Favourite Saint: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Greg talks about the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and how living according to the Gospel need not always be as difficult as we think it is.

Honestly, it seems that a very popular question to ask amongst Catholics was: who’s your favorite saint? For me, I’m always stumped by this question. I don’t think I’ve ever had a FAVORITE saint. But I have had different saints whose lives and view on God have spoken to me throughout the different periods of my life. And to answer this question, I turn to someone whose life has been inspiring me greatly in this current period of my life: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. (I know he’s not exactly a saint but he’s probably in Heaven and praying for us so it still counts ok!)

 

Blessed Pier was born in Turin into a wealthy family. Though an average student, Frassati was known among his peers for his devotion and piety. He developed a deep spiritual life which he never hesitated to share with his friends. The Holy Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin were the two poles of his world of prayer. Mountain climbing was one of his favorite sports. Outings in the mountains became opportunities for his apostolic work. He never lost the chance to lead his friends to Mass, to the reading of Scripture, and to praying the rosary.

 

He was also dedicated to works of social action, charity, prayer and community. He was involved with Catholic youth and student groups, the Apostleship of Prayer, Catholic Action, and was a third order Dominican. He would often say, “Charity is not enough; we need social reform.” He helped establish a newspaper entitled Momento, whose principles were based on Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical: Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). He was strongly anti-fascist and did little to hide his political views.

 

Frassati donated most or all of his money to people he saw as more “needy” than him, and as a result, he became accustomed to giving his train-fare to the poor and running back home or riding in third class.

 

Frassati died in 1925 of poliomyelitis. His family expected Turin’s elite and political figures and many of his friends to be at his funeral. They were surprised, however, to find the streets of the city were lined with a multitude of mourners who were unknown to his family — the poor and the needy whom he had served so unselfishly. [1]

 

What really gets me was that Blessed Pier life didn’t have extraordinary miracles like some saints. Neither was his life one of a great conversion to God (like St Paul or St Augustine) or even one of a life that was given to God through consecration as a religious. In fact, some might say that his life seems reminiscent of some of our own. Sure, his charity towards those in need and his great devotion to God were traits that (rightly so) inspires me as I read about him. However, what I really got from him was how it reminded me of John 17:14-18, more specifically verses 16 and 18:

 

They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. (John 17:16)

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. (John 17:18)

 

What a paradox! It’s the common Christian adage of “in this world but not of the world”. How can we be sent to this world and be in it and yet, not be of the world? It’s a question of subtlety. See, for me right now, it’s a question of how can I continue to bring glory to God without denying my secular role? In short, how can I live my life in such a way that in all I do, I echo God even if I do not loudhailer His Name? For me, this question strikes a core in me because at times, it is so difficult to remember God in all that you do, let alone even echo Him.  And yet, Blessed Pier was able to bring God, not just to his friends but also to the people he meets whom he may not know intimately. More importantly, he never stopped being part of the world. He never forgot that his first duty was as a student, studying something that wasn’t grand or world-changing but to be a mining engineer so that he could “serve Christ better among the miners”. I used to be quite skeptical about how I, as a scientist, could bring Christ to others. Easy enough for careers with social interactions at the forefront of their jobs.  However, Blessed Pier showed me that at wherever I am, whatever I am meant to do, God is always there and there will always be opportunities to glorify God and to bring Christ to others.

 

“Do small things with great love”. A common quote of Mother Teresa’s which I think Blessed Pier Giorgio, though living before Mother Teresa, exemplified with his life. His life was a life of doing small things but always with Love Himself at the center of it all. I sometimes wonder if there are fruits of my time here on Earth. At times, God graces me to be able to witness the buds and at times, the fruits. Mostly, it can be hard to see. Likewise, it might have been hard for Blessed Pier to not be able to see the fruits that he has grown for God. And yet, he stuck to it till the end, even tending to the needy while already on his deathbed. The fruits were plenty indeed and the multitude of people that appeared for his funeral was a clear sign of all the people whose lives have been made better through the charity and love of Blessed Pier Giorgio. At the end of the day, the message that I’ve taken away from Pier Giorgio is that I don’t have to be called to be a religious or even an influential person to be able to bring Christ to others and to grow into the saint I was created to be. All I need is to be aware of the opportunities in my own journey where I can continue to radiate out God’s Love to others and to take that bold step to be Christ in my own way to the people around me.

