Monday, June 30, 2014

Time for a Miracle -- Novena Day Six


Pope Francis quoted Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as he urged the young people of the Netherlands "not to waste their lives" but to "think big!"  "The Beatitudes are revolutionary," he told them.  His remarks come during our novena to the Man of the Eight Beatitudes and seem like the perfect reflection for Day Six.  Verso l'alto!

Message by Pope Francis to the National Catholic Youth Festival of the Netherlands

Dear Young Friends,

I send affectionate greetings to you on the occasion of the National Catholic Youth Festival which has brought so many of you together at the Abbey of Mariƫnkroon in Nieuwkuijk. I also greet and thank your Pastors, who have planned this meeting centred on the theme: New, Pure and Intense.

As you know, each year I write a Message to young people throughout the world for the next World Youth Day. As we look forward to WYD 2016 in Krakow, I have proposed a three-year journey of spiritual preparation based on the Beatitudes. In this outstanding text from Matthew's Gospel (Mt 5:3-12) you can find a concrete programme of life that can serve as a guide on the path to true happiness.

The three Beatitudes that I propose for your reflection are:

2014: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3);

2015: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will. see God" (Mt 5:8);

2016: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy" (Mt 5:7).

As you can see, the message of Jesus' Beatitudes is new. In fact, the Beatitudes are revolutionary. They present a model of happiness contrary to the logic of this world. Those whom Jesus proclaims "blessed" are regarded by the world as useless, "losers". What the world glorifies is success at any cost, wealth, power for its own sake and self¬-affirmation at the expense of others. Jesus offers a very different definition of what it means to be blessed; he shows us the way to authentic life and happiness, the way that he himself has taken. In fact, Jesus himself is the way! Throughout his life he showed us concretely how to live each of the Beatitudes.

Jesus loves each one of you, each one of us, with an infinite love! By his death on the cross and his resurrection, he proved his boundless mercy, offered us salvation and opened the way to a new life. Once we accept his love and salvation, once we contemplate Jesus in his poverty, his purity of heart, and his mercy, we will realize the beauty of our Christian vocation and we will not hesitate to set out on the way that leads to true happiness. I invite you, then, to set out on the exciting journey of true discipleship. "Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything" (Benedict XVI).

Dear brothers and sisters, when Saint John wrote to young people, he told them: "You are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one" (1 Jn 2:14). Young people want to live intense experiences! I challenge you to take God at his word. Say no to an ephemeral, superficial and throwaway culture, a culture that assumes that you are not strong, that you are not capable of facing great challenges in your life. Think big! As Blessed Piergiorgio Frassati once said: "To live without faith, to have no heritage to uphold, to fail to struggle constantly to defend the truth: this is not living. It is scraping by. We should never just scrape by, but really live".

May the Virgin Mary, whom all generations call "blessed" (cf. Lk 1:48), intercede for you, so that you can experience a joy which is new, pure and intense, a joy you can find only in Jesus. To each of you and your families, and to all the young people of the Netherlands, I gladly impart my blessing as a pledge of joy and peace.

From the Vatican, 25 June 2014


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Time for a Miracle -- Novena Day Five


Five days before his death, Pier Giorgio celebrated his last feast of Saints Peter and Paul. And he really did celebrate -- joking with the maid saying, “Two cigars. Today you have to give me two cigars: one for St. Peter and one for St. Paul; it’s a double feast day today!”

Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable to see a picture of Pier Giorgio with a pipe in his mouth or a cigar in his hand. He certainly wasn't what we think of as the typical saint. But what kind of men were Peter and Paul? A fisherman who denied Christ three times; a Pharisee who persecuted the Jews! Certainly, these two personify the famous quote, "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." (Oscar Wilde)

Sainthood, after all, is not about being perfect, but striving for perfection. This is what Pier Giorgio best represents, I think. Saint John Paul II said it best during the beatification homily: "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."

