Valuing Sacrifice, Not Success

By Father Pier Giorgio Dengler, O.P.
on the Feast of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, July 4, 2019.

What does it take to be great? What is it that the angel of God approved in Abraham’s offering of Isaac? What is the secret of charitable works or the source of blessedness in the Beatitudes? The answer is not in the outcome, but in the offering.

In offering something to God, we consider it as a gift we have received from God and we seek to discover from Him how to best place it at the service of His plan of salvation. This is good news, because anything can be offered—riches or poverty, success or failures, wonders or wounds.

Bl. Pier Giorgio offered much—not just the corporal and spiritual works of mercy among the poor. More than even these, he offered what was most dear to him: his relationships—treasured or tragic. Instead of using his family influence and good name to blow off studies, he knew when to subordinate fun with friends to his student obligations. He even turned down traveling with his friends for hikes if it meant that he would have to miss Sunday Mass. He had to surrender his beloved sister as she left the family and the country to get married, and he held back on pursuing the love of his life when the circumstances of beginning a romantic relationship would spell doom for his own parents’ marriage. He lived the words of St. Paul: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).

PierGiorgioFrassati-PrésentationBl. Pier Giorgio is not famous because he was good-looking or rich, nor because he skied, climbed mountains, or hiked with friends. He wasn’t known for any of his achievements. Rather, we know him because he offered all of those goods to God, along with all of the failures, sorrows, struggles, and sacrifices which came his way (of which he has so many). Bl. Pier Giorgio united all of the elements of his life and times in a consistent litany of personal piety and prayer. Above all, he incorporated everything he had into the universal prayer life of the Church—the liturgy and its source and summit, the Eucharist.

How can we achieve such unity of purpose? A simple prayer provides the outline that Bl. Pier Giorgio personified in his brief but memorable life:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world. I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart: the salvation of souls, the reparation for sin, and the reunion of all Christians. I offer them for the intentions of our bishops and of all Apostles of Prayer, and in particular for those recommended by our Holy Father this month.

Morning Offering composed by Fr. Francois Xavier Gaulrelet

This prayer truly offers God everything in our day, good and bad. It puts into action the importance of praying for others, seeks the help of our Blessed Mother, and it allies our offerings with our bishops and our Holy Father and thus the most pressing needs of those overseeing the Church itself.

Unity of life means integrating everything that comes our way and everything we aim at to God, lifting it all up in our hearts in the celebration of the Sacrifice of Christ in the Eucharist. It means offering everything as a sacrifice, not seeking after showy success. And it means that everything we have to offer—not only our triumphs, but also the pains we suffer, sorrows we endure, and raw deals we receive—has eternal significance and yields a bountiful harvest of grace.

Treasure in Heaven

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
—Matthew 6:19–21

While reading about today’s saint, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, I couldn’t help but notice many striking similarities between him and out patron, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Both were born into wealthy Italian families that valued success and prestige more than faith. Both grew in virtue and piety despite the circumstances of their family life. Both were deeply devoted to serving the poor and disadvantaged, sacrificing their own time, talent, and treasure to care for the less fortunate. Both were described as having embodied the virtue of purity. And finally, both died from illnesses they acquired while serving others—Pier Giorgio at twenty-four, Aloysius at just twenty-three.

The story of the lives of these two young men, both cut short in their early twenties, seems a terrible shame if you look at it through the eyes of the world. But through the eyes of God, it is a triumph. Their treasure was not their material wealth, their earthly successes, or even their youth and potential. Their treasure was in heaven. By embracing God’s will and allowing His love to radiate through their lives, they built up treasure for themselves that transcends the plane of this transient world. None of us know how many days we have left here on earth to enjoy its fleeting pleasures, but we can be confident that each work of love we offer to God knits our souls ever more closely into His eternal Kingdom.

If, therefore, we wish to fly to heaven, perishable things are to be cast aside, and these two wings of actual poverty and poverty of spirit are to be assumed, on which we may be borne to the place where our treasure is and there enjoy it.
—St. Aloysius Gonzaga

The Odor of Sin

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati loved the poor wholeheartedly. He went out into the slums of Turin to visit them each day; he did this not to assuage his conscience or to give them something from his material excess, but rather to receive them, to visit with them, to love them as God’s own children and to offer his whole self to them. He saw Jesus in each of their faces. Once, a friend asked Pier Giorgio how he could bear the odor of the poor, the dirt and filth of the slums. He replied, “Don’t forget that even if the house you visit is very dirty, there you may find Jesus. Remember always that it is to Jesus that you go: I see a special light that we do not have around the, sick, the poor, the unfortunate.”

