“I will go peaceably and firmly to the Catholic Church: for if Faith is so important to our salvation, I will seek it where true Faith first began, seek it among those who received it from God Himself.” – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
I will be honest and say that setting aside time every day for a full hour of prayer is difficult. During seminary it was easy and a basic fact of life. Even a few years ago I didn’t have a problem finding an hour of quiet prayer. However, when multiple children are thrown into the mix an hour is hard to grasp.
That is why I was intrigued by a new book entitled The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life by Gary Jansen. It may seem like a “cop-out” to only pray for 15 minutes a day, but when you lead a busy life or are starting out in the spiritual life, 15 minutes is perfect. We can all find 15 minutes.
But is that it? Do we simply kneel down for 15 minutes? What do we do during that time?
In his book, Jansen provides detailed instructions on how to pray for 15 minutes based on ancient practices, many of which were inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola.
First of all, Jansen exhorts us to set-aside time every day for prayer. This is a pre-requisite of the spiritual life and is something we must do if we want to progress in our relationship with God. Some of us may be intimidated with that task, but it really shouldn’t be a problem. We don’t have to start by devoting ourselves to a full hour of prayer. Instead, we can begin by giving God one percent of our day. Jansen explains:
“Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in a day? It’s true. I did the math. Did you also know that one percent of all that time is fourteen minutes and twenty-four seconds? What would happen if you made a conscious decision, every day, to exercise your soul by giving roughly fifteen minutes of your time over to God? Just one tiny percent of your life. Would your life change? Mine did.” (The 15-Minute Prayer Solution, 3)
The key is to set-aside time every day. As the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race.” Steady, consistent prayer has a much greater effect on our prayer life than intense bursts that fizzle over time.
Connected to this thought of giving God one percent of our day is the idea of faith the size of a “mustard seed.” Jesus said to His disciples:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” Matthew 17:20
Praying for 15 minutes a day may seem like a short amount of time, but when it is done in faith the effects can last a lifetime. Not only that, the goal is that 15 minutes of prayer will lead to praying “without ceasing.” We must start small, have faith the size of a mustard seed, and let God do the rest.
The Jesus Prayer, Lectio Divina, & The Examen
Jansen does not dwell too much on theory before he starts explaining what to do during those 15 minutes. He gives many different ways to pray that can all be accomplished during that time frame. For the most part Jansen focuses on ancient ways of praying that aim at quieting the soul. The first type of prayer he describes is the famous “Jesus Prayer,” made popular by the Russian book The Way of a Pilgrim. It is a very simple prayer that involves saying the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner,” by slowly breathing in and out. The breathing is an essential part of the prayer and helps calm a person’s mind and allows them to focus on God.
After saying the “Jesus Prayer,” Jansen suggests meditating on a short passage of scripture and engaging in what is called Lectio Divina (“Divine Reading”). This type of praying with scripture focuses on immersing oneself inside the scripture passage and listening for God’s voice.
Another option is the “Examen” prayer. This type of prayer aims at finding God in the various people, things and events of the day. Often the “Examen” is done at the end of day where we meditate on how God brought different people into our lives and thanking Him for His divine providence. It is a great way to remind ourselves that God is present in all things and nothing happens “by chance.”
Seven Days of Exercises
The book itself is not very long (which makes sense) and at the end of it is a simple guide to praying for seven days. It includes seven days of Lectio Divina and is a great way to get started, especially for those of us who don’t know where to begin. This is probably one of the most helpful parts of the book and allows you to practice what you learned.
To conclude, I heartily recommend getting a copy of The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life. Jansen has a writing style that is accessible to anyone. He writes about deep theological truths in a way that a person who has zero years of religious education can understand. Much of what he writes is from experience and he gives many short stories to explain how prayer has affected his own life.
I will be honest, much of what Jansen writes may challenge you and your idea of prayer. He focuses much more on relational types of prayer than formula-based prayers. In other words, while he draws from the rich tradition of the Catholic Church Jansen focuses more on calming your soul to listen to the Holy Spirit than reciting different prayers to get what you want.