[1] Retrieved and paraphrased from: https://frassatiusa.org/frassati-biography and http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=6994

 

The Story of Santa Claus

I think every Christmas, apart from the Holy Family, another dominant figure plays an important role in the festivities, particularly that of popular culture: Santa Claus. Most of us already know that this popular red-faced and jolly character was inspired by the figure of St Nicholas, a bishop in the city of Myra. Aside from stories of his compassion and generosity (with said stories becoming the basis of the generous and compassionate nature of good old Santa Claus), many of us (me included) know little else of his life. As I read up more about the life of St Nicholas, he struck me as someone who was very different from the Santa Claus of popular culture. While many of his legends stemmed around his propensity to help those who needed help, his fierce devotion to God was what ran counter to the Santa Claus we all know. This was a man unafraid of his faith, a man who was willing to defend his faith and his brothers and sisters despite any circumstances.

Continue reading “The Story of Santa Claus”

Did Curiosity Kill the Catholic?

Greg muses how being curious can enhance and supplement our Faith.

Don’t you love how children always question the things around them?

“Mummy, why is the sky blue?”

“Daddy, why is 1+1 equals to 2?”

“Mummy, where did I come from?”

As we grow up, we learn more and more things. Eventually, we begin to stop questioning every piece of information that comes our way. During one of my random thought moments (I have plenty of those, although a majority of the thoughts probably aren’t the best), I’ve begun to realized how much I’ve stopped allowing myself to be curious. Maybe it’s due to my thoughts being too all over the place to be properly inquisitive. Or maybe it’s because the effort and time needed to begin looking for those answers was way too much (relative to simply accepting said information). Maybe it’s just that I’m not so bothered by it anymore.

Continue reading “Did Curiosity Kill the Catholic?”

Thanksgiving

Before coming to the United States of America (USA), Thanksgiving didn’t mean much to me. While I caught glimpses of this holiday in American sitcoms, my understanding of it remained at that: distant and apathetic. My impression of Thanksgiving was limited to stuffed turkey, cranberry sauce, mash potatoes and sweet corn – delicious yet highly superficial. Similar to some of the holidays in Singapore, Thanksgiving was an occasion synonymous with good food and merry-making. Yet, akin to an increasingly commercialized Christmas, there has got to be something deeper and more meaningful to Thanksgiving right?

Continue reading “Thanksgiving”

Why Learning Complements Our Faith

Garrett muses on how the faithful should not fear learning, but learn to employ it.

“For although correct conduct may be better than knowledge, nevertheless knowledge precedes conduct.” – Charlemagne, De Litteris Colendis

This is a quote from a letter written by the Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled over much of Europe for much of the 8th century, to Baugulf of Frida, the abbot of a monastic community. A towering figure who came to the support of the popes, Charlemagne was also extremely interested in the topic of education, and in the ability of the Catholic Church at the time to educate people (keep in mind that these were hard times with low literacy rates). In this letter, the Emperor expresses his desire that churchmen should feed the minds of the people as well as their souls:

“[…] bishoprics and monasteries entrusted by the favor of Christ to our control, in addition, in the culture of letters also ought to be zealous in teaching those who by the gift of God are able to learn, according to the capacity of each individual, so that just as the observance of the rule imparts order and grace to honesty of morals, so also zeal in teaching and learning may do the same for sentences, so that those who desire to please God by living rightly should not neglect to please him also by speaking correctly.”

Reading this letter was interesting for me as I’ve always valued learning, and never really saw any disparity between knowledge and the faith. In fact, my faith was strengthened greatly by reading as a young boy the works of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and while my understanding was somewhat limited, it drove me to learn more and more about the faith and why we should believe. And indeed, one could argue this was the way God ‘trapped’ me – even if I were to want to walk away from the faith, I think deep down inside I would know that it would be a fundamentally dishonest act.

But that said, I find that most of my friends have become somewhat wary of knowledge and learning. And while their reasoning has merit, I think there is a better way to approach the problem, and if we’re going to grow as Christians, especially in a modern city like Singapore, it is necessary to strengthen our knowledge of the faith. Thus, this article will be serve as a discussion and hopefully a proposal on ways we can use knowledge to strengthen our faith.

So what is the main problem people have with knowledge? I think it lies in the fear that being so immersed in the technical aspects of the faith detracts from one’s personal relationship with Jesus. This worry can be summed up in the maxim that some people “know a lot about God instead of knowing God”.

