Continuing the theme of some wonderful twentieth-century saints, here is some more on my personal favourite, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Again, I gave this talk at the Faith Matters series.
My second example is a young man from Turin, Italy, who was blessed with many qualities that are valued in today’s world: a great personality, good looks, a strong education, athletic ability, social status and wealth: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. In Blessed Pier Giorgio’s life, we see that holiness means witnessing to Christ in every part of your life – even the hidden parts. The Church teaches us in Lumen Gentium that when lay people witness to Christ it has “peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world” (LG 35) and this was definitely true of Pier Giorgio. His life was filled with parties, mountain-climbing and practical jokes – and yet all of this, because of his faithfulness to Christ, was marked by a deep holiness. I think his witness to Christ was stronger precisely because of his great passion for life.
It is true that Pier Giorgio achieved many heroic things: fascism was coming to power in Italy and he was known to be a political activist, often getting arrested in the midst of protests. He showed unbounded generosity towards the poor – for whom he saved the little money he was given by his father. His family and circle of friends suspected the kindness and charity he showed towards the poor of Turin, but little did they know of the vast number of poor he had helped: on the day of his funeral, a flood of the city’s poor came to pay their respects.
However, I want to suggest that what cost Pier Giorgio even more than this, were the more hidden sacrifices that he made. He came from an unhappy, rich and not very religious family – an authoritarian father and a highly critical mother. And in this context he suffered a lot. He relinquished his strong desire to marry a young woman of whom he knew his mother would disapprove, saying, “Why create one family to tear apart another?” Again, when his father planned a career for his son at the newspaper he owned, Pier Giorgio accepted despite this path being contrary to everything he wanted for himself: “Do you think this will please Papa?” he asked the friend who passed on the news. When he nodded, Pier Giorgio replied, “Well, tell him I accept.”
In Pier Giorgio’s life we see the prophetic role of our baptismal vocation. When we proclaim Christ in the ordinary circumstances of our lives, when we evangelise very simply through friendships and through showing the attractiveness of the Christian life, and when we are unashamed to defend our faith, we are acting as prophets, the second part of our baptismal calling.
I would add to this that I highly recommend the book written by his sister Luciana Frassati on his life, A Man of the Beatitudes. Many incidents in this book show with poignancy the deep emotions Pier Giorgio felt, especially towards those he loved. Often we think of Christian love as predominantly charity and rarely hear about the saints’ deeply emotional (or what would be classed as eros) love for those in their lives. Pier Giorgio was definitely a saint who loved much.