Holiness IS possible for everyone. Like Pier Giorgio, you can come from a home where your parents don't attend church and still end up a saint. You can get average grades, even fail a class (twice!) and be a saint. You can have a girlfriend and be a practical joker and be a saint. Your parents can have a very troubled marriage and fight a lot; you can still be a saint. You can love sports and music and be a saint. And yes, you can smoke a pipe or a cigar and be a saint. Saints are not perfect people with perfect families and perfect lives. They are people who love God and strive to be perfect as He is perfect. (See Matthew 5:48)

As we celebrate two of the greatest saints of the Church, it is comforting to be able to turn to someone like Pier Giorgio and ask him to help us in our spiritual journey. Whether you are praying the international novena prayers or the traditional ones, or both, you've already made it more than half way. If you need a little boost to keep going, here's the prayer for the Courage to be Great:

"Heavenly Father, Give me the courage to strive for the highest goals, to flee every temptation to be mediocre. Enable me to aspire to greatness, as Pier Giorgio did,and to open my heart with joy to Your call to holiness. Free me from the fear of failure. I want to be, Lord, firmly and forever united to You. Grant me the graces I ask You through Pier Giorgio's intercession, by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.Amen."

Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Blessed Pier Giorgio, pray for us.

Verso l'alto!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Time for a Miracle -- Novena Day Four


It was often said of Pier Giorgio that the Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin were the two poles of his world of prayer.  How appropriate, then, to pause during our novena and honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. 

At the age of 24, about six months before his death, Pier Giorgio wrote a letter to his good friend Isidoro Bonini sharing some intimate thoughts and concerns:

"Every day that passes by convinces me all the more how ugly the world is, how much misery there is and unfortunately good people are suffering while we who have been given many graces by God have alas! paid Him back so poorly.  It’s a terrible admission which torments my brain while I am studying.  Every now and then I ask myself:  shall I go on trying to follow the right path?  Will I have the good fortune to persevere to the end?  In this tremendous clash of doubts, the Faith given to me in Baptism suggests to me with a sure voice:  “By yourself you can do nothing, but if you have God as the center of your every action then, yes, you will reach the goal.” And I would like to be able to do precisely that and to take as a maxim the saying of St. Augustine:  “Lord, our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
May our hearts find rest in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary as we press on toward our heavenly goal.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

Verso l'alto! 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Time for a Miracle -- Novena Day Three


Sometimes I get teased about being in the "saint making" business.  Of course, it is only God who "makes miracles" and it is the Church that "makes saints."  But, there is a good deal of work involved in bringing a cause for canonization forward.   

For example, Pier Giorgio's cause began in the 1920s.   Everyone who was involved in the effort back then has surely passed away by now.  The fact that his cause is still moving forward certainly adds to its credibility. 

Something essential to the canonization process is the appointment of a postulator.  This person formally guides the future saint's cause through the administrative/judicial processes put in place by the Church.  At the time of the beatification of Pier Giorgio Frassati, the postulator was Father Paolo Molinari, SJ.  I had the opportunity to meet with Fr. Molinari in 2006 at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome where he resided until his death last month.  As his obituary notes, his retirement meant that the cases he was handling needed to be reassigned.  

After several years of trying to identify the appropriate person to assume the responsibility for Frassati's cause, Dr. Silvia Correale was appointed.  Like Pope Francis, she is from Argentina.  She holds Italian nationality, has a doctorate in Canon Law and is one of the few female postulators in the world.  In the video above, she explains a bit about the canonization process.

FrassatiUSA began in 2006 with the mission of promoting the spirituality of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and working toward his canonization.  Over the years, many favors have been reported through his intercession.  When these reports are received, they are forwarded to Frassati's niece in Rome and Dr. Silvia Correale.  When a case is deemed worthy of additional investigation, FrassatiUSA provides whatever assistance is requested, if possible.  The miracle now under investigation -- the one we are praying throughout this novena will be verified and credited to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati -- was formally reported in January of 2011.  We'll call it "Emily's Case."  

