Memorial of Saint Maria Goretti
God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, "Abraham!"
"Here I am," he replied.
If I ever meet an expert in Christian faith I will ask him, "What do you make of Genesis 22, the sacrifice of Isaac?"
Karen Armstrong, in her book, The Great Transformation, which concerns the "axial age," remarks that religion is a lifelong study. No young person, no matter how well instructed, should be satisfied with his knowledge of religion. An old person might win respect for her experience, wisdom and fidelity.
Genesis 22 is about the testing of an old man. What do we make of that?
Jewish scholar Marvin A. Sweeney, (Reading the Hebrew Bible After the Shoah: Engaging Holocaust Theology) describes God as a trickster who delights in making promises to Abraham. He follows up his promises not with fulfillment but by continual testing of the old man's patience. Abraham appears as the hero of this story, rather than God. Finally, when Abraham slavishly obeys the command to sacrifice your only son Isaac, whom you love, God is outdone and must revoke his command.
A Christian reading interprets Isaac as a type of Christ, who is the only begotten and only beloved son. He is sent by the Father to sacrifice his life; he is the priest who makes the sacrifice of his own life; he is the lamb of sacrifice. We see in Isaac's mute trust the willing obedience of Jesus as he advances toward Jerusalem.
That reading, however, should leave the Christian in stunned silence. This "explanation" may satisfy some part of the questioning mind but a deep, silent darkness remains behind and beneath both stories. The rational mind has been offered a reason but that mind, turning to the heart, doesn't know what to say. Would anyone dare to explain this mystery to Mary as she buries the body of her son?
Today the Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Maria Goretti. Her death must remind us of the horror that seems like a daily occurrence now, the sexual violation of children. There seems no safe place for children; not home, church, school, hospital or playground. Abortion, the catastrophic attempt to prevent "unwanted, unloved children," has itself aborted; children are blamed for being born.
We celebrate Saint Maria as a wise child who preferred death to violation, and suffered both. We pray that honoring her may be a small measure of atonement for the travesty we have made of our most sacred privilege, that of conceiving and giving birth to the image and likeness of God.
But always there is that dark silence behind the story; can the death of Jesus and the canonization of Maria Goretti atone for what we have done to our children?