I won’t say that this is an unfounded fear. I think most people in Catholic communities might know someone like that. Someone extremely widely read in matters of faith and spirituality, but whose knowledge gives them a sense of superiority over others. For such people, their knowledge has become a stick to beat others with, and not surprisingly, leave people with a bad taste in their mouth.

However, despite this potential pitfall, I don’t believe that we are justified in simply tossing out learning wholesale. As with all things, there is a right and wrong way of approaching the issue. One wrong way is the one I just described, to use learning as a means to engage in theological pedantry and endless (often fruitless) wrangling.

And yet I have had moments where being theologically informed did come in useful when ministering to others. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said that “There are not over a hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions, however, who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing”. What Bishop Sheen said about the Bride of Christ is true of her Spouse as well. There are a lot of misconceptions people have about God, and many people have false conceptions of Him. Even our fellow Catholics, and even ourselves. No one can know God in His entirety, but we can know what He has revealed to us, through scripture, tradition and the teaching of the Church. In a sense, learning about God is getting to know Him better as well, and helps us to introduce Him more effectively to others.

 “An hour of study, for a modern apostle, is an hour of prayer.” – Saint Josemaria Escriva

St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, was a big believer in the value of study and learning. So much so that he dedicates an entire chapter of short sayings on the topic in his most famous work, The Way. Having reflected on his writings, I think this is born of being appreciative of the time God has allowed us to live in. Think about it. We live in a time of extremely high literacy rates. Electricity allows us the ability to continue reading and learning even at night. This is both a blessing and a curse for us urban city-dwellers. On one hand, we have so much information available to us. On the other, we are overwhelmed by the plethora of ideas and views that seem omnipresent on social media and other things we interact with on a daily basis.

Thus, I feel that it is more important than ever to embark on an adventure of learning, to truly appreciate for ourselves the beauty of the Catholic faith, and to communicate that to others as well. I hope that this article inspires you to explore the amazing breadth of our Faith and learn more. God bless!

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng

Poem: Dining in the Desert

In this special post, the three of us come together in a collaborative effort to weave our individual searches for Jesus together into a poem.

A/N: Blessed Wednesday everyone! To round off Odes to October month, Chris, Greg and I thought we would try writing a poem together. After giving it some thought, I struck upon the idea of modeling the poem after a Japanese collaborative style of poetry called “renga”. 

You may notice that Greg’s first three lines take the form of the famous “haiku” – the three line, 17-syllable Japanese poem. A renga consists of a series of haikus linked together by a couplet – two lines of 7 syllables each. I thought the structured form of this poem would both impose healthy creative limitations (the challenge was to sum up the state of our current spiritual lives in a haiku), and aid some of us who had grave (and unfounded) doubts about our poetic abilities (*cough*Greg*cough*).

So over a long video call across various time zones, the three of us spent a light-hearted three hours listening to each others journeys and trying to fit our spiritual lives into 17 syllables, as well as finding ways to express where our spiritual lives overlapped, mainly in our combined desire to search for Jesus. Do let us know your thoughts on social media or if you ever wish to try a similar exercise with your community or loved ones. We hope you enjoy the read!

– Garrett

Greg:

I walk the desert 

Relishing in a mirage 

More real than the rain 

Garrett:

Truth reveals reality 

Turning desert to summer; 

Lazy summer’s day 

Seeker puts his satchel down 

To hear the Lord’s words: 

Chris:

“Why search for answers outside? 

Can you find rest in me, child?” 

New yet familiar 

I cook a meal for Jesus 

I am loved; He smiles. 

Greg:

My meal and His Eucharist 

We dine together and live 

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Garrett Christopher Ng
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Christopher Chok

Poem Dialogue: Dag Hammarskjold

Chris writes a response poem-prayer to Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings.

Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

Give us

A pure heart

That we may see Thee,

A humble heart

That we may hear Thee

A heart of Love

That we may serve Thee,

A heart of faith

That we may live Thee,

 

Thou

Whom I do not know

But Whose I am.

Thou

Whom I do not comprehend

But Who hast dedicated to me

To my fate.

Thou –

 

Christopher Chok, Imprints

Grant us

A still soul

That we may touch You,

A contrite soul

That we may feel You,

A soul of Peace

That we may see You,

A soul of Truth

That we may know You,

 

Jesus

Whom I long to know

And Whose I’m loved.

Jesus

Whom I search all day and night

Yet Who has loved me into being
To this world.

Jesus –