Emily's case has been slowly but surely advancing through the canonization process. Extensive documentation was submitted and reviewed and re-reviewed.  After some very good news in April, it is expected that Dr. Correale will be in the U.S. this fall to officially transfer the case to Rome for the next step.  We need a lot of prayers now for the proceedings that will take place in Italy.

Here is a brief summary of Emily's case:

Emily, a 22-year-old college student from Illinois, was diagnosed with an extremely rare case of tongue cancer.  After numerous rounds of radiation and chemo, her cancer seemed to have been successfully treated.  Two months later, however, a PET scan showed it was back, spreading, with ill-defined borders and terminal within less than a year.  The surgeon recommended cutting out half of her tongue, all of her back teeth and removing the lower portion of her jaw in order to prolong her life.  Opting for quality of life rather than quantity, Emily chose to have only the tumor and a clinical margin around it removed.  She had the weekend to spend with her family, in case she did not survive the surgery scheduled for Monday morning.   

God had big plans for Emily that weekend.  Yesterday, I described the second-class relic card that was significant in the first miracle from 1933.  One of those cards was handed to Emily the morning after her distressing discussion with the surgeon.  A family friend had acquired one and felt compelled to bring it to Emily because, as the friend explained, Frassati was 24, Emily was 22; Frassati was a college student, Emily was a college student; Frassati needed a miracle, Emily needed a miracle...  Taking the relic card, Emily said, "I'm his miracle."  

Emily and her family enlisted everyone in her extensive prayer chain to beseech the intercession of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  They stormed heaven all weekend long. Monday, when Emily awoke following her surgery, she heard her mother say, "You got your miracle."  And she did!  The tumor had miraculously changed to a perfectly circular and much smaller one and was easily removed.  In a few months, Emily will mark five years of being cancer-free.  She completed her college degree and is a recent newlywed.  Her husband entered the Church at Easter, about one month before their wedding, and took the Confirmation name of who else?  Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati!

Although I had read the details of this case several years ago, I cannot begin to describe what it was like to sit with Emily and hear her tell her story.  Seeing her was seeing God in action. In the ninth chapter of St. John, the disciples ask Jesus to explain whose fault it was that a particular man was born blind.  Was it his sins or the sins of his parents?  Jesus answers, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him."  (John 9:3)

Each miracle story is a manifestation of God's awesomeness.  In Emily's case, through the intercession of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, God's works are made visible in such a powerful way.  She is a physical reminder of how big God is, how small we are, and how much He loves us.  If this were a sporting event, it's around now that the crowd would go wild. 

Go wild!  

Verso l'alto! 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Time for a Miracle -- Novena Day Two


Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania with five brothers, it was impossible to not become a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. So when friends invited me to a wildcard playoff game here in Nashville between the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills, I went along as a disinterested observer. What are the odds that I would witness arguably the most famous play in Titans' history?!

The Music City Miracle came with just a few ticks left on the clock but catapulted the Titans to a Superbowl appearance in 2000. It's another heart-pumping video moment ending with raucous applause as the crowd goes wild.

We cheer the underdog. We celebrate when the Davids of the world beat the Goliaths. We love when the impossible is made possible. And sports often provide these types of moments. But our Catholic faith provides miracles that far surpass any athletic event. Each and every day, all around the world, Christ comes to us in the Holy Eucharist. Fully present: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. In fact, this miracle is the one that fueled the charity of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati who said, "Jesus comes to me every morning in Holy Communion. I repay him in my very small way by visiting the poor."

The Church also gives us the assembly of Saints and the plethora of miracles attributed to their intercession. I am often asked to clarify how many miracles are required for a person to be declared a saint. The norm is two: one miracle before beatification, one miracle after beatification. (Of course, Pope Francis has the ability to waive the requirement, as he recently did in the case of St. John XXIII.)

Before talking about the exciting U.S. miracles occurring in the past few years, we should recall the first miracle approved for the beatification of Pier Giorgio. That miracle came in 1933 when the Church officially recognized the healing of Domenico Sellan. At the time, Domenico was 40 years old and suffering from a tubercular disease of the spine, paralyzed and nearing death. A priest visited him on December 28, 1933, and brought him a small prayer card of Pier Giorgio. Domenico was miraculously cured and lived another 35 years.

