to the stranger or friend who irks us. He should be there to share our joy – in Him and the life He with which He has gifted us. We owe him everything and so it should be natural to include Him in everything – every joy, every fear, every victory, every loss, and every moment of every day. Then, someday, at a time only known by the Father, we will rest in His arms for Eternity.

"By habitually thinking of God, we succeed in praying 24 hours a day." St. Paul of the Cross
For a clearer understanding, read "The Practice of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence.



Here we are again, joining Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday #fmf - a fun way to participate in timed free writing with other bloggers.

Today's #fmf prompt is 'rest'. Follow the link to check out some truly inspirational entries.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Things to Do When You’re Not Really Feelin’ It

Ho hum, some days just don’t feel all that inspirational. You’ve tried the usual things – taking it to God in prayer, coffee, maybe a bite of something tasty – but you’re still feeling off. What’s a body to do when she just can’t seem to get that lift back in her step?

Through trial and error, as well as some sound suggestions from others, here is a list to start you off. Please share your own ideas in the comments.

Mother Knows Best

My mother suffered from chemical imbalances that caused some pretty deep depression. She was a lively German by nature, but some mornings found her feeling hopeless and blue. Her go-to ideas came from inspirational reading and talks with others and included:

Singing a song whether she felt like it or not.
Looking in the mirror and smiling, even if it didn’t start out being a genuine smile.
Surrounding herself with positive people. She once tested me without my knowledge. After we had been together for a couple of hours she told me, “Did you know that you haven’t said a single negative thing?” Whew, I’m glad I passed the test that day because some days I wouldn’t have.

Find a change of scenery

Whether it’s going for a drive, visiting a chapel, or just sitting outside on your porch. Leave the space you are occupying now and find a new vantage point. Notice the little things. The ants, busy with their tasks, are a great example of hard work and initiative. Their tiny world is a fascinating place to visit. The breeze, as it blows through sun-speckled leaves, provides wonderful shadowy displays. There’s something uplifting about nature and the splendor of God’s creation that has no equal.

Get Creative

Have you been wanting to write something, sew, or try your hand at a craft? Find an idea that inspires your creative side. Better yet, find someone with similar interests and do a project together.

Do Something for Someone Else

Bake a cake and decorate it for someone else who needs a boost. 
Look into the eyes of a child and really listen to what they are saying. Make a clover necklace and crown, even though you really don’t feel like it. The smile glowing in those little eyes with surely give your heart a glow. 
Or call someone you have neglected and might be feeling lonely. Doing for others does as much for us as it does for them.

Don’t Just Languish

There, you have a partial list of things to lighten and brighten your day. I feel better now too. Sometimes, the thing that makes me feel the best is to put my thoughts down in words and then share them with others. I think it’s because it helps to analyze exactly what it is that we are lacking and what it is we need.

Now off to enjoy some sunshine and nature!

Your turn - what do you do for a perk up?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Where Is Your Safe Haven?

We all have them – places we go to feel safe. Whether it’s enfolded in the arms of a loving spouse or the solitude of a chapel, we need a place to soothe our wounded souls.

For me, the location changes with my needs. If I need a quiet place to ponder something I can be found under the big hickory tree. Its sweeping branches shield me from view, but allow a gentle breeze to drift around me.

If my spirit feels broken, I’ll go to the little country church a few miles down the road. It’s always open and I sit, in the front pew, with only the company of Jesus in the tabernacle – and occasionally an elderly priest praying his Divine Office.

If it’s impossible to travel anywhere or the problem seems insurmountable, I can always retreat in prayer. Talking to God, even out loud, can be a safe haven like no other. He is always ready, always listening, and the Holy Spirit will whisper solutions in my ear.

The benefit of being a Believer is that we are never so alone that there’s no one to help us feel save. The safe haven is with us always!

Where is your safe haven? Care to share?



Here we are again, joining Kate Motaung for Five Minute Friday #fmf - a fun way to participate in timed free writing with other bloggers.

