Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pier Giorgio's last Christmas

I attended a funeral today and found myself wondering about the deceased's last Christmas. In most cases, we never know what our last days will be like. It is highly unlikely that Pier Giorgio would have ever known that Christmas 1924 would be his last.

Among the testimonies gathered following his death is one that I find amusing and inspiring at the same time. It was submitted by a teacher named Gian Pietro Ravera. He states:

"Christmas 1924 was celebrated according to the Club’s tradition, and in fact about fifteen members gathered that night in a private chapel at 9 Via Ormea where Canon Bues celebrated Mass. I was among those who were invited by Pier Giorgio, who went on and on about how beautiful the Mass would be, as well as the gastronomic delights that would follow. Pier Giorgio and Carlo Pol served the Mass, and I remember how it was difficult to move in the chapel because it was standing room only. Pier Giorgio had some cigars in his suit coat pocket, and they started to fall out when he was making a genuflection. He blushed deeply as he stuffed them back into his pocket. Then, turning toward my side of the chapel and seeing that I had seen everything that had happened, he made a face as if to excuse himself and he suppressed a smile, returning to his prayers with greater intensity than before. I continued to watch him, and the longer the Mass went on, and the more intense and spiritually delightful it became, the more I was moved to see that group of university students follow the liturgy of the Mass with such devotion."

This testimonial provides us with such a classic picture of Pier Giorgio: a young man who persuaded his friends to go to Mass, spilled cigars, thought about good food, witnessed his faith merely by his demeanor, accompanied a small group in a priest's private chapel... Looking back on that night, I think we could safely say that he enjoyed his last Christmas celebration.

Wishing you a holy Christmas season and the joys of faith, food, friends and family wherever you will be. Buon Natale e Verso l'alto!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pier Giorgio in Minnesota

Thanks to Sarah Peterson for reporting a "Pier Giorgio sighting" in Stillwater, Minnesota. Quite appropriately, a stained-glass window of Pier Giorgio is located in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at the Church of St. Michael. Considering how devoted he was to Eucharistic Adoration, there couldn't be a better place to place Pier Giorgio's image. I actually visited this chapel several years ago while attending a conference in Stillwater and have seen this window with my own eyes. It depicts him as a mountainclimber -- a bit too big and bulky, in my opinion -- but very cool to see him watching the adorers from his window spot!

Sarah also reports that she formed a homeschooling group in 2006 called "The Faustina and Frassati Group." You can probably guess who the group's patron saints might be! If you would like to be a part of the homeschooling community in the Stillwater area, check them out.

We love hearing about all of the groups with a devotion to Blessed Pier Giorgio. Tell us about yours!

Friday, December 4, 2009

O Come Let Us Adore Him

Today is First Friday and, in my parish, that means Eucharistic Adoration. Some of you are blessed to have Perpetual Adoration. What a gift! Perhaps it is the greatest mystery of our Catholic Faith -- our belief in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. And yet, anyone who has spent any amount of time in Adoration knows that all-pervading peace that fills the chapel.

Pier Giorgio once summed up Adoration in these simple words, “The rulers of the night take their turn in guarding their castles. And we owe greater honor to Jesus than to other rulers."

A very beautiful testimony about Pier Giorgio's devotion to the Blessed Sacrament appears in a book called "La Fede" written by his sister Luciana. (Unfortunately, the book is not yet available in English.) I hope this reflection will inspire you to spend a few extra moments in Adoration during this Holy Season of Advent:

-- as told by Brother Lodovico, S.S.S.
"It was 1920, during a night of adoration in our church, Santa Maria di Piazza. It was about eight-thirty when I heard the doorbell of our residence ringing over and over again. I left the group in church for a moment and went to answer the door. I was surprised but reassured to find a handsome young man, who I didn’t know, standing there before me. He said that he had come to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and that his assigned turn as a member of the university students’ adoration society was that night (the second Saturday of the month).

That night was not for university students, as I told my courteous visitor, but for religious. So I encouraged him to go home because it was late. But this didn’t put off the selfless young man; he pleaded with me to let him come in anyhow, and argued that he would do his adoration that night on behalf of our religious who were on duty.

I tried every way to persuade him from doing this, and I asked him to consider the fact that he was not obliged to stay up all night and pray for long periods like that. But my remarks were of no avail, and his charming and repeated request finally made me give in, just to make him happy.

He was jubilant over his victory, and off he went to church. He entered the sanctuary (a privilege granted to members of the nocturnal adoration society), made a profound genuflection, and then knelt in one of the choir stalls and remained there in devout prayer. During the hour that I knelt next to him, I was immensely edified by his exemplary behavior. I could notice all the holy tricks that he used to stay awake, despite the fact that he was tired and drowsy: sometimes he would pray standing up, or he would read, or recite the Rosary. My fellow religious who were there with me can attest to the fact that he spent the whole night with us, until 4 a.m., when he requested and received Holy Communion. Then he spent an hour in thanksgiving, until 5 a.m., when the church was opened to the public. He had warmed his beautiful soul close to the Eucharistic flame that entire night, and satisfied his hunger at the Table of the Angels, and so he departed peacefully.

As soon as I ran into the priest who was the Director of Nocturnal Adoration, I was quick to tell him about what happened that night. From what I told him, he could figure out who the young man was, so he smiled at me and said, “Don’t be so surprised: that’s our beloved Pier Giorgio Frassati, a devout young university student who’s very keen on nocturnal adoration.”

It’s true: wherever a saint has walked by, he leaves behind footprints that can never be erased!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pier Giorgio in Canada

How blessed I was last week to celebrate Thanksgiving and enter into the season of Advent with some of Pier Giorgio's good friends in Calgary, Alberta. Those of you who know more about Canada than me will know that Canadian Thanksgiving actually falls on the second Monday in October, so I had to celebrate Thanksgiving in spirit.

My reason for being in Calgary was to participate in the year-long "Frassati Project" sponsored by St. Bonaventure Parish. At the invitation of the pastor Rev. Wilbert Chin Jon and the Youth Ministry Coordinator Lucero Young, I spoke to the students at Don Bosco, St. Bonaventure, St. Philip and St. Boniface schools. I also had the opportunity to address the parishioners of St. Bonaventure Church on two separate occasions as a part of the Advent Mission and participate in a Youth Night event. It was a week of planting Pier Giorgio seeds!

At one school, a young girl asked me whether Pier Giorgio suffered when he died. I was and still am touched by the sensitivity of that child to think in those terms. Each day, we are surrounded by people who are suffering in the silence of their hearts. It is so easy to be preoccupied with our own struggles and become blind to those of others, even people who are most near and dear to us. Another young boy wanted to know what Pier Giorgio's favorite fruit was. In its own way, this question also struck me by its thoughtfulness. How much effort do we make to get to know the little things about the people around us that bring them joy?

I must confess that I knew next to nothing about our neighbors to the north (how is that for alliteration?!) until taking this trip. Shame on me! I returned to the U.S. with such a love for the Canadian people and country and with so much gratitude for the kindnesses of everyone I met. Pier Giorgio's spirit of charity is certainly alive and well in Alberta in the shadow of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. (Click here for a one-minute tour of Canada to the tune of their national anthem!)

Trips like that are always a humbling experience for me. Without exception, my travels place me in the presence of people living out holy and inspiring lives and I am challenged to reflect on how well -- or poorly -- I am responding to the Lord's call to holiness. My thanks to Fr. Wilbert, Lucy, Ross and Cris for being my guides "verso l'alto" in Calgary!