Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
I think that it may be undeniable that much of Pier Giorgio Frassati’s popularity amongst the youth is attributable to his good looks and pipe smoking. I think that this is quite humorous, but without it being necessarily a bad thing, I also think that it is a little bit unfortunate if our knowledge and love of Pier Giorgio is only skin deep.
Frassati’s interior life of prayer, and his active life of service, will leave all of us even more breathless than staring at his pictures or laughing over his boisterous personality and adventures. While the image that many of us have of a Frassati is a little bit of a holy party-er, an energetic whirlwind of fun and laughter, Pier Giorgio may never have had so much life if not for his moments of great stillness. Even while juggling academics, a strained family life, service, and socializing, Frassati would wake up in the middle of the night to go to adoration, and hike 40 minutes uphill to go to daily mass at his family’s summer vacation home in the mountains. He would still himself weekly and even daily at the sight of a priest to give his confession. His friends recall him staying up late on retreats to pray, and his perseverance to attend mass even when they would take weekend skiing trips. One of his friends remember observing Frassati pray, and seeing hot wax from a burning candle drip onto his hands. Frassati didn’t even flinch because he was so observed in prayer.
Pier Giorgio also performed an immense amount of service. He would visit lepers, get food and medicine for families living in the slums, and walk the streets with a priest to help the homeless. Frassati also helped to organize retreats, bring his friends with him on his adventures of charity, care for refugees, and was actively involved in youth retreats. He joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and became a third order Dominican. Frassati was also active in a patriotic fight against the approaching tide of fascism and Mussolini’s reign over Italy. He would put up posters decrying fasiscm, and once ripped down a flag that one of his Catholic youth groups put up in support of Mussolini.
Yet in all that he did Frassati acted with true charity. He found the balance of how to live his ardent faith and yet not cede to the stuffiness or preachiness that sometimes creeps in. He would insist upon going to mass on Sunday skiing trips, but would encourage yet not berate his friends if they didn’t. He would invite his friends to accompany him on his visits to the poor. Perhaps in part because his family were not religious and Frassati wanted to avoid making them uncomfortable through discussing his charitable works, they knew so little that they could not at first understand why unnumbered hundreds over a thousand strong made their son late to his own funeral.
While it is true that even if his appeal is only skin-deep, there is still a goodness in the admiration of young adults at least thinking of Frassati and that his handsomeness, adventurousness, and good humor are attractive qualities even without his sanctity; I think that Frassati’s sanctity is so appealing not just as a sort of added package to his relatable qualities of spunk and charm. I think that his sanctity is so appealing because it permeated and lifted them to a place they could never before reach.
You see, Frassati took everything “verso l’alto”, “to the heights”. It was not only his zealous pursuit of holiness, but also his studies, his friendships, his sports, his passion for the arts, his humor that he took upwards with him. I think that this is a message for all of us today, especially the lay people. While ultimately our lives and talents are subject to what will help us reach heaven, holiness is not a facet of our lives divorced from the remainder of everyday realities. Our holiness must permeate all. And authentic holiness does not dry things out, rather, it imbues them with life and light. This takes different forms for different people. Not all of us are the life of the party, not all of us are athletes, not all of us are breathtakingly handsome in the world’s standards. But all of us have different facets in our life which God’s grace should not be withheld from, but rather be submitted to so that His grace may create them anew with every day, lifting them also “to the heights.”
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!