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As Christians, we are asked to forgive people who hurt us. In last Sunday’s (Sept. 17) gospel, Our Lord Jesus Christ told Peter that we should forgive those who have done us wrong not only seven times but 77 times. Also, in the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

But because we’re human, forgiving those who cause us pain is easier said than done. Hurt emotionally or even physically, we’re angry and don’t have peace of mind. We want to strike back or exact vengeance. But because we’re not really criminal, we avoid violence as a means of getting even. We carry, though, the pain as additional emotional baggage.

Church teachings tell us there’s divine justice, vengeance is not ours, and there will be a day of reckoning. We are asked to pray to God to give us the grace to enable us to get through the emotional crisis. We also seek grace to enable us to forgive and forget. In one sense, though, it is easier to forgive than to forget. We may be able to forgive but the scar remains in our heart.

On this point, Father Carlos Martins, director of the Pilgrimage of Mercy, says, “All of us, at one point or another, have been hurt by someone. Sometimes these hurts are so great that they are life changing in a destructive manner. They leave one injured, grieving and often angry or scared. Long-term, and even permanent, wounding is the result. For example, how does a rape victim come to peace again? How is it that someone whose health has been permanently taken away by another obtain tranquility? How do family members who have had a loved one murdered find comfort?

I believe, though, that if we forgive those who wronged us, we would also be forgiven by God for our trespasses. “Do unto others what you would like to be done to you,” the golden rule declares.

We may also look at how the saints follow Christ’s teachings on forgiveness.

St. Maria Goretti, the Little Saint of Great Mercy, is a shining example of the virtue of forgiveness.     

According to Father Martins, “while St. Maria is universally known as the Patroness of Purity, her greatest virtue was her unyielding forgiveness of her attacker, Alessandro Cerenelli, even in the midst of horrendous physical suffering. This forgiveness would completely convert Alessandro and set him on a path to personal holiness.

Martins said, “As Maria understood so well, forgiveness is something quintessentially Christian. While all major religions offer some value to forgiveness, only Christianity upholds forgiveness as its central tenet. Indeed, it was to share with us the Father’s forgiveness that Christ became incarnate and underwent torture and death. Forgiveness is God’s victory, the crown jewel of the Christian faith.”

St. Maria Goretti is unique in that she is the youngest canonized saint.  She died tragically on July 6, 1902, at the age of 11.

Born into poverty, her father moved the family when Maria was just six years old from the east side of Italy (near Ancona) to the west side (near Nettuno. Three years later, when Maria was nine, her father died. It fell to her at that time to raise her five siblings while her mother worked the fields to produce the crops with which they would both pay the rent and feed themselves.

This was a terrible time of trial and suffering for the whole family.  For Maria it was especially difficult. Aside from having the responsibility of caring for her family, she had to also cook and clean for her two next door neighbors – Giovanni Cerenelli and his son, Alessandro, who assisted her mother with the farm tasks.

It was also during this time that Alessandro began to develop an impure liking for Maria. The big 20-year-old would say rude and crude things to her, things that were inappropriate and embarrassing, and that would cause her to run away.  However, at a certain point he began to make direct sexual advances towards her, demanding her virginity and threatening her with violence for non-compliance.

Finally, after many months of this, Alessandro forced himself upon Maria in an attempt to rape her. Though she prevented him from violating her, Alessandro brutally stabbed her numerous times.  Maria died the next day in the midst of horrendous infection brought on by her lacerations. Her last words were, “I forgive Alessandro Serenelli … and I want him with me in heaven forever.”

During his prison sentence Maria appeared to Alessandro and forgave him. That act of mercy and forgiveness — that act of love — filled Alessandro with contrition for his crime.  It was also a turning point for him where grace entered his heart.  From that point on, he lived a beautiful and converted life of holiness, eventually becoming a Franciscan lay brother.

St. Maria is known as a wonder worker. She has intervened with the Lord to produce countless miracles.  Of all the saints (over 160) whose relics Father Carlos Martins, director of Treasures of the Church, ministers with, St. Maria is the one who by far has produced the most miracles.

We may not be as forgiving as St. Maria, but we should always try our best to follow her example.

When we’re deeply hurt by someone, we should pray for her intercession with the Lord to lighten our burden.