Thursday, December 12, 2013

Three Prayers for Our Lady of Guadalupe

It was seven years ago today that my good friend Jere Griggs accompanied me to file official paperwork for FrassatiUSA. On December 12, 2006, a ministry dedicated to promoting the spirituality of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born!

I've mentioned before that Jere put down the very first $100 to launch FrassatiUSA and was a faithful supporter until his death in October.  I'm certain Pier Giorgio was waiting to greet him and thank him not only for helping FrassatiUSA but for his years of service to the poor as a member of our parish St. Vincent de Paul Society.  Jere was a man made in Pier Giorgio's mold.  I miss him.

In a sense, there is nothing extra special about this seventh anniversary of FrassatiUSA.  On the other hand, there is everything special about it.  But for the grace of God and the loving intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, there is no way it would have lasted seven years.  But it has endured against all odds.  People from all over the world have come to know Blessed Pier Giorgio through the website, printed materials, Facebook page, Twitter, even this blog.  And that alone is worth celebrating. Thank you, Jesus!

I have three constant prayers for Our Lady of Guadalupe as we head into year eight:
1) for the canonization of Pier Giorgio,
2) for the funding to allow the work of this ministry to flourish and bear much fruit, and
3) for another laborer in this little vineyard who is a computer/Quickbooks/social media whiz!

That's not asking too much, is it?  :)

Verso l'alto!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Letters to Pope Francis

Got a few minutes, a devotion to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and $1.10?  Then you have what it takes to send a letter to Pope Francis and ask him to canonize Pier Giorgio!  Why not make this part of your Advent preparations?

I've never written a letter to any pope before but I have friends who have done it over the years.  One wrote so much to Pope Benedict XVI that we teased her about him being her boyfriend!  And guess what?  She got letters back!  Now I don't think he sat down and typed them out himself but we always enjoyed reading the responses. 

A few things have happened recently that have inspired me to write to Pope Francis about Pier Giorgio that I hope will also inspire you.  First, it became evident very early into his papacy that he has a lot in common with Pier Giorgio.  Think of the similarities:

1) Pope Francis' father was an Italian from the Piedmont region -- same place as Pier Giorgio.
2) Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest -- same religious order that so greatly influenced Pier Giorgio as a child and introduced him to daily Eucharist.  The first postulator for Pier Giorgio's beatification was a Jesuit priest.
3) Pope Francis grew up in Argentina -- same place as the current postulator for Pier Giorgio's cause.
4) Pope Francis loves the poor and strives to live simply despite the availability of luxuries that normally are provided to a pope.  Do I even need to explain that Pier Giorgio loved the poor and lived simply despite the availability of luxuries available to the son of a senator?

I could go on but I hope you see the point.  It seemed to me from day one that Pope Francis was destined to be the pope who would canonize Pier Giorgio.  

Then, last month, Pope Francis decided on and announced themes for the next three World Youth Days.  What were they?  The Beatitudes! The Pope is urging young people to read and live the Beatitudes!  And who is known as "The Man of the Beatitudes"?  Yes, none other than Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.

Finally, just the other day, Pope Francis celebrated Advent vespers with university students from Rome and whom did he quote in an effort to inspire the students to live and not merely exist?  Yes, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati!  

Last week, as the daily Mass readings approached the end of the liturgical year, we heard Jesus talking about signs.  He said we should observe the signs and know what they mean. When we see the buds of a plant opening, for example, we know that summer is near. Well, if you ask me, when Pope Francis makes the Beatitudes a three-year-focus for World Youth Day and quotes Pier Giorgio on the eve of Advent, it's time to write him a letter!  :)

Oh, I bet you're saying there needs to be a miracle for canonization, right?  Well, I happen to know that a miracle from the United States was submitted three years ago and is awaiting approval.  The process is slow but you-know-who sure could speed it up!  

Maybe it's a little unusual to try this approach; but this pope has done a few things that, let's just admit it, have been a little unusual! 

Write to the Holy Father.  Short and sweet letters will do.  And if enough of them arrive, who knows, maybe we will have a "Santo Pier Giorgio Frassati" subito!

Here's the address:
His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City   

Don't forget the $1.10 stamp!  Verso l'alto!                                                                      

Friday, September 13, 2013

Pier Giorgio's Niece is having a birthday!

Christine Wohar with Wanda Gawronska, Rome 2006
When I met Pier Giorgio's niece Wanda Gawronska in Rome back in 2006, I had no idea it would be a life-changing experience.  I was in Rome to celebrate Holy Week with friends.  One of them, knowing that I had started two Frassati Societies in Nashville, arranged for us to have lunch with Wanda on the afternoon of Holy Saturday.

Who can say it was a coincidence that I met Pier Giorgio's niece on the same day that Pier Giorgio came into this world?  (He was born on Holy Saturday in 1901.) 

