Feast of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Today we celebrate the feast of our patron, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. As we remember the life of this remarkable young man, let us reflect on four key components of his spirituality, the four pillars of our Frassati Fellowship of NYC.

Adoration of Christ in the Eucharist

The Eucharist was absolutely central to Pier Giorgio’s life. He received Christ with joy each morning in Holy Communion, and he carried Him forth to everyone he met throughout the rest of his day. Pier Giorgio knew that he could not rely on his own strength; rather, he sought to draw nearer to Jesus, that through relationship with Him and intimate communion, he might become a vessel for God in the world. He once wrote to his fellow young people, urging them to seek Jesus in the Eucharist:

And remembering that apostle of the Holy Eucharist, the Holy Father Pius X of venerable memory, I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharistic Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles, the struggles against passions and against all adversities, because Jesus Christ has promised to those who feed themselves with the most Holy Eucharist, eternal life and the necessary graces to obtain it.

And when you become totally consumed by this Eucharistic Fire, then you will be able to thank with greater awareness the Lord God who has called you to be part of His flock and you will enjoy that peace which those who are happy according to the world have never tasted. Because true happiness, young people, does not consist in the pleasures of the world and in earthly things, but in peace of conscience which we can have only if we are pure in heart and in mind.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, in a letter to the members of “Catholic Youth” of Pollone, July 29, 1923

Spiritual Growth through Authentic Friendship

Within the Frassati Fellowship of NYC, we are blessed to have experienced firsthand the transformative grace of holy friendship. Pier Giorgio cherished his own friendships and prayed fervently for each of his friends. We can tell by reading his letters to them how sincerely he delighted in each of them, in all their little quirks and unique personalities. He was deeply grateful for the gift of his friends and was inspired and enlightened by their presence. Pier Giorgio fostered friendships in which each person encouraged the other to grow closer to God and become the people God had created them to be:

In this earthly life after the affection for parents and sisters, one of the most beautiful affections is that of friendship; and every day I ought to thank God because he has given me men and lady friends of such goodness who form for me a precious guide for my whole life. Every time I visit Clementina I’m edified by her great kindness and I think of the immense Good that such a beautiful Soul has certainly done and will do. Surely Divine Providence in His Marvelous Plans sometimes uses us miserable little twigs to do Good and we sometimes not only don’t want to know God but instead dare to deny His existence; but we who, by the Grace of God, have the Faith, when we find ourselves in the presence of such beautiful souls, surely nourished by Faith, we cannot but discover in them an obvious sign of the Existence of God, because one cannot have such a Goodness without the Grace of God.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, in a letter to Marco Beltramo, April 10, 1925

Love of the Outdoors

Pier Giorgio had a special awareness of God’s presence in creation. The mountains were the place where he could feel especially close to God, set apart from the distractions of everyday life and in awe of the beauty of nature. He reminds us of how powerful it can be to disconnect from all the noise that surrounds us and find peace in nature, appreciating the incredible beauty God has created for us:

Do you still intend to climb to the top of the Rognosa by the crest this spring, if God gives us life? I’m always ready because every day I fall in love with the mountains more and more and, if my studies would allow me to do it, I would spend entire days on the mountains contemplating in that pure air the Greatness of the Creator.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, in a letter to Marco Beltramo, August 6, 1923

A Heart for the Poor

Pier Giorgio’s devotion to God bore fruit not only in his friendships but also in his devotion to the poorest members of his community. He shared his joy with those most in need, never hesitating to sacrifice his own money or goods for the sake of others. He truly saw the presence of Christ in the poor, and he developed beautiful relationships with those he visited. He cared for them deeply, and his own faith was inspired by his encounters with them:

As we grow closer to the poor little by little we gain their confidence and can advise them in the most terrible moments of this earthly pilgrimage. We can give them the comforting words of faith and we often succeed, not by our own merit, in putting on the right path people who have strayed not out of malice. I think I can say that the Conference of St. Vincent with its visits to the poor serves to curb our passions, it gives us increasing incentives to get on the right road by which we are all trying to reach the great harbor. Seeing daily the faith with which families often bear the most atrocious sufferings, the constant sacrifices that they make and that they do all this for the love of God often makes us ask this question: I, who have had so many things from God, have always been so neglectful, so bad, while they, who have not been privileged like me, are infinitely better than me. Then we resolve in our conscience to follow the way of the Cross from then onward, the only way that leads us to Eternal Salvation.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, in a speech to FUCI students

On this ninety-sixth anniversary of Pier Giorgio’s entrance into heaven, let us remember his life with gratitude for the beautiful example he has given us of authentic holiness. Just as he was devoted to his friends on earth, he is still a most devoted friend to us in heaven. Let us seek his friendship, for he will be a sure guide to lead us closer to God.

Conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

We all want to be loved. To be wanted, and desired, and cherished. It’s this innermost longing to find someone in which we can be our most authentic selves and at peace. I enjoy the occasional romantic comedy movie. In the movie the plot is more or less the same; some couple (not yet together) try to follow this “longing” in their hearts to be loved and they stumble, fall, miss the very obvious signs, turn left when they should have gone right and somehow they end up broken-hearted. This is the part in the movie which is meant to make you go into your feelings—the main character has almost missed out on their one true love when suddenly there is this huge declaration of love and a happy ending. 

Oddly enough, those “sad” moments in the rom-com are some of the most important in the entire movie. The main character is tested, they go through trials, they figure out what truly is important to them, and when they figure out what truly matters they leave all the other pleasures and fun distractions behind to go get their love. Rom-com’s are entertaining. 

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Today the Church celebrates the immensity of the love that Jesus has for us. In the “rom-com” of my life I would be running all over NYC oblivious to Jesus inviting me to rest in him. When I am exhausted and overworked I would turn around—bumbing straight into him—and there would be Jesus holding his heart in his hands, outstretched for me to take it. This scene of my personal rom-com is on rerun quite often. But every single time I turn around and see Jesus, he gives me his heart and reminds me how much he loves me. 

Jesus loves YOU. He wants you, desires you, and cherishes you. The heart of Jesus longs to be with YOU. 

In the second reading today, Paul tells us that Christ dwells in our hearts! It is the power and strength of God’s love within us that gives us courage to live righteous lives, with the true knowledge that we are beloved children. The grandeur of God’s love for us is something that goes beyond human comprehension. God gives us everything that is good for us—all represented in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He loved us first. 

Pope Francis, in one of his homilies, tells us that “Jesus teaches us the kind of attitude a Christian should have; it is all about carrying on God’s own work in your own small way: that is feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, visiting the sick and the prisoner.”1 Our friend, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, carried the Sacred Heart of Jesus inside him in this way. Frassati dedicated his short young life to helping those in need and performing the corporal works of mercy that “pave the path of love that Jesus teaches us in continuity with God’s great love for us!”

God loves you. Jesus loves you. The Holy Spirit dwells inside you. To be conformed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is to care about the same things that Jesus cared about—the dignity and salvation of everyone around him. When you turn around and suddenly bump into Jesus holding out his heart to you, take it! Hold it tight and close to your own heart. He wants you to have his heart. He wants you to know that you will always be loved. Friend, that love flows so rich and deep that when we accept it it will overflow like rushing waters and we will want to share it with everyone around us. 

Oh Lord, give me a heart like Jesus.

—–

1. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018

2. Pope Francis homily at Santa Marta on June 8, 2018

3. Image Credit: Jose Luis Castrillo. Cor Jesu Sacatissimim III. 2020.

Happy Birthday, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati!

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in Turin, Italy, on the eve of Easter on April 6, 1901. What a joy for Alfredo and Adelaide (Pier Giorgio’s parents) to hold their newborn baby boy and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! God of all creation blessed the Frassati family with a son as the entire world began to celebrate the Resurrection of His Son. 

Today is the 120th birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. I imagine, while he was alive, his family showering him with affection and birthday blessings. “Buon compleanno” would be said all throughout the house—throughout Turin by those who knew him by his good works. 

My favorite part of celebrating someone’s birthday is writing a birthday card. The little gesture of picking out a card, writing an inscription that tells them about their quirky qualities, how thankful I am that they are in my life, prayerful wishes for health and blessings from God. Many of my friends are not Catholic, but I do not fail to thank God in their birthday cards because they are alive and healthy. A reminder of the gift of life. In Bl. Pier Giorgio’s letters, when a friend or family member had a birthday coming up, he too would thank God for their life and health. 

Last year, with all the COVID-19 precautions, many of us probably didn’t get to celebrate our birthdays with loved ones nor Easter with our communities. The contrast of last year’s celebrations and this year’s made me think of the date of Bl. Pier Giorgio’s birthday, April 6th. Being born in the first week of April, his birthday would fall in the cycle changes of the Triduum and Easter—Jesus’ death and Resurrection. On some birthdays Pier Giorgio would reflect on the death of Jesus and on other birthdays he would reflect on the Resurrection of Jesus. Reflecting on life and death was something I did a lot this past year. 