In today’s Gospel we hear Luke’s account of Jesus healing a leper. I would imagine that this man was used to people recoiling in his presence, shrinking away from the fetid odor of his infection. He would have learned to lay low, to avoid other people so as not to feel the sting of their repulsion. But when he saw Jesus, he did not back away. Had he already sensed, in that first glance, that Jesus did not look at him the same way as everyone else? He lay prostrate before Jesus and begged for healing. If the people were horrified to see a leper approaching Jesus, imagine their disgust when Jesus responded by reaching out and touching this man. He was not deterred by the stench; no, He was in fact drawn toward this man, filled with nothing but love for him.

We know where our sores and infections lie within our souls, and more often than not we try to cover them up. We expect that Jesus will be disappointed by our faults and failures, and so we try and mask the odor of our guilt. But Jesus is not deterred by the stench of our sin, and He does not want only part of us. He wants all of us, warts and all, for He seeks to love us totally and completely. He bends down to greet us, looks us in the eye; all He needs is for us to affirm our trust in Him to fully heal us. Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.

To what end?

Two things I ask of you,
deny them not to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you,
saying, “Who is the LORD?”
Or, being in want, I steal,
and profane the name of my God.
—Proverbs 30:7-9
There’s hardly a better argument for Aristotle’s “Golden Mean” than today’s first reading. (It’s even quite possible this verse was written first).
As Catholics, we often hear a lot about avoiding excess, but not quite so much about avoiding poverty. Don’t most priests and religious take an entire vow of poverty? Then how could sacred Scripture seemingly contradict this frequent idealization of poverty, of a general “lack” of possessions in the Catholic tradition?
 As is the case with so many matters of faith, these questions boil down to a simpler one: “What do we value in life? How does that change our definitions of poverty and riches?”
If we look to Pier Giorgio Frassati, the tension between rich and poor is at play throughout much of his life. In terms of finances, he was incredibly #blessed: he was well-to-do with plenty of opportunity afforded him due to his family’s political and economic status. This type of wealth,  however, was only of value to Pier Giorgio as far as it was able to provide for his mission and for others. His bus fare was more valuable as his starving brethren’s dinner. His health was more valuable as his capability to serve the sick. Likewise, those starving in the slums are not inherently better off in spirit than those whose table is always full.
The wealthy are not Good because of their wealth. The needy are not Good because of their need.
In every discussion about possessions, riches, or poverty, their is always an implied question: “To what end?” Money may be a facilitator or an obstacle. Starvation may be redemptive suffering or unwanted agony.
If the resources you and I possess are of any value to us, we must ask the question, “To what end?” Where does our heart’s contentment lie? With riches? Than we will inevitably find ourselves asking, “Who is the LORD” (i.e. What does He matter to me?). With poverty? Than we risk envy, cynicism, and being holier-than-thou. “Do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.”
Instead, we must pray and work to always desire relationship with the Lord. If we value the LORD above all, we can see times of feast as an opportunity to increase our gratitude and times of famine as opportunities for increased faith and prayer.
I ask that we pray tonight for a spirit akin the Psalmist in today’s responsorial:
Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for my feet.
Remove from me the way of falsehood,
and favor me with your law.
Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for my feet.
The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for my feet.
Your word, O LORD, endures forever;
it is firm as the heavens.
Your word, O Lord, is a lamp for my feet.
From every evil way I withhold my feet,
that I may keep your words.
—Ps 119:29, 72, 89, 101

To the Heights

You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
—Matthew 10:22

I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
—Hosea 14:9

As we grow into a deeper relationship with God, we may reach a point where it feels as though He has started ignoring us. Whereas we were at first captivated by the words of Scripture or felt a great peace in prayer, we now feel dryness and discontent. We aren’t “getting anything” out of prayer anymore, and we feel disconnected.

God uses these periods of discontent to push us toward a deeper, more lasting faith. He allows us to experience moments of frustration, helplessness, and humility so that we can learn to depend on Him more fully. While we might be content to float happily through life with a surface-level faith, God wants more for us. He wants us to be strong, walk boldly, perform great deeds, and endure persecutions. As Grace told us during retreat: God loves us right where we are, and He loves us too much to let us stay there.

frassatiGod is training us to be sheep among wolves: to walk amongst sin and evil and yet be uncorrupted, to maintain our innocence—our steadfast faith, our enduring hope—as we journey through treacherous lands. He is preparing us for an adventure more epic than we’ve imagined.