My friends and I had plans to leave Rome on Easter Sunday and travel to Turin to visit Pier Giorgio's tomb.  We would stay at a hotel there and then set off for a personal pilgrimage to France.  At lunch, Wanda learned of our plans and insisted that we cancel our Turin hotel reservation and instead stay at the family home in Pollone.  I remember her asking us rhetorically, "Why would you want to stay in a hotel when you can sleep in the house where Pier Giorgio lived?!"  She telephoned her sister who was spending the Easter holiday in Pollone and confirmed our arrival with her.  

Easter of 2006 was quite an occasion.  We attended the Vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica with Pope Benedict XVI and then spent the bulk of Easter Sunday in the home of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  Easter Sunday fell on Pope Benedict's birthday that year, by the way.  Another coincidence?

It was there in Pollone while praying at the foot of Pier Giorgio's bed that I received "the call."  It made no sense, of course; but I heard it and understood what the Lord was asking of me.  One month later, I walked away from a professional career to put out into the deep of ministry work.  Upon hearing the news from my father, my oldest sister -- a psychologist -- called to "discuss it" with me.  I joke now that she of all people should have recognized what a crazy thing it was to do and put a stop to it!  But somehow I guess I was able to convince her that it was really the Lord's will and that was enough.  

By August, I was back in Pollone, enjoying the rare privilege of celebrating the 104th birthday of Pier Giorgio's sister Luciana with some of her family.  In October, I celebrated Wanda's 79th birthday with her in Rome.  By the end of November, I was back in the U.S. preparing the paperwork for beginning the non-profit ministry FrassatiUSA.  

That was seven years ago and it all happened as the result of a lunch encounter with Wanda! 

Wanda will be celebrating her 86th birthday on October 28th.  I hope to be able to send her a booklet of well wishes like the one I prepared for her back in 2006.  (She is holding it in the picture above.)  It will be both a financial and a spiritual bouquet as a token of thanks for her lifetime of work on behalf of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  I hope you will participate.  Click here for the details.  Verso l'alto!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Frassati Catholic High School opens its doors!

"When the Lord closes one door, He opens another."  I don't know where this quote originated but I've heard it all of my life.  Until today, though, it has never taken on such a literal meaning as Frassati Catholic High School opens its doors to students in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. 

After years of planning and praying, the school officially begins the process of leading students verso l'alto -- to the heights of moral and academic formation under the patronage of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  It is the first Catholic high school in the U.S. to bear his name.  I imagine Pier Giorgio might consider this a "two-cigar day," as he famously characterized the feast of Saints Peter and Paul! 

My direct involvement with the school was minimal consisting only of a presentation to the NHCHS Committee during the naming phase.  It was exciting to read the announcement from Cardinal DiNardo after the decision was finalized.  This school now joins other brick-and-mortar embodiments of the mission of FrassatiUSA, which include Frassati Catholic Academy, a middle school in the Archdiocese of Chicago; the Frassati House, serving the Catholic students at Vanderbilt University; Frassati Hall, the dining hall and commons building for students at Wyoming Catholic College; the Frassati Chapel at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School in Oklahoma, possibly the first academic institution to choose Blessed Pier Giorgio for its patron.

In addition to these structures, of course, are the numerous (too many to list!) fellowships, societies, groups, clubs, etc., that have formed, are forming and will form under the patronage of Blessed Pier Giorgio.  And on top of that are the testimonies  -- some quite powerful --received on a regular basis.  All of these physical, social and spiritual manifestations of the steadily spreading spirituality of Blessed Pier Giorgio are, quite frankly, astounding. 

And that's why there is such sweet irony in the timing of the opening of the new school in Texas at a time when the doors of FrassatiUSA are closing.  I can't help but ponder the mysterious ways of God as millions have been raised to open a school while the lack of thousands closes a ministry.  And yet, there is comfort in the knowledge that many seeds planted are bearing fruit in abundance.  So for me, not being a cigar smoker, today is a "two-votive-candle day" -- one for the doors that are opening and one for the doors that are closing.

May Mary Queen of Heaven and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati guide and guard all of the students of Frassati Catholic High School today and always.  Verso l'alto!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Remembering Luciana

Yesterday marked the 111th birthday of Pier Giorgio's sister Luciana.  What is remarkable is that she was alive for 105 of those years, having passed away only six years ago in 2007. 

It was really a leap of faith into the great unknown when I headed off to Italy in 2006 to explore doing something (only God knew what) for Pier Giorgio Frassati.  I arrived at the family home in Pollone on August 16th and one of my earliest memories is being with family and friends of Luciana as we celebrated her 104th birthday two days later!  I don't know if I will ever celebrate anyone else's 104th birthday, let alone that of a sister of a saint. 

