While all saints were certainly normal people like you and I, some feel just a little bit more “human” than others. Enter Pier Giorgio Frassati, the devout young Italian who turned my traditional view of sanctity on its head.
I was first introduced to Blessed Pier Giorgio when I was a novice friar. As I scanned a display shelf in a Catholic bookstore, one of my classmates held a relatively thin paperback up to my face. “You’ve got to read about this guy!” he said. “You’ll love him.” I looked at the book’s cover: teal with a black and white image of a man snow-shoeing across an unforgiving landscape. The subtitle read “Daredevil Athlete, Roguish Prankster, Unrelenting Activist, Unexpected Mystic.”
I grabbed the book from my brother. “Woah, how have I not heard of him before?” I asked rhetorically. Without even reading a page, I knew I was about to enter into the world of a real wild-man: a Catholic Jeremiah Johnson, if you will. The book’s pages, however, painted the picture of a much different character—one who, in many ways, was much more heroic than his photograph suggested, yet at the same time, as familiar as a lifelong friend.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was the son of a wealthy, agnostic politician who ran a prominent liberal newspaper. Despite his father’s wishes that he, too, work in the publishing business, Pier Giorgio entered university studies with the intent of working with and evangelizing low-income miners. Throughout his short life, he fought for social justice as a member of Catholic Party, organized outdoor excursions with friends, and was committed to his vows as a Third Order Dominican.
But above all else, Pier Giorgio was authentically, radically Catholic. His faith was the driving force behind his every action, whether feeding the hungry after school, being obedient to his parents, or climbing a mountain. His faith was the reason that, when he came to die, the poor no less than the great came to pay their respects by the thousands.
On one occasion, I found a prayer card of Blessed Pier Giorgio sitting atop a counter in our friary basement. When no one claimed it, I happily snatched it and placed it proudly upon my bedroom desk. I looked at the image—an extremely jovial Pier Giorgio among a group of friends—and thought about the faith that inspired that joy. What incredible faith, to live a normal life elated by the simple hope of God’s love!
I mailed the card to a friend, hoping that the simple example of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati would inspire him as it did me. Briefly, I worried that since there were a few men depicted on the holy card, my friend might not know which one was Pier Giorgio. Then I looked again at the image, at that face radiant with supernatural life, and understood that he would be impossible to miss. Shouldn’t we, too, be impossible to miss?
In a world rife with relativism, atheism, and profound negativity, many often wonder why anyone would decide to follow Christ. After all, why allow superstition to limit pleasure and happiness? Why follow the “rules” of religion?
Perhaps there is no better time than the Lenten season to follow in the footsteps of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and bring the joy of Christ into the normalcy of life. How can we do this? All it takes is faith—a mindfulness of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Pier Giorgio once said, “You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be so? As long as Faith gives me strength I will always be joyful!”
Lent offers us an opportunity to renew this faith through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In the weeks leading up to the Resurrection of our Lord, let us look to the example of Blessed Pier Giorgio and all the Saints. Let our prayer be for the constant presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Let our fasting be from negativity, from idleness, and from all that keeps us from loving as a Christian is called to love. And let our almsgiving be the profound mercy of God offered to all who need it, from our family members to strangers on the street.
Let us show the world that we are truly joyful! And our joy is unusual, as it comes not from the pleasures of the world, but from the supernatural power of Christ. The power that transforms you will be the same power that transforms all whom you meet.
[See also: QUIZ: Which Dominican Saint Are You Most Like?]
Br. Zachary Burns is a simply professed friar of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. He is currently in his first year of seminary studies at the Catholic University of America.
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