Sunday, November 1, 2015

What's in a Name

   Solemnity of All Saints    
We’re very happy to have Bishop LaValley
coming to Malone later today
to bless and dedicate Frassati House.
Ever since I started telling folks about this project,
there’s been a little confusion surrounding it’s name.
First, people have had some trouble pronouncing it.
A few have called it “Frascati” House…
…which is a delicious Italian white wine,
but was not the inspiration for this particular endeavor.
And even more have had trouble spelling it…
…including my computer,
which persists in “correcting” the name whenever I type it
by changing it from Frassati House to Frosty House.
Our five missionaries will soon enough
experience a North Country winter,
so there’s no need to rub it in like that!

Much more important than its pronunciation or spelling—
just who is the guy behind this tricky name?

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in 1901
in the northern Italian city of Turin
into a family of great wealth and prestige.
His mother was a painter and a lukewarm Catholic;
his father was a newspaper editor and politician
who wasn’t sure he even believed in God.
Despite his parents’ lack of religiosity,
their son was quite pious;
when Pier Giorgio was sent to study at a Catholic school,
he asked for and was given permission
to receive Holy Communion on a daily basis—
something that was quite rare at the time.
In fact, he’d sneak out of the house to attend early morning Mass,
and then crawl back into bed so no one knew he’d been gone.
While at college, he joined and led several student organizations
that worked for social and political reform—
always from a Catholic perspective.
He enjoyed a good practical joke, appreciated the arts,
but loved to be in the mountains best of all,
often organizing trips with his friends
to climb some peaks or ski down a few.
Behind the scenes,
Pier Giorgio was greatly devoted to serving the poor.
He was always emptying his pockets—
even the money his parents gave him to pay his bus fare—
in order to give to the sick and the needy,
to orphans and the unemployed.
His concern for the disadvantaged
was only revealed at his funeral
when, alongside Turin’s elite and powerful,
the city’s poor lined the streets by the thousands
to pay their respects to the young man
who had cared for them so unselfishly.
His family didn’t know he’d been visiting the poor;
the poor didn’t know he came from such a prominent family.
Pier Giorgio died suddenly at the age of 24.
The cause?  Polio…which he probably contracted
from one of the many sick people he’d been helping.
He was declared “blessed” by Pope John Paul II in 1990—
and many of us are praying the Church will soon declare him a saint.

You can see that Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is the perfect patron
for our new missionary venture here at St. André’s.
He had an infectious joy that still draws others—
especially other young people—to the Catholic faith.
He’d sometimes make friendly wagers 
with his friends over little things;
while his friends demanded money when they won,
Pier Giorgio, if he won, would make them come to church with him.
He once wrote in a letter,
“I shall always be cheerful on the outside to show my companions…
that you can be a Catholic and still be young and happy….”

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is also the perfect example
at the start of this Vocations Awareness week.
He held marriage in high esteem,
falling in love with a young lady at university,
and dreamed of spending the rest of his life with her…
…but she was from a lower social class
and his mother, sensing his intentions,
told Pier Giorgio he simply could never marry her—
so he never told the young lady of his feelings.
He also had great respect for the clergy.
Pier Giorgio depended on the ministry of priests
for his regular regimen of Holy Communion and confession.
Because of his affable character and active spiritual life,
he was encouraged many times to consider the seminary himself.
But Pier Giorgio recognized the work he could do
for his Church and his poor as a single layman,
living out the promises of his baptism to the full.
The story of his life reminds us that our vocations—
our individual places in God’s plan—
are all interconnected and interdependent,
and that each and every one of us has one.

Finally, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
is the perfect example for us on this All Saints Day.
This solemnity is not merely a showcase for heroes from the past—
a parade of the white-robed multitude before the throne of God;
it is also an invitation—better yet, a challenge or even a demand—
that we be saints, too.
After all, “saint” is just another word
for somebody who’s made it to heaven,
or who is living in this world in such a way
as to assure that he or she is heading there. 
In other words, if you hope to live with God forever,
sainthood is what you’re after!
Pier Giorgio always aimed for the highest goals.
On the back of a photo from his very last mountain climb
where he’s scaling a rocky cliff,
he wrote, “Verso l’alto”—“To the top”—
which is how he lived every day.
But while he urges us toward greatness,
his example also shows us that holiness is in reach.
His sanctity wasn’t found apart from the ordinary stuff of life,
but right in the midst of it.
That’s why Pope John Paul II called Pier Giorgio
“a man of the eight beatitudes.”
Everything he did reflects those first memorable words
of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:
the Lord’s counter–cultural rule of life
that turns this world’s values on their head,
teaching us that true blessedness, true happiness,
is rarely found in the places we usually look—
in possessions or power or prestige;
instead, we discover it among the poor and the peacemakers,
the merciful and the meek,
those who hunger for what is right
and persevere in the face of persecution.
That is to say, if you want to be holy,
if you long to see God’s face, if you desire to be a saint,
then go where Jesus goes and do what Jesus does.

Spreading the faith, embracing a vocation, growing in holiness—
these were not the fruit of Pier Giorgio’s own efforts;
they are never something any of us can do on our own,
but are all things God alone can accomplish within us.
We can only be holy because our heavenly Father is holy.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit.
It’s the way grace flowers when we willingly cooperate with it.
It’s a living recognition of what we already are: God’s children now.

My friends, along with the holy men and women
of every time and place,
we are bound together in a great communion of saints—
in a chain of faith, hope, and love
that stretches between heaven and earth.
Let’s be sure to support and encourage one another
all along the way “verso l’alto”—“to the top”

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!

No comments: