Pier Giorgio Frassati Conquered Mediocrity With the Holy Eucharist and These 3 Daily Habits
Practicing Catholic fundamentals in a committed, disciplined manner did not prevent Pier Giorgio from enjoying other normal aspects of life. It just made them better.
“I have nothing else to tell you except that my life is monotonous.”
It is hard to believe that sentence could ever have come from the pen of Pier Giorgio Frassati, who, at 23 years old, was living a life many would envy. He was surrounded by the affluence enjoyed by the son of a prominent politician. He had just finished well in a 15-kilometer skiing race and had watched an outstanding international jump competition in person. (“You should have seen the Swedes jump!”)
He was planning his next mountain climb as well as a two-week excursion to observe the operation of coal mines. He was studying for the last exams necessary to complete his engineering degree and was about to start his thesis. His pockets were filled with names and addresses of poor people to whom he would bring food, medicine and a much-needed dose of human dignity. His heart was torn by his decision to forgo a relationship with a female friend he greatly admired in an effort to salvage the remains of his parents’ strained marriage. He was adjusting to the sorrow of life without his beloved sister, who had recently married and moved out of the country. He was spending joyful days in the company of his best friend, who was home on leave from the air force.
Monotonous? Anything but.
One of modern life’s grand illusions made all the worse by social media is that everyone is happier than we are. We are merely existing, checking the boxes on our to-do lists, drowning in monotony, while they are enjoying life to the fullest. Seen in the light of other peoples’ posts and stories and videos, our lives seem empty in comparison. This triggers self-pity, followed by the soothing allure of mediocrity.
It is a consolation of sorts to know that someone like Pier Giorgio Frassati suffered from similar false perceptions at times. But it is a greater consolation to know that he always managed to overcome them. How? His antidote for falling into a rut now and then was to fully embrace his Catholic faith. (“Every day I understand better what a grace it is to be Catholic.”) For Frassati, being Catholic was the key to living an abundant life. He described those without the Faith as poor and unlucky. To live without the Faith, he said, was not even living but just existing. “Let us banish all melancholy, which can only exist when the Faith is lost,” he wrote.
In other words: Live, don’t just exist. In Italian, vivere non vivacchiare.
Is the cure for monotony that simple? Actually, yes. To follow in the footsteps of Blessed Pier Giorgio is nothing more than to practice the fundamentals of the Faith. The more we practice the fundamentals of anything, the better we become at doing it. The same holds true for our life as Catholics. For Pier Giorgio, that meant daily times for prayer (often at his bedside on his knees), daily Mass and Holy Communion, frequent Confession, daily Rosary, works of charity mostly anonymously performed, frequent Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, disciplined fasting, time devoted to reading Scripture, a regular examination of his conscience, an annual spiritual retreat. Nothing extraordinary is on that list.
He balanced his spiritual life by enjoying a wide variety of athletic pursuits (skiing, sailing, swimming, biking, horseback riding, mountain climbing), spending time with friends and family members, fulfilling his academic obligations, executing well-planned practical jokes, writing letters to encourage others, organizing his scrapbooks, photo albums and rock and mineral collections, traveling around Italy and abroad, going to the theater and opera and art museums, participating in political events, making a friendly wager over a game of billiards, smoking an occasional cheap cigar. Practicing the fundamentals of the Faith in a committed, disciplined manner did not prevent Pier Giorgio from enjoying other normal aspects of life. It just made them better.
In an address to the youth of Rome in 2001, Pope St. John Paul II held out Blessed Frassati as a model, saying, “The life of this ‘normal’ young man shows that we can be holy.” The reverse can also be true. Frassati’s life shows that holiness can be normal. Holiness the Frassati way is a matter of staying in a constant relationship with God as we go about our ordinary day in whatever state of life we are called.
Blessed Pier Giorgio explained his simple spirituality in a speech he gave to Catholic youth when he was just 22. He boiled it down to what he called three “apostolates.”
First, give good example at all times by living a life guided by Christian moral law.
Second, practice charity, because without it, we cannot even be considered Christians, much less Catholics.
Third, persuade those around you to follow the ways of God.
How is it possible that Pier Giorgio could grow up in a home with little to no Catholic traditions, with a father who never went to church and a mother and sister who went only casually, and yet develop such deep convictions and otherworldly wisdom? It was his encounter with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist that formed him. Unlike three-fourths of Catholics today, the Real Presence was real to him.
From the age of 12 until his death at 24, his daily appointment with Jesus in Holy Communion was his number one priority. Those three apostolates he talked about came second. Don’t even think about doing them, he cautioned the young people, unless you were grounded in a Eucharistic life – the ultimate fundamental.
“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharistic Table as often as possible,” he exhorted. There we “will draw the strength to fight the struggles against passions and against all adversities.” There we will find true happiness and the “peace which those who are happy according to the world have never tasted.” There we will obtain the grace to live and not just exist. There we will vanquish monotony and mediocrity.
Blessed Pier Giorgio, loyal son of the Church, pray for us.
Christine M. Wohar is the author of Finding Frassati and Following His Path to Holiness and the founder of FrassatiUSA.