On July 6th the church remembered two of its most famous martyrs on the feast day of St. Maria Goretti as well as the anniversary of St. Thomas More’s beheading. Although, at first glance, there seem to be very few similarities between a great English statesman and an Italian peasant girl, both saints provide examples of how ordinary people can become great saints. Neither saint wanted or expected to become a great martyr, but through daily perseverance in their faith both Thomas More and Maria Goretti were able to endure when they were faced with trials and tribulations.
Thomas More was the best lawyer in England as well as a great favorite at court before he was made Chancellor of England. He was also the head of a large family, but More spent every morning in private study and prayer. He believed that it was important to form his conscience through rigorous study as well as by pursuing excellence in his every action, so that if trials appeared he would be able to resist them. He firmly believed that, in order to persevere in difficult times, one must form a habit of virtue in good times. He therefore practiced virtue in every aspect of his professional and domestic life, and when he was tempted to sign a document that would declare Henry VIII the head of the church in England, More was able to resist, even though it meant giving up everything.
Maria Goretti demonstrates this same determination but on a much more modest scale. Raised in a poor, farming family, Maria was not born into sanctity nor did her parents necessarily expect her to become a great saint, but she strictly adhered to the simple devotions that her parents taught her. These habits of piety made up the fabric of Maria’s everyday life, and, as her mother, Assunta Goretti said, “I put her on the straight path and kept her there.” Maria, unlike Thomas More, did not learn from the great thinkers and writers, but rather from her parents’ simple, holy lifestyle, and it was this simple school of virtue that prepared Maria to rebuff her neighbor, Alessandro’s, lustful advances, which led to her martyrdom.
Neither of these great saints sought martyrdom, rather, they spent their lives carefully cultivating virtue in the most mundane aspects of their lives. It was this determination, however, in the peaceful times that allowed them to stand firm when trials did come. By following their example of perseverance in small matters, anyone can achieve great sanctity.
St Thomas More, pray for us! St. Maria Goretti, pray for us!
To learn more about these saints be sure to check out these great movies and books!