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Friends in {Really} High Places

When you love good and holy people it makes you want to be like them. Their words and deeds are admirable, they live their lives with such beautiful grace, and their service to the Lord and their neighbors is inspiring. I know some key people in my own life that continue to help shape my own soul as I truck along in my vocation as wife, mother, daughter, friend, etc. When you have the chance to really get to know someone well and can reach a spiritual intimacy with them, then they become critical to your very salvation and can help you become an instrument in the salvations of others as well. One such person has been an invaluable friend and model for holiness since I was 11 years old. She happens to be pretty famous—St. Maria Goretti.

I remember being very enthralled with the lives of the saints as a child and loved to flip through books to see beautiful pictures of these special people and read about their heavenly strength. They captured my imagination and I recall wanting to become saints just like them (I may have been slightly enamored with their fame, too!). Then at age 11, my religion teacher assigned a project where we had to give a presentation on a saint. I think I asked my mom whether there had been a St. Stephanie (my name, how modest) I could learn about to which she replied that there is a young saint named Maria Goretti, which is almost my middle name, Marie.

I struggled through the painful story of her attack and absolutely marveled at her purity, her bravery, and ultimately her supernatural powers of forgiveness. This girl had much to teach a kid like me. So, from then on, I thought about her often, prayed to her at night, and invited her to prayerful dialogue. Very naturally and without thinking (as kids can do so well) I became dear friends with a great saint. I had drawn so closely to her that I felt the kind of possessiveness you can feel toward family or friends, like, she was my saint. She was my Confirmation saint when I was 16, but I allowed myself to drift from her throughout my high school years. 

Fast forward to college and during my very first semester I met my future husband. It’s pretty cliche but I knew I’d marry him. Or, I knew it was likely that if this didn’t work out like I suspected then it would be time for serious discernment (again) regarding religious life. This was my first real relationship and we faced college life and young adulthood together. We determined to remain abstinent until marriage and I can safely say that this. got. tough. To be completely honest, it took a good two or three years into our relationship before I finally became un-oblivious of my own sexuality and it was like, alrighty then, now I get it. Extra graces were required to keep us as pure as possible and I was sort of surprised at how we were able keep up with our promise.

Then at some point it hit me- this is no accident or coincidence. My dear friend St. Maria Goretti had been preparing my heart from childhood and she never left my side. I began to cling to her again as we approached the Sacrament of Marriage and she saw us right on through until we exchanged vows (major props to St. Joseph for protecting my husband—hubby was born on St. Joe’s feast day). What a nice story, right?

Well, I VERY naively thought that our wedding day would be some sort of finish line. In fact, the good fight became even trickier once we became husband and wife and began to practice natural family planning. My weaknesses and temptations are as present as always and St. Maria Goretti is a major aid in my daily struggle for chastity within marriage—yes, that’s a thing!

Her example is the perfect model for me as I navigate my vocation as a Catholic wife and it all started with becoming friends a long time ago. In addition to the aid she’s provided, our friendship inspired me to seek out other saints now that I’m an adult and to get to know them. If they had phones, St. Francis de Sales would be on speed dial. St. Maria taught me that prayers do mean something and that we are never out of the presence of God and all the divine company.

 

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St. Maria Goretti: The Little Saint of Great Mercy

 

St. Maria Goretti

You know when you drive your kids on a five hour road trip to stand in line for two hours for a brief 15 second encounter with international celebrity, only to find out that 13,000 other people had the same idea? Yeah, that just happened. Our road trip to pray at the side of St. Maria Goretti’s relics was an adventure with five young kids and worth every “are we there yet?”

familyIn today’s world, kids are offered a wide array of role models to choose from. As a mother, part of my job is to help guide their eyes and hearts towards those that are worthy of their admiration. Luckily, the Catholic Church has a head start on this category and declared a beautiful group of people to be saints pointing us towards Christ. 

St. Maria Goretti is truly unique as a role model for kids due to her young age of 11 and her mature understanding of the Faith. When Maria was stabbed 14 times for resisting the sexual advances of an older man, some of her dying words were to wish him repentance so he could join her in heaven. For me, as an adult, Maria’s open forgiveness where most of us would feel hatred or anger is nothing short of a miracle.

For the past month, we had visited Maria’s story almost daily to prepare for this trip. I had talked through all of the questions my kids asked about the young saint, her family, her murderer, her relics, canonization and more. I wanted them to be able to get as much out of this experience as they possibly could. The one part of the experience that I could not fully explain to them was the actual road trip to see her. This would have to be an adventure which we would figure out together as the day progressed. Many questions raced through my mind as we neared our destination. Did the kids really understand my teachings on forgiveness? Would they fully appreciate this opportunity to pray at the side of this great but tiny Saint? Were they prepared for their own time of prayer in the church? Why did Perkins have to take so darn long to cook our meal?

stained glassAs we stood in line with thousands of others, I sighed aloud, internally wondering when this stand-still line would ever begin to move. At just that moment, my ten year old son tapped me on the back and leaned in to whisper “This is great! I was worried the line would be short.” I must have given a confused look because he went on to explain “Can you imagine her (St. Maria) being brought here, all the way from Italy and having no lines of people to pray with her? This is the first time I ever prayed for long lines of people.”

It all came back full circle for me that day. There was so much that I could learn from young children, the children that had been declared Saints but also those living under my own roof. St Maria Goretti was a beautiful role model for my kids to learn about before their brief 15 seconds of prayer at her side. My kids were role models to me that day and every day, if I really take a step back to give them the credit they deserve.  
 
St. Maria Goretti, Pray for us!

HAVE YOU VISITED ST. MARIA GORETTI? WHERE DID YOU SEE HER?

 
Andrea Gibbs is a wife and homeschooling mother to five children. Her family leads student and adult mission trips to Guatemala. She previously worked as a curriculum coordinator and teacher in early childhood education, high school youth minister, and speaker to Catholic teens. She has a deep affection for strong coffee, 19th century British literature, dark chocolate, and all things Latin America.
 
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