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!