Needless to say, it was a rare blessing to be able to spend a considerable amount of time in the house with Luciana there and do the same the following summer.  This picture is a particularly special memory.  I had been to the top of Mount Mucrone for the first time that day and was wearing a shirt with the image of Pier Giorgio on it.  When I got back to the house, Luciana was sitting outside and this picture was snapped.  A very surreal moment for me.  The day of her funeral was also something I will never forget and it has always made me feel even closer to Pier Giorgio himself.

Luciana did many great things over the course of her long life.  Some involved her work on behalf of her brother but many were on behalf of mankind.  Many of the excellent articles about her are not translated into English, unfortunately, like this wonderful tribute from La Stampa -- the newspaper founded by her father.  We have the wikipedia version which falls miserably short but is at least worth a look.  I think the best way to get to know her is through her books about her brother, particularly the book about his death in which she gives a very honest account of herself in comparison to him.  

Those of us with a devotion to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati owe a large debt of gratitude to Luciana for preserving his memory and making so much of his life available to us.  One small way to repay her would be a prayer for her peaceful repose:  L'eterno riposo dona Lei, o Signore, e splenda a Lei la luce perpetua. Riposa in pace. Amen.

Verso l'alto!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Own Theory of Relativity

Back in high school, I managed to work the system and avoid taking physics my senior year.  So, if I was supposed to have learned something in that class about Einstein's Theory of Relativity, well, I didn't.  And, to be honest, I really don't seem to have had much of a need for it all of these years.  I don't even know why it popped into my head this morning.  I guess I was thinking about how relative suffering can be and then my mind wandered into abstractedness.  

What happened is this:  I woke up this morning with a sore ear from my ruptured eardrum, a sore foot from what appears to be a stress fracture and a little oozing from an unpleasant insect bite from days ago -- my little afflictions to accompany me throughout the day.  And then I had a phone conversation with the mother of a baby boy born about six weeks ago with a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18.  The baby hasn't yet left the hospital but has already outlived the grim statistical forecast.  In the face of that heartache, the mother was full of hope and enthusiasm and gratitude for the blessings received so far.  

Needless to say,  my -- can I even use the word?! -- sufferings are pretty insignificant relative to those of that little baby and his family.  That leads me to my own theory of relativity:  How good it is to keep our daily inconveniences in perspective.  And this can so often be done very easily by reflecting even briefly on the sufferings of others.  Okay, it's not exactly an original theory.  But you didn't have to suffer through a year of physics to learn it, either.  

Oh, the baby's name is Giorgio Michelangelo Frassati _______.  (For privacy purposes, I'm leaving out his last name.)  I bet you can figure out who he was named for!  Keep him in your prayers and let's ask our heavenly friend to do the same.  Verso l'alto!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Looking for Fellowship? Frassati Fellowship, that is...

I am frequently contacted for information on how to start or find a Frassati group.  Most recently, requests have come from Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and London.  Some information about this is already on the FrassatiUSA website, along with a few basic tips that I found to be useful with the two groups I helped start in Nashville many years ago.  

I don't want to duplicate that info here but thought I would address some of the most common questions.  Most importantly, FrassatiUSA is not a group, society, fellowship, etc., that someone can join.  This organization seeks to promote the spirituality and canonization of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, primarily by providing resources via the website, online bookstore and social media.  FrassatiUSA also does not develop individual groups, oversee or regulate them in any way, but, rather, attempts to promote their existence and activities to the extent possible.

The FrassatiUSA website lists several existing groups.  Many more still need to be listed and hopefully will be in the near future.  This is just a starting point for someone wishing to join or form a group.  My best advice is to visit the websites/Facebook pages of groups that are out there and pray for inspiration and discernment about how to most effectively begin a group in your parish, diocese, etc.  

In my personal experience, the best group is one that has effective spiritual leadership -- ideally from your parish priest.  Groups designed for dating purposes or for the social life aspect only or where the spiritually blind lead the spiritually blind tend to be very short-lived.  Groups geared toward the traditional young adult age range (20s and 30s) seem to thrive on a menu of faith-filled fellowship and fun -- especially when they really capture the spirit, identity and charism of Blessed Pier Giorgio. 

Finally, anyone familiar with Pier Giorgio has probably heard about the group he started for his closest friends.  He called them, "Tipi Loschi" which translates poorly into English but is often seen as the "sinister ones" or "shady characters."  This group was a great vehicle for Pier Giorgio's sense of humor.  In his book of letters, you can read many "proclamations" he wrote to the members of the group.  They are filled with inside jokes and are fine examples of his wit and writing ability.  One of his best creations was the group's charter or statute.  It is completely comical, including even a fake patron saint for the group.  His reputation for being a practical joker was well earned!  

Ultimately, his goal was to provide opportunities for his friends to spend time with each other -- often on mountain-climbing expeditions he arranged -- and build a spiritual foundation that would unite them long after their circumstances in life led them in different directions.  "I would like for us to pledge a pact," he wrote to his friend Isidoro Bonini, "that knows no earthly boundaries or temporal limits: union in prayer."  

The classic line from Michael W. Smith's "Friends" really holds true for those friendships formed in a Frassati Fellowship:  "Friends are friends forever if the Lord's the Lord of them."  I have experienced this profoundly in my own life and I wholeheartedly encourage you to find a group or consider starting a group in your area.  Then be sure to pass on the contact info so it can be posted on the FrassatiUSA website.  Verso l'alto!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven

There is a great story about Pier Giorgio that demonstrates the simplicity and strength of his faith. He was leaving a church one day and still had his rosary in his hand. Outside of the church, he ran into someone who, noticing the rosary, said, "So, Pier Giorgio, you've become a religious fanatic?" Without missing a beat, Pier Giorgio matter-of-factly replied, "No, I have remained a Christian." And away he went.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were equally at ease with our faith in the face of contradiction and persecution?

There are so many opportunities to show that we have "remained a Christian." For example, while you are on vacation, do you go to Mass or do you instead take a vacation from the Lord? When you are at a restaurant, do you make the Sign of the Cross and pray before eating your meal or are you too self-conscious? When an important issue is being debated in Congress, do you speak up and inform your family and friends or do you keep silent?

Persecution is a part of being faithful to the Lord. Look at how His disciples fared. But the reward in heaven is great and Pier Giorgio is certainly rejoicing now.  And so on this final day of the novena, we ask for his intercession as we attempt to be better witnesses for the Truth and endure the consequences that follow.

Blessed Pier Giorgio, show us how to bear all wrongs patiently. Help us to accept the sufferings which others inflict on us because of our desire to be faithful to Jesus.

Verso l'alto!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

One of the most well-known quotes attributed to Pier Giorgio Frassati is used in today's prayer response: 
To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth – that is not living, but existing.
It is taken from a letter written to his good friend Isidoro Bonini in which Pier Giorgio also says, "Every day I understand better what a grace it is to be Catholics."  

Pier Giorgio loved his Catholic faith during a time when being Catholic made one vulnerable to some degree of persecution.  He was fearless.  He took every opportunity to participate in public demonstrations of the Faith.  If there was a Eucharistic procession in the street, Pier Giorgio was there.  He spent endless hours in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, attending daily Mass, praying the rosary and numerous other prayers.  He belonged to many Catholic clubs and organizations.  He ministered to the poor through his membership in the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul.

But that wasn't all he did.  

He was actively involved in efforts to fight the rise of Fascism, Communism and Socialism.  He joined a new political party founded by a priest (Don Luigi Sturzo) to oppose the Socialist party.  Leaders of the party disappointed him when they failed to be strong defenders of the Faith, showing themselves to be Catholic in name only and siding with the Socialists on several issues.  Despite this disappointment, he worked tirelessly for social reform.  He embraced Pope Leo XIII's landmark encyclical, Rerum NovarumHe befriended the common laborers and was considered a brother to them for his efforts on their behalf. He loved Italy and mourned the decay of its moral fiber. 

I don't know what words are appropriate to express the similarities between Italy then and America now.  Would you call it sad, striking, ironic or something else when you see history repeating itself for the worse?  What will it take for the Church to survive the current attacks against her?  What will it take to restore the moral fiber of our own society?  It will take people like Pier Giorgio who are not content to merely exist but want to live life to the fullest.  It will take people willing to defend their country and struggle for Truth.  it will take people getting off of the sidelines and onto the frontlines.

Pier Giorgio considered it a grace to be a Catholic.  "Poor unlucky those who don't have the Faith," he said, adding that melancholy could "only exist when the Faith is lost." Even poorer still are those who have the Faith but fail to appreciate it for what it is worth and fail to defend it for fear of persecution.  

Pier Giorgio ended his letter to Isidoro with words that are very appropriate for us today:
...let us lift up our hearts and always go forward for the triumph of the reign of Christ in Society.

Verso l'alto!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God

One of the central themes of Pier Giorgio's Letters to His Friends and Family is peace. It's no wonder. Peace was seemingly absent from nearly every aspect of his life.