Today's #fmf prompt is 'haven'. Follow the link to check out some truly inspirational entries.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Like a Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness

You have probably heard the old philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it still make a sound?” Obviously, whether or not anyone saw a tree fall or heard it crash to the ground, a tree, planted in the ground, went from being vertical to being horizontal. It was standing and now it is not, resulting in a dramatic impact on the surrounding environment.

The same reasoning can be applied to abortion. There are no witnesses in the womb to watch what happens to an unborn baby during a brutal dismemberment or chemical attack. The point is not whether or not this act is seen or heard or experienced by society. The issue at hand is that abortion affects society as a whole regardless of their reaction.

Crying Out Against Abortion Is Not Emotional

The real argument isn't if we are affected by violence within the womb on an emotional level. Regardless of how we shield ourselves from the horror, society is suffering. The world is made a harsher place every time this barbaric behavior is repeated. It may not appear to be so, but it hardens hearts a bit more each and every time it happens. The dignity of women and new life is cheapened.

It is reflexive nature on the part of humans to turn away from the worst aspects of this world. We tend to turn to the lighter side of life. For example, this premise is illustrated by the countless pictures of fluffy kittens and photo-shopped landscapes that persistently stream across our Facebook feed. There’s something comforting about the innocuous.

Avoiding the Painful Is Natural

Corny jokes and romping puppies are much easier to look at than the grim reality of the intentional death of an unborn child at the hand of her mother. This, however, doesn’t change the reality. No matter how hard the pull to turn the other way, our obligation to cry out against it is not negated by the sheer revulsion it may bring. We are, indeed, our brother’s keeper. To think otherwise is to turn away from the command of Jesus to love one another as He loves us.

In an effort to share the frustration I experience when attempting to raise the issue of abortion and the urgency that is necessary to spur action, I’ll share an anecdote with you. Anyone who knows me is well aware of my tendency to consistently beat the pro-life drum on social media. Lamentably, I often feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness. My passion fueling hundreds of pro-life posters and countless essays often appears to fall on deaf ears, whereas innocuous posts and jokes garner many positive reactions.

Donuts or Babies?

Case in point: I recently shared the news that Krispy Kreme will begin featuring a donut filled with Nutella. The reaction was (and still is) lively. Likes, emoticons, and comments streamed in. My objective in sharing is not to shame those who reacted favorably but to point out the disproportionate response. It is disheartening to see such unfettered reaction to something so banal when the important topics are often left to the feedback of a few stalwart and like-minded souls.

My next Facebook update involved exactly this query. Why ticker tape and parades for donuts but silence for the unborn? The thoughts on behalf of some Facebook friends make a lot of sense. We humans like to feel safe and unthreatened. It is completely benign to comment on donuts or kittens or corny jokes. No one will engage us in uncomfortable dialogue. We won’t be called out as fanatics or holier than thou. These surface topics just make us one of the crowd – safe in the anonymity of the many. When we publicly witness on the tough issues, however, we take a chance and expose ourselves to judgment.

Do Not Assume Anything

There’s also the reasonable assumption that the harshly realistic topics are silently being noticed. They are being read and prayed about and shared with others. Perhaps a seed is planted and a firmer conviction is being formed. The fruits of this labor of love is, for me, well worth the struggle. On the one chance in a million that something will change and someone will have a change of heart or feel the strength to act – all of my frustrated efforts become worthwhile.

Even in offering our poor attempts to witness to the faith, poor creatures that we are, the tendency is to be result oriented. The need to achieve is written firmly on our minds in this earthly home. Yet we are in no position to expect great achievement as a result of our efforts. As workers in God’s vineyard, our task is to bend to the Master’s will. The outcome, as the rest of our being, is in His capable hands. A wise quote often attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa gives us the proper perspective, “God doesn't require us to succeed; He only requires that you try”.

"For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will." Philippians 2:13

Go Ahead, Lend Your Voice to the Wilderness

So when we cry out for His glory in the wilderness, we have already achieved all that is possible for our human frames. The Almighty God, Creator of all will tend to the rest. Our sole purpose, then, is to do His bidding - to witness to the best of our abilities while loving Him through those who we encounter.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” Mark 1:3