I know that I have benefited from Jansen’s book and will return to it on a daily basis.
Catholics should venerate relics because it is a great reminder that we all will die. We always need to keep our eyes on the cross as we trudge towards the end and remember that we will have to account for all we do on this earth before God. Our purpose here on earth is to get to heaven. Venerating the relics of saints helps keep our gaze focused on our most important mission of salvation. Please read the article below on the author’s perspective of venerating relics of saints.
Why Do Catholics Venerate Relics?
I’ve heard several people express the sentiment that of all Catholic traditions, the veneration of relics is the one they least understand, and they are maybe even a little creeped out by it. In a way, I get it—it seems a little weird and morbid to take the earthly remains of a saint and wear them in a locket. But relics have played a major role in Catholic tradition and prayer through the centuries, and many people make pilgrimages to visit relics of powerful saints. So why, exactly, do we venerate relics? What is the meaning of this practice, and how can it affect our own prayer lives?
Catholicism is not purely a conceptual or emotional religion; it is also an earthy religion. It incorporates all five of our senses into the liturgy, with candles and incense and Rosaries, music and bells and the Blessed Sacrament in Bread and Wine. It takes into account the reality of the created world, and it resists the heresy of Gnosticism—the idea that our bodies are corrupt and that we ought to reject the material world in order to engage in the spiritual world. Our earthly bodies are not just outer shells that house our true selves; they are part of our very being. We are made up of mind, body, and soul, and all three of those elements combine to make us who we are. What we do with our physical bodies matters on a spiritual level.
There is no saint that illustrates this idea better than St. Maria Goretti, a martyr who died refusing to act in a way that would have defiled the physical body, while imploring her killer to do the same. Last month, I was able to venerate the relics of St. Maria Goretti during the Pilgrimage of Mercy tour, which is still going on now. I was particularly moved by the priest’s homily, which mentioned many of the miracles that have taken place through Maria’s intercession. Many people have experienced powerful healings, inexplicable through scientific means, after placing a relic of St. Maria by their injuries. It is fitting that God would use Maria’s relics as a means of bringing physical healing. The Pilgrimage of Mercy website explains how relics do not have power in and of themselves, but that God frequently chooses use them to bring about His healing:
In each of these instances God has brought about a healing using a material object. The vehicle for the healing was the touching of that object. It is very important to note, however, that the cause of the healing is God; the relics are a means through which He acts. In other words, relics are not magic. They do not contain a power that is their own; a power separate from God. Any good that comes about through a relic is God’s doing. But the fact that God chooses to use the relics of saints to work healing and miracles tells us that He wants to draw our attention to the saints as “models and intercessors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828). It also reveals His intention to use relics to foreshadow the general resurrection of mankind: that one day God’s faithful children, the members of His Body, will reign with him in glory, and through whom, even now on earth, He works mightily.
Is the veneration of relics morbid? Maybe. But then again, Catholicism has always had the tendency to be a bit morbid. Think of the monks who greet each other by saying “Memento mori”—“Remember you must die.” Every November we celebrate All Souls’ Day, often by visiting graveyards. And every time we enter a church, we look up at a crucifix that depicts Jesus being brutally tortured and killed. Why do we give so much attention to these things? The reason is summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Things that seem morbid on a purely earthly level take on a whole new meaning when we consider the victory that Jesus has won for us in Heaven. We know that there is a world beyond this one waiting for us, and that gives us a confidence in the face of death. We can be brave amidst the difficult trials of this world. We hold on to physical relics as reminders that this world is passing, that another world awaits us, and that what we do in this physical world has implications in the next.
God has glorified Himself through the physical body of St. Maria Goretti, and He continues to reveal His tender care for our earthly lives through the presence of His saints. We can remain aware of how He works through creation by taking care of our own physical bodies and by incorporating our senses in prayer—perhaps by taking a walk to a beautiful church to pray, visiting a place where a saint once walked, using a favorite Rosary, lighting a candle, wearing holy medals that have been blessed, or venerating relics of a special saint.
