In the first quarter of the twentieth century there was a young man, Pier Giorgio Frassati, and he loved climbing mountains. It was his number one hobby. On weekends and school vacations he’d be in the Italian Alps practicing his climbing skills. And he didn’t go alone he always brought a cohort of friends. To the top, verso l’alto was his motto, always climbing as high as his skill and ropes would take him. Now this young man was also a great prayer and he brought his rosary with him on these mountain treks and as he made his way to the top he would stop multiple times on the craggy ledges to not only rest but to also contemplate the greatness of God.
Pier Giorgio was born in Turin Italy in 1901. He was born into a very wealthy and influential family. His parents were not too religious but they made sure that their children went to Mass every Sunday and that they learned the catechism. Very early on Pier Giorgio showed a great compassion for the poor. Walking home from school he’d sometimes give away his coat and sweater and shoes, coming home almost naked, his mom was not amused. Or if poor people knocked on their front door looking for handouts he’d give away dinner and empty the pantry of food. As he got older his philanthropy grew. He joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and any allowance he received went to helping those in need. His dad never knew the money he gave him was going to help the poor.
Pier Giorgio, a Third Order Dominican, received communion every day, confession every week, and many nights he would spend in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, with his skis lying next to him. They say he loved to sing, but he sounded awful, so he would have to sit in the back so as not to distract too many people. He has been described as athletic, handsome, and bounding with charisma, he also had a reputation as a practical joker. His pranks included short-sheeting priest’s beds. In 1925 Frassati died after contracting polio from a man he was helping. He was only 24. As the funeral procession left the Turin Church his family was surprised to see the numbers of poor people lining the street to honor their son. The poor were just as surprised to see that their benefactor came from such a rich and powerful family. In the early 20th century Frassati’s story became well known and it inspired Catholics across the world including a young Polish student Karol Woytjla, future pope. In 1990 Pope St. John Paul II beatified Frassati calling him a man of the beatitudes. Pier Giorgio’s body is incorrupt and he’s a patron of the youth.
As I stated earlier Pier Giorgio loved climbing mountains, “To the top” being his motto. In many of the photos we have of him there are often mountains in the background. In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, he speaks of a mountain, “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it.” Two questions: Is the mountain of the Lord’s house the highest mountain in our life? Is praise and worship of God more important to us than anything else? Pier Giorgio climbed the mountain of the Lord. He came from a wealthy family; and he could have climbed the mountain of wealth. He came from a powerful family; and he could have climbed the mountain of power. He was handsome and charismatic; and he could have climbed the mountain of pleasure. Yet even with all these blessings he chose the mountain of the Lord. He used every blessing he received, money, influence, and charisma in service to climbing the Lord’s mountain. Experts in spirituality often tell us, if we don’t have the love of God first in our lives then we won’t know what to do with the other goods and blessings in our lives. These other goods and blessings could very easily become the mountains we end up climbing.
Now after telling us that the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the highest mountain Isaiah goes on to say that people will climb this mountain for instruction. “Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.” Isaiah is saying to us, come to the temple to be instructed. Today many people get their instruction from TV, internet, movies, magazines, newspapers, and music. We need news of what is going on in the world around us, but when these sources become the determiner of value in our lives then something is wrong. Where do we go for instruction? 75% of our Catholic brothers and sisters stay away from weekly Sunday Mass. Where do we go for instruction? People used to go to Church for the answers; going to Church is our version of going up the mountain of the Lord. We go there seeking the wisdom of our ancient religious tradition, because truth is timeless.
This is our mountain; you could call it Mount St. Jerome. Pier Giorgio used to encourage his friends as they climbed with this phrase because they always lagged behind, he said to them, “Higher and higher there, you can hear the voice of Christ!” Come to St. Jerome; come to the mountain week after week and you will hear the voice of Christ!
I want to end with a question that Pope Francis once posed, “Do I adore the Lord? Do I adore Jesus Christ the Lord? Or is it half and half, do I play the play of the prince of the world?” To adore till the end, with loyalty and faithfulness this is the grace we should ask for this advent.
Let us become great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley