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Catholic Heroes… Martyrs Of Purity

November 6, 2020 saints No Comments

By DEB PIROCH

In these days of liberalized sexuality, the secular population has no concept of the value the chaste soul has before God. It must also be said that there are martyrs to chastity who have died rather than submit to sexual activity or rape, even under the threat of death.
Why, you ask, is this the case? The Sixth Commandment forbids adultery, and included under its auspices are that we be “pure in thought and modest in all our looks, words, and actions.” These words from the Baltimore Catechism forbids all “unchaste freedom” and says “sins of impurity are the most dangerous.” This is because they are accompanied by numerous other temptations and “are the most likely to lead to a loss of faith.”
In guarding our purity at all costs, we are imitating our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as well as our Blessed Mother. Because God is spotless, we can only hope to approach His presence in Heaven if we, too, are pure.
One of the most famous modern martyrs to purity is St. Maria Goretti (1890-1902). At the age of eleven the young Italian girl was sitting and sewing outdoors, when a man named Alessandro attempted to rape her. She fought him, saying, “No, it is a mortal sin!” He stabbed her fourteen times and while doctors attempted to save her unsuccessfully, she passed away, forgiving her attacker. She later appeared to Alessandro, when he was a prisoner, and he not only repented, he changed his life.
Blessed Anna Kolesarova (1928-1944) was born to a pious family in Slovakia. Her mother died when she was ten and she ran the house for her father and brother. Then in 1944 the Red Army invaded their town, and a drunk soldier demanded the teen sleep with him. When she refused and ran away, he shot her in the chest and face.
Blessed Veronica Antal (1935-1958) was a lay Franciscan who would likely have been a nun, had she not lived in Communist Romania where the Church was suppressed. But still she prayed, walking five miles to daily Mass and was engaged in many acts of charity. As she was coming home one evening, praying the rosary, a neighbor attempted to rape her and she resisted. She was stabbed 42 times and left in a cornfield.
Previous columns here have also written about early virgin martyrs who refused to marry and paid the ultimate price of death, including Saints Cecilia and Agatha. Saints Lucy, Anastasia, Valeria, Crispina, Vincentia, Agnes, and many others exist.
We are all born into a condition of original sin. Without prayer, work, without God’s grace (both sanctifying and actual), it would likely be impossible for any of us to resist intemperance or lustful thoughts and acts. And in no way do we mean to suggest that those holy persons mentioned above would have sinned in any way, being attacked, had they not died in preserving their chastity. They sought no sin and discouraged fornication in every way. No victim of sexual abuse of any kind should ever blame themselves; it is the perpetrator who has the full guilt of the mortal sin on their soul.
Mother Teresa wrote that in her order, “We take vows of chastity to love Christ with undivided love.” Is that not what we try to do? To make our bodies, temples of the Holy Ghost, worthy of the God we are commanded to love above all things? And is lust not an abuse of the Second Great Commandment, “To love our neighbor as ourselves”?
Human as we are, all of us struggle with sin. Sexuality is a beautiful part of man’s nature, created by God to further unite couples in the Sacrament of Marriage and for the purpose of conceiving children. Marriage reflects the union of Christ and His Church, just as the family unit mirrors the Blessed Trinity. No matter what one’s sinful inclination, it takes the mortification of the senses, the sacraments, and the act of the will to stay close to God.
We are all called to chastity, according to our state in life — these being married, single, and religious. The key to our sanctification in all states lies in resisting temptation toward impurity and strengthening our bond with Christ Himself through His sacraments.
Last week we wrote about St. Robert Bellarmine, doctor of the Church. He tremendously admired St. Aloysius Gonzaga who, he felt, never committed a mortal sin in his life. But to that we must add that Gonzaga spent countless hours in mortification and prayer. He fasted on bread and water three days a week, meditated for hours and woke at midnight to pray on a stone floor. He even scourged himself and kept extreme custody of the eyes.
Fr. John Hardon, SJ, wrote compellingly of him:
“All the evidence we have indicates that he had very strong sexual passions. We know that from his own writing; we know that from people who knew him and we know that from what is called penance from one viewpoint, what is really, you might say ‘preventive austerity’ from another. He simply believed that unless he mortified his body, and I didn’t tell you one tenth of what he did, he just would not get that passion under control. The lesson for us, in a sex-mad world, is obvious. You do not control that passion without mortification, you just don’t.”
St. Aloysius was the eldest son born of noble blood and had great worldly prospects. His mother was the lady-in-waiting to the Queen Consort of King Philip II of Spain. Yet at age nine he took a private vow of poverty, and at 13 received his First Communion from St. Charles Borromeo. Against his family’s wishes, he chose to give up all his material goods to join the Jesuit order at 18. While he began the novitiate, he was never ordained.
Having always struggled with poor heath, it is said he experienced a vision of the Archangel Gabriel at 22 telling him he would die within the year. The following year he died indeed, after helping to nurse victims of the plague. He was repulsed by the disease, but those he nursed never knew it. His martyrdom was of a different sort of figurative martyrdom — he could have lived a life of wealth and leisure but his purity of heart led him instead to nurse the suffering and dying.
After Gonzaga’s death, St. Robert Bellarmine promoted his cause for sainthood and requested on his own death to be buried at his student’s feet.
We are all the Church Militant. As St. Aloysius poignantly wrote: “I am but a crooked piece of iron, and have come into religion to be made straight by the hammer of mortification and penance.” The patron saint of both youth and plague victims was canonized in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII, who called him a model of innocence and purity. Let us pray that we imitate his divine goodness. (His feast day is June 21.)

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