January 22, 2016
I greet you from another coffee shop, loving Friday and anticipating the storm this weekend with a little more glee than I'd like to admit. (Blame it on my Midwestern heart.) I hope you all are looking forward to the weekend, and content and grateful for the challenges and joys from this past week. This past week, I enjoyed celebrating my 26th birthday, and as a treat to myself, I allowed an extra hour of morning reading time to finish one of PGF's biographies, "A Man of the Beatitudes." (Unfortunately, I don't have it with me, so you'll have to bear with my memory and paraphrasing.) In short, the book touched me in ways I was not expecting.
When I was first introduced to Frassati, the more immediate cinematic-like qualities that make him an attractive and unique topic of discussion as a blessed in the church (handsome, mountain climber, young tragic death, good sound bite Catholic inspirational quotes) were barriers to my deeper understanding of his life that was characterized by purity, integrity, zeal, willingness to suffer, and unconditional love for family and friends. All too often, passing discussions of PGF sounded more like a Catholic Match profile than a story of a hearty Saint.
However, as I attended more and more Frassati events focusing on details of his life, I learned to appreciate his unique contribution to the lives of the saints. And, more importantly, I experienced the joyful communion of a young adult fellowship that knows how to pray as much as it knows how to laugh. The feeling of belonging to a raucous bunch of folks who love Jesus, love his church, the outdoors, and each other taught me about PGF in a different, experiential way. And as I read the book, I noticed the origin of this unique community feel, in the zealous and pure heart of Frassati.
I'll admit, I've had more than a few moments of skepticism when it comes to appreciating the sanctity of PGF's life, because of his status and privileges in life, but after reading this book and actually learning about his day-to-day existence, I see how wrong I was. It's very clear that whenever money was passed down to PGF, he immediately thought of several other organizations and people to give it away to. He only mentioned his last name, his stamp of privilege and prestige, when it could magnify the plight of those much less privileged. And considering that PGF's parents all but disowned him because of his radical faith life, political involvement, and choice of engineering (then considered not as prestigious as it is now) as a subject of study, I'm sure the wealth that affected his life experiences was neither passively accepted nor the reason why he seemingly had so much free time to climb the mountains and hang out with friends (this was my view before!).
Nope. Turns out, the church knows what's up. Frassati is blessed for darn good reasons that are not immediately apparent. One of his aspects of saintliness that I was not aware of before reading the book was that even though he was not that smart (according to himself), and he would've much rather been a missionary, he applied himself to studying engineering. And really, he was not the best at it initially, and suffered from a lot of flack from his father and mother, but he persevered. The reason he persevered (even to the point of taking his last exams while he was really sick with the polio, the illness that eventually killed him!) was because he saw it as a means to an apostolate of taking care of the poor with the knowledge he gleaned. One salient thing about Frassati's life was that his actions were always intended outward, even towards his parents, who were probably the biggest source of persecution in his life. In a season of uncertainty and discontent in my own studies, this guise of Frassati as student really inspired me to press on and to more consciously and eagerly affirm my studies as a means of God shaping an apostolate, albeit one that I don't fully comprehend yet.
Something that also struck me in his biography was that after his death, which was sudden to his family only because he bore most of his bodily ailments privately, there was this general sense among his friends and family as feeling lost and bewildered. This is much like the disciples immediately after Jesus died: losing their compass North, they felt lost. The holiness, the purity with which PGF lived out the call to prayer and to serve the poor, was so great that only in its absence was it truly seen. There were many letters of Frassati's friends that read of such grief and longing ("who will ever smile at us like that again?), but also of mystery, something they couldn't quite out their finger on... And that was his holiness, his connection to God. They encountered something mysterious in him, the love of God, and that's why people flocked to him.
I encourage you all to read about Frassati (and I highly recommend the book I read, since it is written by his sister), to find the parts of his life that speak the most to you. Allow his life to convict you of areas you could improve on, and also, the joyful things you could probably appreciate more about your life.