This spirit of adventure is what motivated Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati throughout his life. He saw his journey in the Christian life as an ascent up the mountain, and with joy he climbed ever higher—verso l’alto, to the heights. He will help us, too, to see the path before us with wonder and excitement, tackling each obstacle as we continue our ascent.

May Blessed Pier Giorgio help us to rise above our complacency, our frustrations, and every challenge before us.

Learn to be stronger in spirit than in your muscles. If you are you will be real apostles of faith in God.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Every day that passes, I fall more desperately in love with the mountains…I am ever more determined to climb the mountains, to scale the mighty peaks, to feel that pure joy which can only be felt in the mountains.
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Maria Goretti, Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Freedom

This week we celebrate the feasts of two great saints. July 4 was the feast of our patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, and today, July 6, is the feast of St. Maria Goretti, the Little Saint of Great Mercy. During this week as we reflect upon the meaning of freedom, we can look to these saints as examples of what true freedom really looks like. It may seem counterintuitive, based on our culture’s idea of freedom, to say that these two young people who closely followed the precepts of the Church and died before they were ever able to “achieve” anything of significance were paradigms of freedom. And yet their actions in the most crucial moments of their lives demonstrate how free they truly were.

Maria Goretti shows us the freedom that comes from forgiveness. Brutally murdered at the tender age of eleven after resisting attempted rape, she would have had every reason to feel an intense, righteous anger toward her attacker, Alessandro Serenelli. However, as she lay dying from fourteen stab wounds, she expressed nothing but concern for Alessandro’s soul, uttering words of forgiveness. She refused to harbor the venom of unforgiveness, even for an instant; she would allow it to poison neither her own soul nor Alessandro’s. While she acknowledged the weight of his grave sin, she didn’t brood over the damage that had been done or seek revenge. Instead, she let go of that burden and put it all in God’s hands.

Would Maria have been “exerting her freedom” if she had given in to feelings of outrage and resentment? Or would the weight of her anger have kept her from being truly free? No one would have blamed Maria if she had been unable to forgive this man, whose evil actions led to her excruciating death and ultimately tore apart her family. But she not only forgave him; she desired his conversion, saying that she wanted him with her in Heaven. She appeared to him after her death, expressing her mercy toward him. And Alessandro, who had been utterly unrepentant and vicious even in his imprisonment, was converted overnight—a miracle whose impact would play out over the course of his lifetime. This was possible only because of Maria’s interior freedom, her ability to resist the influence of all that would lead her astray and follow the voice of God.

Maria held fast to virtue even at the cost of her life, knowing that the joys and sufferings of this world are fleeting, that what truly mattered was preparing her eternal soul for Heaven—as well as Alessandro’s soul. She desired Heaven not just for herself, but for everyone, even sinners, even the very man who brutally murdered her. Even when he was at his very worst, she still understood that he was a human being, a child of God, meant for a life much greater than the one he was living. Not only that, she still believed there was hope for him, because she trusted in the boundless mercy of God.

Like Maria Goretti, Pier Giorgio Frassati was not swayed by the voices that tried to separate him from God. Even as he was surrounded by the noise of the world, he was firmly rooted in his faith and confident in doing what was right. He was willing to go against the current, championing political views that aligned with his deeply felt understanding of human dignity—unpopular though they were. Amid pressure to achieve success, wealth, and prestige, Pier Giorgio was unfazed, keeping his focus on God alone. Free from the expectations of others and from the fear of what consequences may result from doing what was right, he followed God’s call to serve the poor and galvanize Catholic young adults.

Pier Giorgio Frassati was born about eight hours north of where Maria Goretti was living in Italy, just fifteen months before her death. They overlapped on this earth for a brief period of time. Both died young, Pier Giorgio at 24 and Maria at just 11. Both suffered painful deaths without complaint—though Maria’s was certainly more traumatic and earned her the crown of martyrdom. But most importantly, both acted with tremendous interior freedom, resisting those who would keep them from becoming who God created them to be: His instruments in this world.