He longed for peace throughout Europe which was still very much in a state of unrest after World War I. 
Governments today are not heeding the Pope’s warning: “True peace is more a fruit of Christian love for one’s neighbor than it is a fruit of justice,” and they are preparing new wars for the future of all humanity.  (from a letter to  the Catholic men and women students of Bonn, January 12, 1923)
He mourned the absence of peace in Italy where he suffered the rise of Fascism and decline of morality. in Italy we’re also going through a difficult period and there are also many poor unemployed people here and the people are also sinking down morally more and more.  (from a letter to Maria Fischer, January 23, 1923)
The Church was under assault and, much to his disappointment, members of the political party he supported were not guided by their Faith. 
Where is the fine program, where is the Faith which motivates our people? Unfortunately when it is a question of climbing after worldly honors men trample upon their own consciences.  (from a letter to Antonio Villani, November 19, 1922)
He experienced little peace in his own family because of the unhappy marriage between his parents which caused him even more distress when his sister married and left home. 
As every rose has some thorns, so unfortunately at the joy at seeing my sister happy there is the bitterness of separation because, sadly, Italy will never again be her land. Now I will have to fill the void my sister will leave in our home: I will do my best and for this I beg you to remember me in your prayers.  (from a letter to Antonio Villani, December 16, 1924)
His spirit was crushed by his decision to abandon his love for a girl whom he realized would never meet family expectations.
I cannot but thank God because He has willed in His Infinite Mercy to grant this sorrow to my heart so that by means of these arduous thorns I might return to a life that is more interior, more spiritual.  (from a letter to Isidoro Bonini, January 29, 1925)
Although, peace eluded him in so many areas, Pier Giorgio had a daily appointment with the Prince of Peace that enabled him to encourage others.
And when you become totally consumed by this Eucharistic Fire, then you will be able to thank with greater awareness the Lord God who has called you to be part of his flock and you will enjoy that peace which those who are happy according to the world have never tasted. Because true happiness, young people, does not consist in the pleasures of the world and in earthly things, but in peace of conscience which we can have only if we are pure in heart and in mind. (from his speech to the Catholic Youth of Pollone, July 29, 1923)
And so it is fitting that Pier Giorgio's wish to his best friend on the last Easter of his earthly life -- and to us on this seventh day of the novena -- was for the greatest gift he could think of:  true peace.  
I hope that this letter reaches you for Easter and so I send you my best wishes rather just one, but I believe it to be the only wish that a true friend can make to a dear friend and it is this: the Peace of the Lord be with you always because when you possess peace every day you will be truly rich. (from a letter to Marco Beltramo, April 10, 1925)
Verso l'alto!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God

Have you ever felt like quitting?  Maybe an exercise program, a novena, a diet plan, music lessons, a sports team, college, a marriage, a job, the Catholic Church, life?

Today's Gospel ends with Jesus saying, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  And, fittingly, today's novena response is Pier Giorgio saying, "I beg you to pray for me a little, so that God may give me an iron will that does not bend and does not fail in His projects." 

We need grace, a lot of it, to persevere in life along the narrow path.  So many times,  Pier Giorgio wrote to his friends begging for their prayers.  It's beautiful, really, to see that he recognized the value of prayer, relied on it, was never afraid to ask for it.  Oh, he had plenty of excuses to be a quitter.  His parents did not have a good marriage and that made family life stressful.  He was often told that he would never amount to as much as his sister who had completed her college degree before him.  He didn't have a very strong spiritual upbringing in the home and the time he spent nourishing his soul in Eucharistic Adoration, attending Mass or serving the poor was often misunderstood.

But he was not a quitter. Toward the end of his life, he was even more determined to complete his final exams and thesis and said he would study "from morning until evening."  Aware of his own shortcomings and the things that would prevent him from attaining his goal, he turned to the sources that he knew would sustain him.  "I'm trusting in the Providence of God," he wrote to his friend Isidoro Bonini, "and also in the prayers of friends." 

God had other plans for how things would turn out for Pier Giorgio; he died before completing his longed-for degree.  Likewise, we cannot predict how our own undertakings will end. Regardless of the future outcome, our challenge is to be what we pray for in day six of the novena: "single hearted and completely, unswervingly, dedicated to proclaiming the kingdom of God here on earth."  We do that by persevering in the vocations God has given us.  We do that by being the best children, parents, students, athletes, weight-watchers, musicians, spouses, employees, Catholics, Americans, and so on.  We do that by not quitting.  We do that by relying on the Providence of God and the prayers of our friends.  Verso l'alto!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy

God's timing is perfect. And so, I should not be surprised that Day Five of the novena this year falls on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul -- one of Pier Giorgio's name days. He famously said to the family maid on this day (less than a week before he died) that he would enjoy two cigars -- one for Peter and one for Paul!

Also not a coincidence is that his response in today's prayers refers to St. Paul.  It is taken from his speech to the Catholic youth of Pollone, in which he exhorted them to embrace what he called the apostolate of charity. "The Apostle St. Paul says, 'the charity of Christ urges us.'  Without this flame, which should burn out our personality little by little and blaze only for other people’s griefs, we would not be Christian, let alone Catholic.” 