On the eve of Easter, I joined my community and sang profoundly, Alleluia. A reminder that there is so much life and goodness in the world, so much to be thankful for. Throughout his life Bl. Pier Giorgio had brought much happiness to all those around him. He cared greatly for his family, his friends, the poor and sick of Turin. As today’s responsorial psalm reminds us that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord,” we know that this goodness was shared by Pier Giorgio to everyone he encountered.

Birthdays are special. Blessed Pier Giorgio prayed for each of his family members and friends on their birthdays. Today, we will pray for him on his birthday. In one of his letters to his friend Bonini, Frassati writes, “I would like for us to pledge a pact which knows no earthly boundaries nor temporal limits: union in prayer.” To join in prayer and celebration on the 120th birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, click here.

Image shows Bl. Pier Giorgio, an avid lover of the outdoors. [Public Domain]

The Greatest Commandment (Having a Heart like Jesus)

Three years ago, during Lent, part of my prayers were the words “give me a heart like Jesus.” I was in a very isolated place in my life, saddened and feeling betrayed. The only thing that gave me peace that year was reading the Bible. So, I dedicated myself to opening up the Word of God more often and I prayed that my heart could be like the heart of Jesus. I wanted the heart of that man who died loving the people who betrayed him. I wanted the heart of that man who forgave his enemies while they hammered nails into his hands and feet. I desperately needed a heart like Jesus so that I could be happy.

Each day during lent that year, I prayed for goodness and blessings for everyone which I had an estranged relationship with. It was the most intimate moment near the Cross. I prayed to the Lord, “God I don’t know what to do. I am angry and saddened. I feel hurt. I want to love these people. I want to forgive them. But I don’t know how. Take my heart and give me the heart of Jesus. Give me his heart so that I may love them. Give me his heart so that I may forgive them. Give me his heart so that I may truly want all the goodness and blessings for them that you want for them. Give me a heart like Jesus.”

The Cross is love. The Cross is happiness. The Cross is obedience.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments? In first-century Palestine it was much of a debate to know which of the 613 mosaic laws was the most important to follow. Jesus immediately quotes Scripture saying the Shema, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!” Loving God above all else, with all of our souls, with all of our hearts, with all our minds, with all of our strength— that is the first of the greatest commandment. Quickly Jesus says that the second greatest commandment is loving your neighbor as yourself.

It almost seems as if Jesus gave the scribes two different answers when their question was in search for one answer, the most important commandment of all. But the scribe understood what Jesus meant in giving them the two greatest commandment together. There is only one God in all the universe who created everything, and to love the God of Israel with everything that you are automatically means that you love your neighbors, God’s children. These two commandments are inseparable. You cannot fully follow one while ignoring the other.

How can you say you love God, but in your everyday actions you dismiss and ignore the needs of your brothers and sisters in Christ? How can you say you love God when you ignore those that are hungry, without shelter, are sick, or imprisoned? Can you say you love God when you walk past someone in the midst of their struggles, marginalized and not see the face of Jesus? God would never ignore us, never abandon us in our need. To follow the greatest commandment is to love like God, to have a heart like Jesus and be charitable towards everyone because you recognize their dignity— that they were made in the image and likeness of God.

Following the greatest commandment isn’t easy. I have failed and fallen many times. I have purposely told God, no I’m not loving this person today because they made me upset or I’m not loving that person today because their struggles don’t affect my way of life and I am going to sit with my anger and my comfort for a while and not care for them. I allowed sin to consume me. But Jesus died out of love for his enemies! He died out of love for you and for me. The virtue of charity calls for us to be all self-giving. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati says that to follow the greatest commandment is to conform our entire lives to loving God and loving our neighbor because this is the essence of the Catholic faith.

Pray friends, that this Lenten season brings you closer to the Lord, that you may grow in the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. That you may have a heart like Jesus and through him be obedient to the greatest commandment.

“Each of you knows that the foundation of our faith is charity. Without it, our religion would crumble. We will never be truly Catholic unless we conform our entire lives to the two commandments that are the essence of the Catholic faith: to love the Lord, our God, with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves… With charity, we sow the seeds of that true peace which only our faith in Jesus Christ can give us by making us all brothers and sisters. I know that this way is steep, and difficult, and strewn with thorns, while at first glance the other path seems easier, more pleasant, and more satisfying. But the fact is, if we could look into the hearts of those who follow the perverse paths of this world, we would see that they lack the serenity that comes to those who have faced a thousand difficulties and who have renounced material pleasure to follow God’s law.” – Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Peter Paul Rubens. The Raising of the Cross. 1610. Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp, Belgium.

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”