There are two types of interior slavery: the chains and pains of sin or the will of God. One is a slavery in which your will is in danger of being circumscribed; the other is where your will is given the necessary grace to act in accord with what is good and believe what is true. Pier Giorgio’s witness testifies that while the world might smack you around, your soul is a living dynamism that, when infused with the freedom of the love of God in Christ, no one can hold back. I believe Pier Giorgio sums up the feeling of true freedom when he said, “Our life, in order to be Christian, has to be a continual renunciation, a continual sacrifice. But this is not difficult, if one thinks what these few years passed in suffering are, compared with eternal happiness where joy will have no measure or end, and where we shall have unimaginable peace.”
Jared Zimmerer, “Pier Giorgio Frassati as a Model of Freedom”

A Tiny Whispering Sound

Abraham_Bloemaert_-_Landscape_with_the_Prophet_Elijah_in_the_Desert_-_WGA2277

At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD;
the LORD will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains
and crushing rocks before the LORD—
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake there was fire—
but the LORD was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this,
Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
—1 Kings 19:9–13

A tiny whispering sound. How gentle God is toward us. He is all-powerful; He created mountains and earthquakes and fire and wind. He could drop anvils and send down lightning to try and get our attention. And yet He speaks to us softly and tenderly.

He is the still, small voice within our hearts. He does not seek to control us; instead, He delights in watching us find our own way. He is always whispering words of guidance and love—and if we aren’t distracted by our own noise, we will hear His voice. But He does not force Himself upon us; rather, He pursues us with gentleness and care.

We are called to imitate this example of gentleness: to be both strong and kind, brave and humble, confident and caring. To be sensitive toward our neighbors without compromising our own strength. To respond to others without feeling as though we have to intimidate them or prove what we’re capable of. To be secure in the knowledge that withholding force is not a sign of weakness in us, but of composure and mercy.

Pier-Giorgio-PortraitLook to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as an example: a strong, active young man who approached the poor and downtrodden with the utmost care. This was a guy who was popular and athletic, who regularly climbed mountains for fun. And yet he didn’t go around flexing his muscles to try and impress people; rather, his true strength showed through in his tenderness toward those who were weak.

When we feel frustrated and wish God would send us a big, loud, obvious sign from above, let us remember that maybe we wouldn’t actually be able to handle such a bold response. God speaks to us softly so as not to intimidate us, but also to draw us closer to Him. In order to hear His gentle whisper, we must draw ever nearer.


1. Abraham Bloemaert, Landscape with the Prophet Elijah in the Desert / PD-US
2. Portrait of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati / Brandon Vogt

The Hammer of the Heretics

Elijah appealed to all the people and said,
“How long will you straddle the issue?
If the LORD is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him.”
– 1 Kings 18:21

Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:19

How long will I straddle the issue?

I love it when Scripture speaks so plainly. Reading this, the second verse from today’s readings, stopped me in my tracks. How long have I straddled issues in my life? What doubts, chronic sins, or bad habits have I allowed to take root in me?

So many times I get caught up in the lie of trying to get the best of both worlds (or more accurately in this case, ‘the best of both Heaven and Earth”). I want to be holy, but I want to be admired. I want to be deep, contemplative, and thoughtful, but I want to be recognized for it. I want to preach the Gospel, but I don’t want to come off as “preachy”.

How long will I straddle the issue?

Fitting, then, that today’s strong verbiage is accompanied by a strong saint’s feast day: St. Anthony of Padua, who is apparently also known as the “Hammer of the Heretics” (though the citations for this are dubious… but it’s a great name so let’s stick with it). St. Anthony’s witness was his life of prayer and preaching; he was (quite literally) tossed and turn on the waves of life and ended up following a much different path than expected: instead of risking martyrdom to preach to the Moors in Morocco, Anthony found himself in decidedly Catholic Italy. What could easily have felt like defeat, or at the very least a blow to his ability to live for God’s glory, instead led to the exact path he needed for sainthood.

St. Anthony shares much in common with our patron Pier Giorgio, chiefly a zeal for service and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Wealth, glory, and fame were certainly within both of their respective reaches in life, and yet illnesses sidetracked their earthly plans to bring about even greater glory for God.

These men are an inspiration to me, giving me courage and faith that I could be a champion for God’s kingdom, even here and now in my current, humble state in life. What is needed is zeal and decisive faith. Elijah is calling to me: “If the LORD is God, follow him.”

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered.
—James 5:11

V0032624 Saint Mary Magdalen dei Pazzi. Etching by G. Fabbri, 1757.Today is the feast of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, the patron of the parish I attended growing up. On a trip to Florence, Italy, years ago, I was able to visit her tomb and see the chapel where she experienced many mystical visions. The austerity of her life as a Carmelite, juxtaposed with the wealth and dominance of her prominent Renaissance family that was so evident throughout Florence, was striking.