If the Pilgrimage of Mercy tour is headed to your city in the next month, I would highly recommend taking the time to visit. Check out the schedule here!
Please read the article below to help in your growing toward Chastity. Also, work towards joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity ASAP!
Pornography and Acedia
by Reinhard Hütter
A uniquely toxic combination of the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh has become an almost normal component of everyday life: the perturbingly pervasive use of pornography in general and internet pornography in particular, with its dangerous addictiveness and its lethal effect on the Christian spiritual life. To comprehend the spiritual roots of this crisis, we need to recall an all-too-forgotten vice, acedia, usually called “sloth” but better rendered as “spiritual apathy.” It is the very forgoing of friendship with God—which is the fulfillment of the transcendent dignity and calling of the human person—and the embrace of the self-indulgent deception that there never was and never will be friendship with God, that there never was and never will be a transcendent calling and dignity of the human person. Nothing matters much, because the one thing that really matters, God’s love and friendship, does not exist and therefore cannot be attained.
Acedia creates a void that we try to fill with transient rushes of pleasure—primarily venereal pleasure—to ward off the ennui of life bereft of its very center. But the simulacra that promise the rushes of pleasure we seek betray us. They cannot fill the void created by the loss of our transcendent calling to the love and friendship of God. Rather, they only increase the craving to fill the void we cannot fill, breeding compulsion and intensifying spiritual apathy, thereby encouraging acedia’s most dangerous shoot to spring forth: despair.
Christian spiritual wisdom has always regarded acedia as a vice that, unchecked, will eventually prove deadly to the Christian life. For spiritual apathy first leads us to despair of God’s love and mercy and eventually issues in a sadness that will always cause problems. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas observes in On Evil, “No human being can long remain pleasureless and sad.” People engulfed by the sadness to which their indulgence in spiritual apathy led them tend to avoid such sadness first by shirking and then by resenting and scorning God’s love and mercy.
This vice’s post-Christian secular offshoot, an unthematic despair posing as boredom, covers—like a fungus—the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional life of many, if not most, who inhabit the affluent segments of the Western secular world. The old vice of acedia, of spiritual apathy, is the root cause of the typically bourgeois ennui, boredom.
Eventually the collective ideological, cultural, social, and political aversion to the divine good previously received and embraced will issue in a collective spiritual state of acedia, which eventually turns against any remnant of or witness to the transcendent dignity of human persons and to their calling to friendship with God. This is the very story of modern secularism. The flight from sadness that begins with avoiding and resisting spiritual goods and ends with attacking them describes with uncanny accuracy the specific ressentiment and aggression typical of a secular age.
In a seminal phenomenological study, originally published two years before the outbreak of World War I, the German philosopher Max Scheler offers an astute analysis of this distinctly modern negative spiritual attitude. Ressentiment, he claims, arises from the weakness of the will and issues in contempt of those moral values one despairs of achieving oneself. This ressentiment characterizes not only the modern secular individual but also the most influential strand of modern secular moral theory.
Ressentiment, Scheler argues, motivates the whole modern subjective theory of moral values, an approach to ethics currently best known as emotivism. If moral values amount to nothing but subjective phenomena of the human mind without independent meaning and existence—a position held by a variety of naturalist, positivist, and pragmatist philosophers—one never can be found lacking in light of an objective standard of moral values. As a subtle form of ressentiment, the emotivist theory of moral values fails to understand the profoundly problematic nature of pornography. Unable to name an objective standard of moral values, emotivism will in the end find a way to exculpate its production and consumption.
Scheler helps us understand ressentiment as the distinctively modern practice of the vice of acedia. The typically modern secular practice carries the inner logic of spiritual apathy further, to the complacent contempt, even under the guise of moral theory, for what imposes itself as truly and objectively good. Ours is, arguably, not a culture of tolerance but a culture of deep-seated ressentiment that makes possible the amorphous yet broad social and political acceptance of pornography. The vast numbers of persons who, unbeknownst to themselves, are indulging in acedia , despair of and eventually come to resent the very dignity of the human person that pornography treats with contempt.
This spiritual apathy breeds other vices. In his overquoted but understudied Moralia in Job, Gregory the Great famously assigns six daughters to the vice of acedia: malice, spite, faintheartedness, despair, sluggishness with respect to the commandments, and—most important for our concern—“the roaming unrest of the spirit,” as the Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper aptly renders it in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues. This roaming unrest of the spirit takes initial shape in another vice, one hardly recognized as such anymore, because modernity all too often confuses it with intellectual inquisitiveness: vain curiosity, or the lust of the eyes. Fueled by ennui and ressentiment and elicited by the roaming unrest of the spirit, vain curiosity takes the first allegedly innocent step that all too soon leads to the regular, then habituated, and eventually compulsive practice of pornographic voyeurism. When considering the vice of vain curiosity, Thomas Aquinas offers in the Summa Theologiae a brief but profoundly pertinent remark: “Sight-seeing [inspectio spectaculorum] becomes sinful, when it renders [one] prone to the vices of lust and cruelty on account of things [one] sees represented.”
Christian spiritual wisdom has long taught that the lust of the eyes and the lust of the flesh feed each other. The concupiscence of the eyes inflames the concupiscence of the flesh, and vice versa. St. Augustine offers in the Confessions a first step to understanding why the consumption of internet pornography can easily lead to the slow destruction of moral self-possession. “The truth,” he writes, “is that disordered lust springs from a perverted will; when lust is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion. These were like interlinking rings forming what I have described as a chain, and my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress.” Concupiscence indulged and habituated gathers such strength that it takes on the nature of a certain kind of necessity that compels the will in such a way that the attribute “free” becomes increasingly vacuous.
What seems most characteristic of the compulsive consumption of pornography is that the consumer no longer finds any pleasure in looking at the simulacra. All he has left, when the act is completed, is a craving for stimulating a desire that will always remain unsatisfied. What is to be learned from the testimonies of pornography’s users is the important fact that, contrary to prevailing cultural assumptions, the lust of the eyes is not a “hot” but rather a “cold” vice. It arises from the roaming unrest of the spirit rooted in a spiritual apathy that, again, despairs of and eventually comes to resent the very transcendence in which the dignity of the human person has its roots. The lust of the eyes that feeds on Internet pornography does not inflame but rather freezes the soul and the heart in a cold indifference to the human dignity of others and of oneself.
The consumption of internet pornography harms the one who does the consuming; those whose dignity, health, and often lives are consumed in the production of pornography; and those who have to suffer from the dissolution of conjugal and familial bonds of fidelity, intimacy, and trust. Into that night of moral errancy, the Catechism of the Catholic Church sheds salutary light by reminding all persons of goodwill of a truth that to right reason is self-evident, that pornography offends against chastity:
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of the spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
The Catholic Church’s teaching on the evil of pornography is anchored normatively in the dignity of the human person and in the intimately conjoined virtue of chastity. Chastity is not (as current stereotypes insist) prudishness, the fearful contempt of sexuality as a “necessary evil,” unavoidable but ultimately subhuman. It is the virtue that both expresses and preserves the dignity of what is a genuine and surpassing good: the dignity of the human person in sexual matters.
In order to understand chastity rightly, and especially its indispensability for proper human flourishing and the enjoyment of true freedom in all relationships, it is crucial to see how this often ridiculed and misunderstood virtue is intimately related to another virtue in need of recovery: temperance. Temperance is one of the so-called cardinal virtues, which can be described as the four habits of excellence that enable human beings to realize the human good. The first of them, prudence, identifies and commands the appropriate specific act; the second, justice, attends to the good of others and hence gives them their due; the third, courage, overcomes the fear of whatever threatens our bodily integrity and existence; the fourth, temperance, protects our inner order from the ever-present power of our internal sense appetites.
Temperance—or better, “selfless self-preservation,” as Josef Pieper felicitously renders this virtue—has nothing whatsoever in common with some bourgeois, lukewarm moderation in matters of food and drink. Rather, temperantia is the virtue that preserves the inner order of the human being, directing the most elementary forces of human self-preservation, self-assertion, and self-fulfillment: As Pieper writes, “The discipline of temperance defends [the human being] against all selfish perversion of the inner order, through which alone the moral person exists and lives effectively.” Chastity is nothing but the realization of selfless self-preservation in human sexuality.
Let me use an image. Prudence is the helmsman who directs the ship of our moral agency through the treacherous waters of moral quandaries and spiritual temptations. Our helmsman can operate properly only if we are properly formed in justice, courage, and temperance. An inordinate desire for sensual pleasure, brought about by the absence or failure of temperance, weakens and obstructs the ability of our helmsman to direct the ship. The selfless self-preservation of temperance protects the inner order of the person against the encroachments of powerful sensual desire and thus allows our helmsman to do his job. Without selfless self-preservation there simply is no true and perfect prudence.
And consequently, without chastity, the expression of temperance in sexual matters, there is no true and perfect prudence in the sexual life either. Without chastity, the helmsman cannot safely and confidently steer the ship safely through the treacherous waters of the sexual life to its proper destination. The result is a severely hampered moral life and consequently a great diminishment in human flourishing.
Thus chastity is a virtue not only indispensable for the realization of the virtue of prudence in sexual matters but also for the undisturbed proper operation of prudence in general. In other words, where the virtue of chastity is feeble and frail, the virtue of prudence will be encumbered and possibly corrupted. Those who are not chaste will not be truly or fully prudent.
This has fundamental meanings for the preservation of human dignity. If we want to protect human dignity in sexual and indeed all other human matters, we must exercise true and perfect prudence. If we want to exercise true and perfect prudence, we must seek chastity. But before we can exercise chastity in its proper sense, we must practice a more general virtue of chastity, a spiritual chastity. For it is this virtue that addresses the spiritual root of the problem: acedia. What is spiritual chastity?
“If the human mind,” writes St. Thomas in the Summa, “delights in the spiritual union with that to which it behooves it to be united, namely God, and refrains from delighting in union with other things against the requirements of the order established by God, this may be called a spiritual chastity. . . . Taken in this sense, chastity is a general virtue, because every virtue withdraws the human mind from delighting in a union with unlawful things.” This spiritual chastity arises directly from faith, hope, and charity, which unite the human mind to God. Spiritual chastity preserves the union with God and thereby offers the most salient protection against acedia.
The single most important practice that fortifies our spiritual chastity and simultaneously protects us from acedia is an active and persistent discipline of prayer. Yet because of the unique and distinctly modern attack on the moral integrity of the human person by way of subtle and omnipresent temptations to indulge in the lust of the eyes, the restoration and protection of chastity requires practices more pointed and radical than the individual practice of prayer alone. False self-sufficiency is best overcome communally.
Note well, the practice of prayer is a spiritual discipline categorically different from and not a substitute for the counseling or therapy advisable for those experiencing what clinicians increasingly diagnose as gravely compulsive behavior or addiction. Because the root of the problem is a spiritual one, the healing from the addictive behavior will ultimately be overcome only when the negative spiritual root, acedia , is eradicated. It is the latter that the practice of prayer addresses.
In conclusion, therefore, I propose one such communal practice and discipline. One highly pertinent spiritual initiative that most directly addresses the pressing contemporary problem of Internet pornography—not at its shiny electronic surface but at its hidden spiritual root—is the Angelic Warfare Confraternity promoted by the Dominican order.
The Dominican theologian Brian T. Mullady explains that it “seeks to foster the connection between chastity and the other acquired and infused virtues, especially charity; which enables one to love and reverence [one’s] own body as well as the bodies of others.” The members of the confraternity engage in a disciplined practice of daily prayer and support each other in prayer while drawing upon the intercessions of the Seat of Wisdom, the Mother of God, and of St. Thomas, the confraternity’s patron saint.
Far from being an outlet for pious and prudish impulses, the confraternity’s practice of prayer reflects a pertinent theological truth about the efficaciousness of prayer. As St. Thomas states: “Since prayers offered for others proceed from charity . . . the greater the charity of the saints in heaven, the more they pray for wayfarers, since the latter can be helped by prayers: and the more closely they are united with God, the more are their prayers efficacious.” The prayer that the members of the confraternity pray daily is directed to the one who has the power to protect and to liberate man from spiritual apathy, ennui, ressentiment, and the lust of the eyes:
Dear Jesus, I know that every perfect gift and especially that of chastity depends on the power of your Providence. Without you, a mere creature can do nothing. Therefore, I beg you to defend by your grace the chastity and purity of my body and soul. And if I have ever imagined or felt anything that can stain my chastity and purity, blot it out, Supreme Lord of my powers, that I may advance with a pure heart in your love and service, offering myself on the most pure altar of your divinity all the days of my life.
The discipline of prayer sustains the spiritual union of the mind and heart with God and with everything that is consonant with the will of God. By exercising spiritual chastity and thereby sustaining spiritual union with God, the discipline of prayer protects us most effectively from falling into spiritual apathy and its secular offspring, ennui and ressentiment. For the one who prays—truly prays—is never bored or resentful. The practice of prayer might commend itself as the apposite, grace-initiated preparation for welcoming the virtue of chastity into the human mind and will.
Such welcome is gravely important. For the virtue of chastity is the prime protector of human dignity. In the order of action, conjugal chastity realizes one’s own human dignity and acknowledges the dignity of one’s spouse. More comprehensively, it is the chaste person whose gaze can genuinely behold and affirm the dignity of the other. It is the chaste person who is free from the lure of the enticing, the titillating, the demeaning, the base, and who consequently can exercise true and perfect prudence.
Reinhard Hütter is professor of Christian theology at Duke Divinity School.
In the Commentary on John, St. Thomas Aquinas writes the following about marriage:
In the mystical sense, marriage signifies the union of Christ with his Church, because as the Apostle says: “This is a great mystery: I am speaking of Christ and his Church” (Eph 5:32). And this marriage was begun in the womb of the Virgin, when God the Father united a human nature to his Son in a unity of person. So, the chamber of this union was the womb of the Virgin: “He established a chamber for the sun” (Ps 18:6). Of this marriage it is said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who married his son” (Mt 22:2), that is, when God the Father joined a human nature to his Word in the womb of the Virgin. It was made public when the Church was joined to him by faith: “I will bind you to myself in faith” (Hos 2:20). We read of this marriage: “Blessed are they who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rv 19:9). It will be consummated when the bride, i.e., the Church, is led into the resting place of the groom, i.e., into the glory of heaven.
Last weekend in Michigan, we saw the relics of St. Maria Goretti and we were moved to tears to be in the presence of the body of a saint. Words can’t describe the emotions that come when one is near the body that used to house a soul that is now with our father in heaven. St. Maria Goretti is just a sweet sweet person that will help you if you seek her assistance with our dear lord.
Below is a great post from the Catholic Gentlemen that contains a letter from Alessandro Serenelli the man that murdered St. Maria in her own kitchen when she refused his sexual advances. The letter is very powerful. Please note the reference to pornography and the role it played in leading Alessandro to murder St. Maria. Please do not let your children watch porn! Be mindful of their souls!
Choose the Right Path: A Message From a Repentant Murderer
by Sam Guzman (aka The Catholic Gentlemen)
Yesterday, I had the privilege of venerating the first class relics of St. Maria Goretti, the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic Church. While the time with her relics was brief due to the crowds, it was still a powerful experience to see the body of this young girl who had more virtue at the age of 12 than most of us will ever have.
If you don’t know St. Maria’s story, she was a young Italian girl born in October of 1890. She lost her father at a young age and had to mature quickly to help take care of her siblings while her mother earned a living. Due to their extreme poverty, the Goretti family had to move in with another family, the Sarenelli’s.