Pier Giorgio was so inspired by St. Paul's Hymn of Charity (found in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13) that he wrote it out and carried it with him. In a letter to his best friend Marco Beltramo, he wrote, "Maybe if all of us listened more to St. Paul, human miseries would be slightly diminished."  To his friend Isidoro Bonini, he wrote, "I would like you to try to read St. Paul: he is marvelous and the soul is exalted by this reading and we are prodded to follow the right path and to return to it as soon as we leave it through sin."

In addition to St. Paul, Pier Giorgio had a preference for St. Catherine of Siena, St. Augustine and Fra Girolamo Savonarola.   He made regular spiritual retreats and was often in the company of holy priests and religious. His closest friends were people whose goodness formed "a precious guide" for his whole life. "Surely Divine Providence in His Marvelous Plans sometimes uses us miserable little twigs to do Good," he wrote to Marco, "and we sometimes not only don’t want to know God but instead dare to deny His existence; but we who, by the Grace of God, have the Faith, when we find ourselves in the presence of such beautiful souls, surely nourished by Faith, we cannot but discover in them an obvious sign of the Existence of God, because one cannot have such a Goodness without the Grace of God."

May we today be inspired by the saints, especially Peter, Paul and Pier Giorgio, and strive to attain to their level of goodness until we too become "miserable little twigs" ablaze with love and mercy for the people around us.  Verso l'alto!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied

A priest friend of  mine describes waking up each morning as "a mini-resurrection."  We should jump up and hit the ground running, he says, rather than hit the snooze button repeatedly.  (He's a morning person!)  And then there's that familiar cliche that puts it like this: "Today is a gift; that's why they call it 'the present.'"  But one of my favorite ways of looking at each day came from my best friend's youngest daughter who had not yet incorporated the words "yesterday," "today" and "tomorrow" into her vocabulary.  Instead, she called them, "last day," "this day" and "next day." 

How easy it is to take each new day for granted!  And yet, the breath we are given each morning is the greatest gift of all.  I'm as guilty as all of the other list makers who wake up thinking about all that needs done rather than thanking for all that has been done.  As St. Paul wrote, "in Him we live and move and have our being." (Acts 17: 28)  Really, what more could we ask?

Pier Giorgio's challenge in today's novena response is to consider how we spend each day and the gifts we have been given, especially our gift of good health.  If we are not putting them at the service of others, he says, it "would be to betray that gift of God."  I doubt he could ever be accused of such a betrayal.  In fact, there is a wonderful book not yet published in English that is filled from cover to cover with works of charity that he performed.  (The book is aptly named, "La Carita" -- his charity.) 

As this novena began, many prayer intentions were submitted and are still being submitted.  If you need something to help you count your blessings, take a few minutes to read through them.  There are so many people in physical, spiritual, financial and emotional pain.  There are so many situations in the world today in need of people willing to get involved.  There are so many opportunities to stand up for life, for our Church, for our country.

If today were your "last day," how big would the book of your service to the Lord and His Kingdom be?  None of us is guaranteed a "next day."  "This day" is all we are promised.  Make the most of it.  Verso l'alto!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth

I've always enjoyed the story about when Pier Giorgio's university club hired a guy to repair their billiard table and do a few other things and then got cheated by him. Pier Giorgio was in Berlin at the time and was so upset upon hearing it that he wrote to his friends back in Italy and asked them to hold off paying the guy until he returned. He wanted to "go and find Mr. DeAgostini and tell him off." His other suggestion was that he would "write a fiery letter to him personally." (Excerpts are from his letter to Antonio Severi on November 23, 1922.)

This seemingly insignificant event exemplifies why Pier Giorgio is so easy to love: he was human to the core. There are many other stories of when he got angry -- but when I consider them carefully, I can see that in almost every case his was righteous anger.

[On a visit to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama, I heard an excellent homily on the topic of anger given by Father Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA. He thoroughly examined the difference between sinful and righteous anger which I had not given much thought to previously and, unfortunately, cannot do justice to in a blog nutshell.  But understanding the difference between the two types is something we should bear in mind as we respond to the various injustices inflicted on ourselves and others.] 

Like Americans today, Pier Giorgio lived in a very challenging time when the Church was being openly persecuted. It's hard to believe he wrote the following sentence more than 90 years -- and not 90 minutes -- ago:  "Today, after a terrible war that has deluged the whole world bringing material and moral ruin, we have a strict duty to cooperate generously in the moral regeneration of society worldwide so that a radiant dawn may break in which all nations recognize Jesus Christ as King not only in words but in all their people’s lives."*

Rather than respond with anger and violence to the chaos around him, he chose a life of charity as a means of rebuilding the corrupt society. He acknowledged that the other way might seem easier and more satisfying but said, "if we could plunge the depths of those who unfortunately follow the perverse ways of the world, we would see that there is never in them the serenity had by those who have faced thousands of difficulties and have renounced material pleasures in order to follow the laws of God."* What wisdom and restraint at such a young age!