The life of St. Magdalene was marked by extreme highs and extreme lows. She experienced both ecstasies and desolations, and often the two were intermingled. She once said, “Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ, and who offer up their own to God through His passion, find their pains sweet and pleasant.” This paradox—the sweetness of suffering, the beauty of pain—encapsulates her philosophy and mission. She was determined to make her whole life an offering, both the joys and sorrows, the highest mountains and the lowest valleys along her path; everything was part of an unbroken hymn of praise to God.

Perugino,_crocifissione_con_la_maddalena,_la_madonna,_s._giovanni_e_i_ss._bernardo_e_benedetto,_1493-96,_01Beginning at the age of nine, St. Magdalene practiced mental prayer, cultivating an intimate friendship with Jesus. This is what prepared her for all her mystical experiences and desolations to follow. Through it all, she maintained this friendship, speaking to Jesus as a dear friend with frank sincerity and playful banter. When Jesus told her, “I called and you didn’t care,” she responded, “You didn’t call loudly enough.” She asked Him to shout His love. She was honest and genuine in her conversations with Jesus, and this intimacy was what gave her the grace to bear the sufferings she endured. Her ultimate motivation was to return the love of Jesus Christ: Love incarnate, who was neither known nor loved.

Pedro_de_Moya_-_Vision_of_St_Maria_Magdalena_di_Pazzi_-_WGA16308Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi share a few things in common: both were born into prosperous Italian families that valued status and wealth, both chose to forego earthly treasures and esteem for the sake of serving Jesus. Both were nourished by daily Communion, and both persevered in faith through many unexpected trials. Their charisms and personalities were very different—Pier Giorgio was a man of action, while St. Magdalene was a Carmelite devoted to contemplative prayer—but each was motivated first and foremost by a relationship with Jesus. This enabled them to discover their own unique gifts and callings and to offer everything back to Him in love.

St. Magdalene de Pazzi teaches us to be thankful for whatever season we are in, always persevering in prayer and penance. Every experience can be a channel of grace. In our joys, may we not forget our need for God, and in our sorrows not abandon our trust in Him. Above all, if we are rooted in friendship with God as St. Magdalene was, our lives will take on renewed purpose.

O Love, You are neither known nor loved!
—St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi


1. G. Fabbri, etching of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi / Wellcome Images / CC BY 4.0
2. Pietro Perugino, Crocifissione, la Vergine, San Giovanni, la Maddalena e i Santi Bernardo e Benedetto, fresco from the Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Florence / CC BY-SA 3.0
3. Pedro de Moya, Visión de Santa María Magdalena de Pazzi / PD-US

Grief into Joy

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”
—John 16:20–23

Often we have a tendency to assume—even, sometimes, when we know better—that if we follow Jesus perfectly, we will live a charmed life free of suffering. Thus, when we experience suffering that seems “undeserved,” we become frustrated with God and think that there’s no way we can handle what He’s asking of us.

Christ_in_Gethsemane

But Jesus doesn’t negate the suffering of the Christian life. He acknowledges it fully, saying that if they persecuted Him they will surely persecute us. He tells us we will weep and mourn and grieve while the world rejoices. Yet our pain and suffering are not wasted in His plan of salvation. When we meet Jesus in Heaven, when we see the destination to which He has led us on such a long, winding journey, our hearts will rejoice. We will receive a lasting joy, greater than anything of this world.

We will experience suffering in this life, but through Christ, this suffering becomes a holy calling. We don’t need to put on a happy face and pretend everything is fine—no, this trial is a gift, meant to break and re-form our hearts, making them more like His own. We can embrace our suffering and lean in to it. And we don’t need to spiral into despair, either, for this trial is not the end. A greater joy awaits us, a joy that will eclipse any memory of pain.

piergiorgioOur patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, was a joyful, exuberant young man who radiated hope. He loved to have a good time with his friends, sharing inside jokes and enjoying outdoor activities. But at the same time, he did not shy away from suffering. Although he easily could have stayed within the comfortable bubble of wealth provided by his family, he ventured into the poorest parts of his city, undeterred by the noise and smells, to seek those who needed company and support. He saw the beauty in each person he encountered and considered them friends. His passion for the Lord propelled him to serve, and even when he contracted a fatal disease through this service, he embraced this, too, as a gift. His love for Christ emboldened him to face every trial without fear.

Fear not. As Christians, we always have reason for hope. Inspired by the example of Pier Giorgio, may we face our sufferings with boldness and joy, knowing that all our earthly pain will pass away and that the joy to come is worth it all.

We are an Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.
—Pope Saint John Paul II


1. Heinrich Hofmann, Christ in Gethsemane / PD-US
2. Photograph of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and friends