While Maria was only 12 at the time, Alessandro Sarenelli, who was 22, began making sexual advances toward Maria, threatening her if she told anyone. On July 5, 1902, while the rest of the family was away, Alessandro approached Maria with a 10 inch knife, threatening to kill her if she did not do what he said. He intended to rape her, and it came out later that he had tried twice before. Maria refused and began to fight him off. In a rage, Alessandro stabbed her 14 times. Eventually, Maria died from her wounds, but not before completely forgiving her attacker and stating that she wanted him to be with her in heaven.
A Repentant Killer
While Maria’s short life was a beautiful testimony to God’s grace, what struck me especially was the conversion of her killer, Alessandro Sarenelli. His story, too, is a witness to the power of conversion, and that no one is beyond hope.
Six years into his 30 year prison sentence, Alessandro was at the brink of despair. How he could he go on knowing what he had done, and knowing the best years of his life would be spent rotting in prison? Then, something extraordinary happened. Maria appeared to him holding a bouquet of lilies and lovingly handed them to Alessandro one by one. This gesture of forgiveness from the girl he murdered transformed Alessandro completely. For the first time since the crime, he was truly repentant. As he later said, “Maria’s forgiveness saved me.”
Once freed from prison, Alessandro began a life of penance. He met with Maria’s mother and begged her forgiveness. He also accompanied Mrs. Serenelli to Christmas Mass in the parish church where he spoke before the stunned congregation, acknowledging his sin and asking God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of the community. He eventually joined the Capuchin Franciscans as a lay brother, working as a gardener and general laborer. In 1970, he died peacefully in Christ, loved by all who knew him.
After his death, the Franciscans found a spiritual testament among his belongings, written in the form of an open letter to the world. Here is what the one-time murderer and attempted rapist wanted to say to the world—and to you.
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.
There were a lot of generous and devoted people who surrounded me, but I paid no attention to them because a violent force blinded me and pushed me toward a wrong way of life.
When I was 20 years-old, I committed a crime of passion. Now, that memory represents something horrible for me. 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.
If I had been of age, I would have spent all my life in prison. I accepted to be condemned because it was my own fault.
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 and her dear mother, Assunta.
I hope this letter that I wrote can teach others the happy lesson of avoiding evil and of always following the right path, like little children. I feel that religion with its precepts is not something we can live without, but rather it is the real comfort, the real strength in life and the only safe way in every circumstance, even the most painful ones of life.
Signature, Alessandro Serenelli
St. Peter Of Alcantara Miracle at Mass
In Petrossa, where St. Peter Of Alcantara lived for a time in a monastery, the Feast of Easter was to be celebrated with the greatest ceremony and splendor. The mayor of the town, therefore, entreated the Saint to celebrate Mass out of regard for the people, who came from all parts of the surrounding country. The news spread rapidly that Peter was to say the High Mass. The crowd that gathered was so large that the church proved too small… for the congregation, and an altar had to be erected in open air. Satan, who had grown exceedingly jealous of this Saint, resolved on this occasion to use every means to distract the people in their prayers and devotion. Hardly had the choir begun to sing the Credo when a storm arose, threatening at every moment to destroy the altar. Although the people were alarmed, Father Peter remained calm and peaceful. In the midst of this commotion he sang the Preface and continued until he came to the Memento, which he offered to God with a gentle sigh. Thereupon a second storm arose, the thunder rolled on all sides and lightning zigzagged through the clouds, whilst floods of rain poured down upon the fields. The Saint quieted the people. Although the rain flooded the whole surrounding country, not a single drop fell upon the altar nor upon the faithful, neither did the wind extinguish any of the candles. In fact, over the entire spot where they were assembled, it remained as quiet as the interior of the church. After the Holy Sacrifice was over a great song of thanksgiving rose to Heaven from the faithful for this fresh proof of the sanctity of the servant which God vouchsafed to display by this miracle!