Deuteronomy 26:16-19; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Matthew 5:43-48
One night, eight years into a 30-year sentence for the murder of a young girl who had refused his advances, Alessandro Serenelli fell asleep. Suddenly, where his prison cell had been he now saw a beautiful, sunny garden and a girl approaching. As she drew near, he recognized her as Marietta, the girl he had slain. Fearful and wanting to flee but unable to, he watched as she bent down, picked several lilies, and offered them to him. As he took them, they changed into flaming lights. He counted fourteen of them; one for each knife wound he had once inflicted on her. She then smiled at him and said, “Alessandro, as I have promised, your soul shall someday reach me in heaven.”
Those words alone would have convinced him that this was a dream. Now 28 years old, Serenelli was a bitterly unhappy man, completely unrepentant and without the least remorse for his horrendous crime. However, that dream changed everything; when he woke up, the hatred and bitterness that he had felt choking him all those years was completely gone. It was as if he was hearing the words of St. Paul for the first time: Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. From then on, he dedicated himself to making reparation for what he had done.
Many years later and finally released from prison, Serenelli got up the courage to visit his victim’s mother. When he asked her forgiveness, the woman put her hands on his head and said, “Alessandro, Marietta forgave you, Christ has forgiven you, and why should I not also forgive. I forgive you of course, my son!” The next day, she and Alessandro walked hand in hand to Mass; together, they knelt at the altar rail and received the glorified Body of he who said, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. Over time, he became known to their family as “Uncle Alessandro” and on June 24th 1950, he sat with them in the piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica at the canonization Mass of the girl he had murdered, Maria Goretti.
In the reading from Deuteronomy, Moses urged the people to observe the law of God with their entire heart and soul. This is what that little saint Maria Goretti strove so perfectly to do, even as she lay dying; something that people many years older have never been able to do. She and her family knew that hatred builds walls in which we imprison ourselves, not our enemies; they don’t feel our rage, bitterness, or pain; only we are choked by them. When we fail to forgive, we become our own worst enemy, suffering by our own hand and of our own free will.
Those who observe the law of God are those who strive to love as God loves. For them, there are no enemies; no sin too great; no wound too deep to forgive. Alessandro Serenelli would probably have died bitter, unrepentant, and alone were it not for the transforming power of forgiveness first extended by God through the love of one young girl who took Jesus seriously when he said be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
St. Maria Goretti, pray for us.