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!