Today is a special day in many ways. The rare numerical alignment of the day, month and year to produce 12-12-12 is something we will not see again until the next century (which makes it unlikely that any of us will ever see it again!) It is also the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the unborn and of the Americas. More than ever, we need her protection and intercession.
Not known to many, it happens to also be the sixth anniversary of the founding of FrassatiUSA. I could not have imagined the challenges and changes that would come as I filed the paperwork with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office six years ago. I was accompanied that day by a very kind and generous man named Jere Griggs who served the role of incorporator so that FrassatiUSA could become an official non-profit organization. He also paid the registration fees.
Jere is a great pro-life friend. For years, we prayed together every Saturday morning at a local Memorial for the Unborn. He had two sons, James and Lee. In 1996, when I helped start a Frassati Society at our parish, Jere approached me about finding a way to invite his sons. He thought such a group would be good for them. It was. In 2006, James was actually the one who reserved our internet domain and first used the name “FrassatiUSA.” In the past six years, both James and Lee have gone on to their eternal reward. James was in a terrible accident caused by a negligent hotel shuttle driver. After two years of surgeries and suffering, his body gave out. He was buried in 2010. Two weeks ago, Lee was watching cartoons with his four-year-old daughter and suffered a massive heart attack. He was buried beside his brother. As you can imagine, this has been a very sorrowful time for those of us who know and love this family.
The untimely and unexpected deaths of James and Lee Griggs bring to my mind the early death of Pier Giorgio Frassati at the age of 24. Life is one of those things where quality must always take preeminence over quantity or it will be lived in vain. When Pier Giorgio said, “the day of my death will be the most beautiful day of my life,” he was referring to the heavenly beatitude he knew he would enjoy – as promised by his deeply held Catholic faith. And when he determined to make every day a small preparation for the day of his death, it was because of his recognition of the brevity of life and the futility of worldly pursuits. What we do here on earth matters. We can choose to build up God’s Kingdom or our own.
Six years ago, when I made the decision to work to promote the spirituality of Pier Giorgio Frassati, I had no idea what sacrifices would be required. My friends know I still struggle with the decision on an ongoing basis. As a licensed attorney, the prospect of a far more profitable livelihood is a constant temptation. The most common question I have been asked over the years is how I survive doing this. The trite but true answer is that God provides. At first, I relied on my personal savings; then I drained retirement accounts; then I went into debt and tried to burn the candle at both ends to make it work. This solution was not practical and only led to an insidious case of burnout from which I am still trying to recover. And yet, in all of this, God always found a way to provide. In some ways, He blessed me far more than I could ever ask or imagine.
The financial crossroad has reached its most critical point this year. Determined to not ever become a ministry that focuses more on the money side than the ministry side, I decided at the outset to make one financial appeal per year. Last month, I made it known that FrassatiUSA was forced to discontinue supplying resources around the world this past summer. This decision was made with a heavy heart because the demand from so many English-speaking countries continues to grow. But the past six years have made me more realistic about my own limitations. I also shared that it is necessary to raise $49,000 in order for the work of FrassatiUSA to continue in 2013. So far, donations of $7,461 have been received. We have no grant money, no funding by the Church or any other organization to assist with the lease obligation, monthly office expenses, nominal payroll expense, printing costs and so on.
To make matters even more challenging, the lone office computer decided to give up the ghost yesterday. So, today, on the sixth anniversary of FrassatiUSA, no work can be done while I wait to find out if the data can be obtained and transferred to another computer.
Those of you who have read this far will now discover a little known fact: FrassatiUSA is operated by one person. There is no marketing department or technology support or mail staff or graphics design department or accounting support or inventory clerk or janitorial crew or any other department! A friend and Harvard-trained business consultant generously donated his services this summer to help me discern how to continue the ministry. After reviewing everything, he asked me basically two things: how are you possibly doing this by yourself? And, why are you doing this with such inadequate compensation? There are simple answers to these questions. God gives the grace and somehow always provides.
Over the course of these six years, I have heard from so many people about the impact of Pier Giorgio Frassati in their lives. These testimonies are awesome and uplifting and always come at just the right time. I have been thanked for the website presence and for making resources available. I have been encouraged to press on. I have been advised to quit. I have been energetic. I have been exhausted. In the end, I have to say that I have been blessed.
Two years ago, one of my nephews decided to take the confirmation name “Pier Giorgio” and asked me to be his sponsor. My best friend’s 10-yr-old daughter loves to volunteer in the office and wears one of The Pact bands on her wrist to school each day. A niece graduating from college wrote to thank me for demonstrating that a non-traditional career is worth pursuing and that there are things more important than financial rewards. Although I appreciate the notes of encouragement and testimonies from others, these types of more personal glimpses into the fruit of this ministry are what inspire me to continue. They say charity begins at home. If I can impact the lives of my 32 nieces and nephews with the example of Pier Giorgio Frassati, that will be worth every sacrifice.
I have walked with Pier Giorgio for 17 years now – six in the context of FrassatiUSA. His portrait hangs in my stairwell and I "talk" to him in Italian each day. I know that, above everyone else, he is grateful for the effort FrassatiUSA is making to promote his spirituality. His message is one that challenges us each day of our lives: Holiness IS possible for everyone. Pursue it!
So, today, on the occasion of FrassatiUSA's sixth anniversary, I have no idea what will happen. Admittedly, the financial picture does not look good; but I have learned and continue to learn to live in the present moment. Anything is possible. One of my favorite quotes of Pier Giorgio sums it up for me, “The future is in the hands of God and better than that it could not be.”