He suggested to his friends that they could "sow peace among men"* by joining one of the many conferences of St. Vincent de Paul. "You will see," he said, "in just a little time, how much good we can do to those we visit and how much good we can do to ourselves. ... I think I can say that the Conference of St. Vincent with its visits to the poor serves to curb our passions, it gives us increasing incentives to get on the right road by which we are all trying to reach the great harbor."*

Pier Giorgio was by no means a stranger to confrontation. He took to the streets when necessary to defend the Faith and was arrested on more than one occasion. He used his fists to defend the family home from a violent group of attackers. He probably gave Mr. DeAgostini a piece of his mind about the billiard table. But the substance of his daily life was defined by Charity -- what he considered "explicit proof that the Catholic Faith is based on real Love and not, as so many would like, in order to quiet their conscience, to base the religion of Christ on violence."*  Charity, he believed, would lead to true peace, and true peace would lead to brotherly love.  In that kind of world, violence would have no place and anger would not be necessary.  Verso l'alto!

(*Excerpts taken from Pier Giorgio's notes on a speech about charity to the FUCI students. The entire speech is found in the book, Pier Giorgio Frassati: Letters to His Friends and Family.)



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted

My mother died quite unexpectedly a few weeks before Christmas in 2002. Faithfully for nearly 11 years, my father has prayed daily at her grave. (The cemetery is not far from our house and it is his routine to stop by on the way home from Mass.) His prayer is that she be in a place "where there is no pain or sorrow, a place where the eye cannot see, the ear cannot hear and the mind of man cannot imagine what great things God has in store for those who love Him." He thanks her for the 49 years of Christian marriage they enjoyed and he asks her to pray for us. It always moves me to listen to him say those words when I am in town for a visit and drive him there.

At first glance, the beatitude for this second day of the novena calls to mind all those whom we have lost and the human sorrow that accompanies their absence. And it is certainly a good thing to pause and pray for the holy souls in purgatory and for the comfort and consolation of their families. But Pier Giorgio addressed a different type of sorrow when he wrote the words found in today's novena response. He mourned the persecution of the Church.

When he was just 22 years old, Pier Giorgio was asked to address a group of young people on the occasion of the blessing of their organization's flag. He was the honorary godfather of the flag and gave one of the most beautiful speeches that day that is so strikingly significant for us nearly 90 years later. He grieved for the Church and exhorted the young people to pray for the strength to persevere "in these times, in which the hatred of the sons of the devil is breaking out violently against the sheep who are faithful to the fold." He urged them to receive the Holy Eucharist as frequently as possible and instructed them on many ways to grow spiritually. But then he said that having the highest spiritual gifts would be nothing without the spirit of sacrifice: the willingness to give up "our ambitions, our entire selves, for the cause of the Faith."

His speech is too long to do it justice here. (If you have a copy of the book of Pier Giorgio's Letters to his friends and family, you will find it there.) Toward the end, he makes the point that we cannot be good Catholics or Christians without sacrifice. And that sacrifice had to be continual -- not a one-time thing. He accepted the situation in his country and he was able to put it into such a healthy perspective. Above all, he did not want the other young people to find sacrificing for the Faith a burden. He encouraged them to "think about what these few years passed in sorrow are, compared with a happy eternity, where joy will have no measure nor end, and where we will enjoy a peace beyond anything we could imagine."

When I read those words in Pier Giorgio's speech, I think of my dad saying nearly the same thing at my mother's grave. It strikes me that there is consolation -- great consolation -- in thinking about what lies beyond this world when dealing with the sorrows it presents to us. Again, the message of the novena is somewhat counter-cultural. Things don't always go the way we want. We may not have perfect families or live in a perfect world. People we love will hurt us. People we depend on will die. But we can and should embrace our sorrows, confront them and then give them to God who is the great Consoler.

Jesus wept for Lazarus and he wept for Jerusalem. He understands our heartache. He dries our tears. He heals our wounds. He picks us up and sets us on our feet again. And in doing so, He calls us "Blessed." Verso l'alto!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

I hope you've started the novena in honor of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati today.  Day One begins with a challenge that always stretches my faith: to be poor in spirit.  We pray today to make choices in our lives which "will show a preference for service of God and neighbor, rather than accumulating financial wealth and social advantage" for ourselves.  Stop! Read that again and really reflect on how countercultural that prayer is! We live in a society where having -- rather than being -- is the goal. Imagine if it were the opposite.

