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!