It wasn't until 1989 that the documentation of this miracle received final approval. Pier Giorgio was declared a Blessed the following year on May 20, 1990.

You may have been lucky enough to have seen one of those same prayer cards with your own eyes. Although rare, many have been in circulation since the beginning of the cause for the canonization of Pier Giorgio. They contain a small piece of the linen from the bed where Pier Giorgio died and are, therefore, considered second-class relics. One of those cards played a significant part in the miracle that occurred in 2009. This miracle is the one we are praying will be approved. More on that tomorrow...

While I am on the topic of relics, it would be worth noting that first-class and third-class relics of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati are not available. The only type ever made were second-class and these can only be acquired by adhering to the formal process which can be read here: How to Obtain a Frassati Relic.

On Day Two of the Novena, let us pray for the grace to comprehend more fully the awesome presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Let us return to our pews, kneel and silently exclaim, "It's a Miracle!"

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

Verso l'alto!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Time for a Miracle -- Novena Day One


Many young fans of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati may not remember the famous 1980 hockey miracle on ice, the exciting game-ending cry of the announcer Al Michaels and the explosive applause of the fans in attendance.  The video link is above, if you want to relive it or experience it for the first time.  (I'm not much of a technological guru, so if that video clip isn't working, here's another way to get to it: Miracle on Ice.)

I was in high school in the Pittsburgh area when the hockey miracle took place.  (Yes, I'm that old!)   It was before Mario Lemieux made the Pittsburgh Penguins great.  And so I think I only paid attention to it because some of the guys in my class had started a hockey team and were very enthusiastic about the sport.  It was a great Olympic moment for the United States at a time in our country when we really needed an emotional boost.

I'm 34 years older now and interested in miracles of a different kind; specifically, the canonization miracle for Pier Giorgio Frassati.  As in 1980, our world is at a point when we really need a spiritual boost.  Perfect timing for a new saint!

Last month, I had the opportunity to spend four hours with a young woman who had a miraculous healing through the intercession of Blessed Pier Giorgio.  The miracle took place almost five years ago.  Her miracle story has been slowly but surely working its way through the canonization process.  Some very good news was received in April and there is just one major hurdle to clear.   

In my role as Executive Director of FrassatiUSA, I have received many, many reports of favors granted through the intercession of Blessed Pier Giorgio.  And while each case is significant for the recipient of the favor, not all rise to the caliber of what is necessary to get Pier Giorgio from "blessed" to "saint."  This particular case from the U.S., however, is definitely that kind of miracle.  What's exciting for me is that it is not the only one of its kind. Earlier this month, I spent time with a young man who also received a miraculous healing through the intercession of Blessed Pier Giorgio.  His took place four years ago.  Both are incredibly powerful stories that you will love to hear.  

Tomorrow, I will begin to share some miracle details.  But today we begin the international novena in honor of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's upcoming feast day.  And so I hope you will put at the top of your list of intentions the approval of this miracle by the Vatican.  

If you haven't submitted your intentions directly to Italy yet, you can still do so.  Visit the Novena page on the FrassatiUSA website for instructions and the novena prayers.  Here's the link again:

At the end of the hockey miracle, the crowd goes wild.  Really wild.  I enjoyed reliving that moment when I posted the video above.  I couldn't help but be swept up by the roar of the crowd, the uncontainable enthusiasm, the thrill each person must have felt from witnessing history in the making.  All of that will pale in comparison to the joy I think we all will feel when we hear Pope Francis pronounce for the first time "Saint Pier Giorgio Frassti."  Sure, he'll do it in Latin, but it will sound incredible in every language.  

As the novena begins, know that all of your intentions are in my prayers.  May Blessed Pier Giorgio intercede in great and small ways as we approach his feast day.  

Do you believe in miracles?  Yes!                  

Verso l'alto!