Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Man of the Beatitudes: Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati - From a talk given at this week's World Youth Day in Madrid

The talk which is gratefully reproduced below was recently given by one of our most talented Catholic bloggers, Catholic with Attitude. It was addressed to young Dominican friars attending this week's 26th World Youth Day in Madrid.

“I would like to thank the Dominican brothers for allowing me to speak to you all today about a young blessed to whom I have a particular devotion, and whose life, I feel, is a great example of joyful and holistic Catholic living. This particular blessed had a deep love for our Lord Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was given permission to receive Holy Communion daily, which, during the time he lived, was a rare occurrence; he was also an ardent proponent of the Rosary. At the same time, he loved to drink with his friends, smoke, and climb mountains. He played practical jokes and even boxed with a young Karl Rahner! He was nicknamed “Terror” by his closest friends, got into fights and was even arrested during a Church-organised demonstration. This blessed has been described as, ‘The Man of the Beatitudes’ by Cardinal Karol Woytyla, later Pope John Paul II, and in a litany in honour of this man, he is invoked as, ‘Athlete for God’s kingdom’. One book calls him, ‘An Ordinary Christian’, yet I would argue that this young man is perhaps one of the most extraordinary Christians of the twentieth century. Karl Rahner says what struck him most about this young blessed, ‘was his purity, his radiant joy, his piety, his freedom as a child of God for all that is beautiful in the world, his social conscience, the awareness he had of sharing the life and destiny of the Church.’ In a time when purity, piety, and faithfulness to the Church are treated disparagingly and viewed as out-dated, the example of this ‘ordinary Christian’ serves as a reminder that, in his words, ‘true happiness… does not consist in the pleasures of the world or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure in heart.’ The name of this blessed is Pier Giorgio Frassati.

Pier Giorgio Frassati was born into the well-known and wealthy Frassati family of Turin, a town in northern Italy, in the year 1901 on the 6th April. His father, Alfredo Frassati, was the founder of the Italian newspaper, La Stampa, which till this day still exists; he was also an Italian senator and from 1920, Italy’s Ambassador to Germany up until Mussolini’s rise to power. His mother, Adelaide Ametis, was a painter and had a turbulent marriage with Alfredo, which almost resulted with the two separating. Pier Giorgio had one other sibling, a sister who was one year younger than he and whom he loved dearly, called Luciana. Neither of his parents were particularly religious and could best be described as ‘cultural Catholics.’ Pier Giorgio, on the other hand, from a very young age, developed a close relationship with Christ, which could be seen, but not always understood, by those around him. As I mentioned previously, he received permission to receive Holy Communion daily, which at that time was a rarity, at least for someone of Pier Giorgio’s age. He was a member of various lay movements, including the Marian Sodality and the Apostleship of Prayer. Pier Giorgio’s deep spiritual life manifested itself to others in his many acts of charity. He was an ardent defender of the poor and sick, even from a very early age. In one instance, when Pier Giorgio was only a few years old, a gypsy lady with child in arm knocked on the front door of the family home. Pier Giorgio opened the door and realised that the child she carried had no shoes. Immediately, Pier Giorgio removed his shoes and gave them to the child. Pier Giorgio also used any money he had to buy food for the hungry and medicine for the sick in Turin. He kept a little logbook, which I have seen myself, and in it he used to write the names of the people to whom he had given money and how much he had given. Always, his charity was performed in secret. The generous giving of himself to others, both financially and with his time, often meant he was late for various appointments and regularly late for dinner at home, much to his mother’s annoyance.

Pier Giorgio was very much an outdoorsman and loved the mountains. He loved to climb them with his friends and he loved them as a place to pray. On the back of his bedroom door he had a note saying: ‘Mountains, mountains, mountains, I love you!” It was not unusual for him to spend the entire night adoring the Blessed Sacrament before climbing the mountains with no sleep in between. So great was his love for the Blessed Sacrament, that he would rather postpone a mountain climb so as to attend Mass or Adoration. There is one instance recorded in a biography of Pier Giorgio that he had asked a priest friend to celebrate Mass at 4am so that he could then climb the mountains nourished by the Holy Eucharist. Pier Giorgio had a great love too for the writings of St. Catherine of Siena, which encouraged him to become a third order Dominican, or ‘lay Dominican’ in today’s terminology. At his summer home in the mountainous village of Pollone, lies laid out one his bed his fifteen-decade rosary bead.

Pier Giorgio was also a mining engineer student, though he struggled most of his life with academia and had to receive extra tuition during his school years. Somehow, he managed to balance his academic studies with his service to those most in need, never neglecting his spiritual life, which sustained him through difficult times.

The strength he received from the sacraments and from a deep prayer life propelled him to take an active role in the political life of his day so as to bring about social change. Pier Giorgio was totally anti-fascist and the way Italian society was heading troubled him greatly. He took Catholic social teaching very seriously and saw it as just as an important and necessary part of his Catholic life and faith, as were attending Mass and praying the rosary. The two were inextricable from each other.

Pier Giorgio lived a full-on life, cut short by an untimely death. In 1925, Pier Giorgio contracted polio and died within the space of a week at the young age of 24. It is believed that he caught the disease from one of the sick that he had been visiting. Even in his final moments, his concern was not for himself and his own comfort, but instead for the sick and needy. He managed to scribble on a piece of paper a reminder to collect some injections for a gentleman whom he had been tending. His funeral was intended to be a small affair with a few dignitaries who knew the Frassati family; instead, the streets were lined with crowds of mourners who had been on the receiving end of Pier Giorgio’s charity. His parents were unaware of the extent of his charitable activities and the poor and needy only realised then that Pier Giorgio was in fact a member of the reputable Frassati family.

Blessed Pope John Paul II took the unusual initiative of visiting Pier Giorgio’s tomb in Pollone when Pier Giorgio was only a servant of God. He was a role model and inspiration for the late pontiff as a young man living in war-torn Poland and they both shared a great passion for the outdoors. Typically several people are declared 'blessed' together in the same ceremony. But unusually, Blessed Pope John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio Frassati alone in a Beatification Mass in St Peter's Square on 20th May 1990. A few years prior, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati’s body was found incorrupt in the family tomb and was said to have had a smile on his face. His body now lies in a side altar in Turin’s cathedral.

What I have attempted to present to you is really a brief overview of Pier Giorgio Frassati’s life and death; I could, honestly, go on for hours talking about him and if you are daring enough to start such a conversation with me, then you shall see and indeed hear! Before finishing, I would like to share with you one reason why Pier Giorgio Frassati has been a great influence on me and why I think there is for each of us, layperson and religious, something to learn from this remarkable individual. Pier Giorgio not only talked-the-talk but also walked-the-walk. He preached not only in words through his letters to friends and family, but ultimately through his actions: his helping those most in need. The fact that he managed to feed, clothe and tend a vast number of people is indeed extraordinary. However, what particularly attracts me to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is the way in which he was able to discern God’s call in his day-to-day life. We often speak of vocation in terms of priesthood, religious life and marriage, but I think we are prone to forget that God not only calls us to these particular lifelong vocations, but actually He invites us daily to serve Him within the situations and circumstances in which we find ourselves. In Pier Giorgio’s situation, the poor were all over Turin and nobody was helping them. He responded. What is God asking of us today? How does he want us to serve him in our university, work and religious communities? Will we say ‘yes’ to Christ’s call?

Pier Giorgio Frassati lived life to the full in its truest sense. The fact that he died at the age of 24 in no way suggests that his life was somehow less lived; rather it serves as a reminder to us all that we do not know the exact moment in which God will call us from this life. When I see Pier Giorgio’s image I am reminded that I must listen to Christ’s gentle voice and I must discern and respond to His call with courage and joy daily. I urge you all in your own time to take a deeper look at the ‘Man of the Beatitudes’ and like he, make of your life a great adventure.”

You gave to the young Pier Giorgio Frassati the joy of meeting Christ and of living his faith in the service of the poor and the sick.
Through his intercession may we, too, walk the path of the beatitudes and follow the example of his generosity, spreading the spirit of the Gospel in society.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.

Posted by Catholic with Attitude

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