“Prayer is the noble supplication which we lift up to the throne of the Most High. It is the most efficient means to obtain from God the graces which we need.”
– Pier Giorgio Frassati
The weirdest thing happened to me last night. I was laying in bed (lying? I can never keep that straight) anyhow, I suddenly found my muscles going into an odd sorts of rolling contractions. Seriously, it was like labor contractions, they “rolled” (or perhaps radiated) from the lower abdomen to mid-ribcage and all around my back.
At first I was mildly amused, then things got painful and killed the buzz.
I hate taking medicines or pills unless I absolutely have to, so I tried all the usual stuff: slow, deep breathing. Prayer. I thought about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the third-order Dominican who fascinates me because he was so clearly a normal, energetic young man, who skied and smoked a pipe, and dated and had a gregarious, joyful social life, yet he lived his faith heroically, and even managed to chase off the fascists. I have no doubt that in an era of religious oppression, Pier Giorgio would count himself among the exiles.
“The end for which we are created invites us to walk a road that is surely sown with a lot of thorns, but it is not sad; through even the sorrow, it is illuminated by joy.”
— Pier Giorgio Frassati
Pier Giorgio had a quietly hands-on commitment to the underserved and marginalized:
Although the Frassati family was well-to-do, the father was frugal and never gave his two children much spending money. What little he did have, however, Pier Giorgio gave to help the poor, even using his train fare for charity and then running home to be on time for meals in a house where punctuality and frugality were the law. When asked by friends why he often rode third class on the trains he would reply with a smile, “Because there is not a fourth class.”
When he was a child a poor mother with a boy in tow came begging to the Frassati home. Pier Giorgio answered the door, and seeing the boy’s shoeless feet gave him his own shoes. At graduation, given the choice by his father of money or a car he chose the money and gave it to the poor. He obtained a room for a poor old woman evicted from her tenement, provided a bed for a consumptive invalid, supported three children of a sick and grieving widow. He kept a small ledger book containing detailed accounts of his transactions, and while he lay on his death bed, he gave instructions to his sister, asking her to see to the needs of families who depended on his charity. He even took the time, with a near-paralyzed hand, to write a note to a friend in the St. Vincent de Paul Society with instructions regarding their weekly Friday visits. Only God knew of these charities; he never mentioned them to others.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990. At the 2008 World Youth gathering in Sydney, Australia, Pope Benedict XVI brought Pier Giorgio’s relics with him, as a means of introducing young people to someone much like them.
The reason I thought about Pier Giorgio is because of his odd death. In 1925, as his grandmother (who taught him his catechism) lay dying down the hall, no one was checking in on Pier Giorgio, who had taken to his bed with some muscle aches that seemed like the flu. Turned out he had contracted polio, and within six days – before his distracted family even realized how unwell he was, the 24 year old died.
In my pain last night, I wasn’t worried about dying, of course, but as I worked to get my muscles oxygenated through breathing and light effleurage, I asked Pier Giorgio to pray for the comfort of everyone who was struggling with pain and unwilling to wake up their household about it.
Then I finally got up and took a muscle relaxant – a whole one, not a half, as I usually would; that made me somewhat stupider than usual last night, and today I’m still pretty dopey. Lectoring at mass this morning was interesting, as my lips did not seem ready to form all the words.
My muscles are still doing weird, freaky things today, and my whole body feels like I was soundly beaten in the night. It’s probably all weather-related, but this is all a kiss from the cross, in Holy Week, is it not? Stuff to offer up, I mean, and lessons to learn.
Meanwhile, I’m glad to introduce you to a young 20th Century Beato who will need a miracle credited to his prayers before he can be called a Saint. I like Pier Giorgio a lot. I like his spunk and his laughter, and the way he managed to live a serious life of faith without becoming all freakish about it. Dare I say, he reminds me – both in his joyful temperament and his social concerns – a little bit of Buster. Just a little, you understand. But I think they would have been good friends, the sort to go to the tobacconist to mull over new blends for their pipes. (Yes, Buster enjoys the pipe or cigar from time to time.)
And thanks to the Communion of Saints, of course, we all can be friends who reach out to each other in prayer, through time – which is a construct – in fellowship, worship and praise.
Once, as he exited a church with his rosary in his hand, someone said to him, “So, Pier Giorgio, you have become a religious fanatic?” He calmly answered, “No, I have remained a Christian.”
In 1925, he wrote to his friend Isidoro Bonini, “…I would like for us to pledge a pact that knows no earthly boundaries or temporal limits: union in prayer.” It was Pier Giorgio’s desire that his friends — including you — remain united in prayer.
UPDATE: When I decided to write about Pier Giorgio, today, I had no idea that his birthday was April 6! Cue the Twilight Zone theme! How strange is that? Like those children of Fatima, who nagged me into submission a few months ago, Pier Giorgio has been with me, all day – and it turns out to be his birthday. These saints and beatas! You think your blog is your own, and then they come along good-naturedly giving orders!
Well, he’s been good company, anyway!
Happy Birthday, Pier Giorgio! Ora pro nobis! Pray for us!
“By his example he proclaims that a life lived in Christ’s Spirit, the Spirit of the Beatitudes, is “blessed”, and that only the person who becomes a “man or woman of the Beatitudes” can succeed in communicating love and peace to others. He repeats that it is really worth giving up everything to serve the Lord. He testifies that holiness is possible for everyone, and that only the revolution of charity can enkindle the hope of a better future in the hearts of people.”
-John Paul II, Rome, 20 May 1990
And here is Pier Giorgio in his own words