Not long ago, I watched the Masterpiece Theatre version of the Charles Dickens' classic, "A Tale of Two Cities" set in the time of the French Revolution - commonly known as the Reign of Terror. This period would have a connection to Pier Giorgio Frassati toward the end of his life when he and his best friend Marco Beltramo nicknamed themselves, "The Terror."
Pier Giorgio made no secret of the fact that he despised the French, even referring to them as the "Sons of Darkness." So he was purely being facetious when he began signing letters with the name "Robespierre" -- a bloodthirsty French dictator whose execution in 1794 ended the Reign of Terror. In jest, Pier Giorgio would send "terroristic greetings" to his close friends in the Tipi Loschi group that he formed. Today, I suppose his sense of humor would not be considered very politically correct. Somehow, I doubt he would care.
In any case, you can credit or blame Dickens' well-known opening and closing lines for this lengthy, digressing blog entry which really does have something to do with Thanksgiving if you can bear with me long enough!
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way ..."
At various points in my life, I find that certain quotes strike me in completely different ways. Many moons ago, when I signed up for a three-credit summer seminar on the writings of Charles Dickens to satisfy requirements for my English minor, I'm sure my focus was simply on what it would take to complete the course. I can say with almost certainty that I spent little time reflecting on the season of Light, the season of Darkness, the spring of hope, the winter of despair, the best of times, the worst of times. Now that I am much older and slightly wiser, I reflect on those things with regularity, especially as I find myself immersed in running a non-profit ministry.
At FrassatiUSA, the challenges are almost always in terms of financial constraints. With no outside funding, no grants, no big donors, the dollars are not easy to come by. I think we may have brought new meaning to the "low" part of the term "low budget operation." It has brought me to my knees; it has brought me to the brink of calling it quits; it has brought me to Pier Giorgio, time and time again. Somehow, miraculously, the non-payroll expenses always get paid. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months and months turn into years and in less than a month, we will mark our fifth anniversary. God is good!
Some days, the mail brings such consolation that there can be no doubt that the Lord wants this work to continue. This month, we mailed out our annual request for financial support to those on the mailing list. It's not a large list and it never brings in very much money to work with, averaging less than $5,000/year. But the notes that come provide the spring of hope, the season of Light.
For example, the other day, I opened a letter that had enclosed a one dollar contribution. I think of the widow in Jesus' parable and that dollar bill makes me so grateful because I know it was sent out of the little that person had. It is a truly humbling experience to be entrusted with that sort of treasure. A month or two ago, I was in email contact with a guy from Australia about the funding situation here. He offered to and began praying and fasting for this ministry until Christmas, at which time I suppose he expects Baby Jesus to do the rest! Imagine a person half way around the world carrying that burden. Thanks, Steve.
I have received numerous notes from strangers thanking me for the work done here. Some filled with confetti and kindness. Some enclosing extra funds for a cup of cappuccino or coffee, like in the note shown above. I find it so touching when people think of those little temporal joys. That is so very like Pier Giorgio who brought flowers to the poor because he knew they also needed things that made them happy. Along those same lines, yesterday I received a t-shirt that read, Beati pauperes spiritu quoniam ipsorum est regnum caelorum. Such a thoughtful and uplifting gesture that really captures the essence of this ministry.
Occasionally, at my old law practice, a satisfied client would write a note of thanks. But here, it happens so regularly, that the worst of times never are, the winter of despair never is, the season of Darkness never comes. And, like Dickens' character Sydney Carton, I am able to say, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done." Thank you so much for all that you do to help spread the spirituality of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Happy Thanksgiving! Verso l'alto!