From time to time, I have confessed how difficult it is for me to persevere in this ministry called FrassatiUSA.  My closest friends and family members have heard it all too often, yet they constantly encourage me to stay the course.  And so days have turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into years.  Nearly seven years!  The financial stress and strain of running a ministry is something I cannot put into words.  But here is an example:  last year, I wrote in the annual fundraising letter that unless $49,000 could be raised for 2013, it was unlikely FrassatiUSA could keep the office doors open.  I received many emails and handwritten notes thanking me for the work being done and exhorting me to continue.  In total, though, only a little more than $12,000 was raised.  At the human level, the math is simple: in two months, the meager funds will be exhausted.  There is no way to order any additional inventory and continue to make available at such low cost the resources to promote the spirituality of Pier Giorgio.  On top of that, there has not been payroll on the books for the last four years.  That is the reality.

But here is the spirituality:  I have received notes from all over the world sharing what an impact the message of Pier Giorgio has had in the lives of people of all ages.  I have seen time and time again that when people "find" Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, they find a friend, a companion, a role model, a support, a source of inner strength, a challenge to be holy.  As Blessed Pope John Paul II proclaimed in his beatification homily, Pier Giorgio "repeats that it is really worth giving up everything to serve the Lord. He testifies that holiness is possible for everyone, and that only the revolution of charity can enkindle the hope of a better future in the hearts of people." 

Last Monday, I heard from someone who was getting married.  He and his fiance decided at the last minute to use holy cards of saints for their reception favors and they wanted to be sure they could get Pier Giorgio cards in time for their Friday wedding.  What a beautiful notion! Last year, a wonderful couple lost a beloved son after a long hospital struggle and many prayers.  Because of their love for Pier Giorgio, they incorporated him into the funeral -- even having an Italian meal at the repast.  What a powerful witness of enduring faith!

Stories like these two barely scratch the surface of how, through a little ministry called FrassatiUSA, lives have been changed, hearts have been transformed, holiness is being sought after.  God does so much with so little.  

Last year, because of the funding crisis, I had to discontinue sending materials outside of the U.S.  This week alone, I've heard from people in Canada and India asking for materials to be available for their countries.  "We have young people, too!", one note said.  These sorts of notes and requests come frequently but there isn't much I can do.

And so, when day one of the novena rolls around, I read that prayer and feel it so acutely.  I beg God through my spiritual brother Pier Giorgio that I can somehow persevere in this ministry and "show a preference for service of God and neighbor, rather than accumulating financial wealth and social advantage for myself."   I renew my resolve to serve and determine that I will put out into the deep for the next two months and see what the Lord does.  The doors will close when He closes them and not before. 

Pier Giorgio encourages me today: “The faith given to me in Baptism surely suggests to me that of yourself you will do nothing; but if you have God as the center of all your actions, then you will reach your goal.”  He encourages you, too.  Bring your nothingness, your five loaves and two fishes, and leave the math to God.  Verso l'alto!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Come and Pray...

Mountain altar dedicated to Pier Giorgio Frassati
All my life, I've loved the beach.  I love the sound of the waves and the power that emanates from them.  I love the roar and the undulation.  I love the breeze, the sun, the sand, the song of the birds.  I love the beach.

In 2006, I learned to love the mountains.  I love the sound of silence found at the top of a mountain peak.  I love the crisp, cool air you can breathe there.  I love the view of the horizon, the glacier tops, the clanking of the cowbells from the herds grazing below.  I love the exhausted euphoric feeling upon reaching the top.  I never thought I would, but, thanks to Pier Giorgio, I love the mountains.

What I experience so intensely in both places is God's presence: His greatness, my smallness.  My earthly cares drift out to sea with each wave and into the sky with each step taken upward along a rocky path.  God's assertion of His majesty to Job comes to mind:
"Where were you when I founded the earth?   ... Who determined its size? ... Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb, When I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands? When I set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door, And said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves stop? Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place? (Job 38: 4,5, 8-12)
Not one of my troubles is too big for God to handle.  Maybe too big for me to handle but not for Him.  

I am about to begin the Novena in Honor of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that will lead up to his fourth of July feast day.  It is such a powerful novena and over the years I have seen much fruit come from it.  This year, many people have submitted petitions to be included in the novena.  It is humbling to read the burdens and cares of others, no matter what my own are.  And yet I know with certainty that not one person is outside of the loving embrace of God.  And that every prayer will be answered in His time, in His way.  Our part, the praying, is the easiest part of it all.  

Pier Giorgio once wrote to his good friend Isidoro Bonini, "I would like for us to pledge a pact that knows no earthly boundaries or temporal limits: union in prayer."  I firmly believe he will be praying with us and interceding for us in a special way in the coming days.  The graces that await us are more numerous than the sand on the seashore.  The peace to be bestowed is more penetrating than the mountain sun. Whatever you are doing, wherever you are going, don't miss this opportunity to come and pray.  Verso l'alto!