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

 

Why do I… believe in God?

Greg weighs in on the difficult existential question, “Why do I believe in God?”

Now, this topic has been discussed, debated, pondered and meditated upon ever since the beginning of humanity – whether you believe we were created in 7 days or evolved slowly over billions of years – an issue which splits even Catholics into 2 camps, not unlike Moses splitting the Red Sea. There are so many answers and ideas about this very topic by everyone scientists to saints, philosophers to priests and anyone who ever had a notion on where they stand on this issue. Ideas from brilliant thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawkins, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine and many more have attempted to justify their answers to this question:

Is there a God?

What I’m trying to do now, in the spirit of this series, is to try to make sense of this through my own experiences, beliefs and teachings that I know of, however hard this task may be. To this debate, I will probably not add anything that is not unknown or that has yet to be said (after all, the question’s been there since like humans appeared). However, what I will add are my own thoughts on this matter and that is that I believe there is a God (otherwise I wouldn’t have become a co-founder to this blog, would I?).

Personally, the main reason I believe in the existence of a God is the fact that not believing in one would be a less rational choice than actually believing in God. Let me explain. As one who is studying within the field of science, a foundational idea within science is cause and effect. A common example of this would be Newton’s Third Law, which is widely known as the law that states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. While Newton generally devised this law to refer to forces, the idea of causality is not restricted to simply the domain of physics. Our body’s own homeostatic responses involve some form of reaction to a fluctuation of our body’s natural and healthy state. A major component of historical research is discovering causes that led to certain events. The door opens when I push/pull it. In short, to all things, there is a cause. Thus, by extension, the creation of the world, the stars, the universe must have a cause.

Even though many might point towards the Big Bang, what caused the Big Bang? Well, I think scientists are still trying to figure this model out but if you have any theories to this, please seek out your nearest physicist for, what I’m pretty sure will be, a very stimulating talk. Aside from that, you get the idea. If you continue this pattern of regression, there must be an initial cause to all things; a cause that cannot be regressed upon, or as St Thomas Aquinas puts it, the Uncaused Cause. This Uncaused Cause (or as Aristotle puts it, the Prime Mover) is what is commonly known as God. Quite appropriate actually considering that the Bible constantly refers God to Yahweh, or “I Am”. For example, “I am who I am” in Exodus 3:14, the one who is unchanged and uncaused; the Alpha and the Omega.

Now, this seems like an awful lot of theorizing based on causality. What if causality’s a sham and Nature is random and disordered. What if it’s all just chaos or some sort that we’re just caught in? Here’s where the concept of beauty is so intertwined with truth: the sheer elegance of the world, in my perspective, just cannot be simply explained away with sheer chance. Maybe there’s a deeper explanation on the idea of chance in scientific enquiry but I cannot fathom how the creation of the universe, life, evolution and development of mankind are all simply caused by a series of very fortunate events happening at just the right time and space. Delving deeper into the mysteries of the world, you learn how interconnected the world is. Molecules and atoms obey a set of laws (be they quantum or classical) that allows for reactions to take places. Nature leverages on these physical phenomena to optimize cellular activities via enzymes and various pathways. This, in turn, allows living things to function, adapt and thrive in their environment. In nature, you can find tons of cycles, both on the microscopic and macroscopic scales, allowing resources and materials to always be recycled and used in an efficient manner (That is, before we messed things up slightly). That aside, there are just so many intricate details that are beyond human understanding in each of these concepts and yet, they all just work. They click. And that, brothers and sisters, is something that cannot simply be pure chance. That, is part of an intelligent design; one created by God.

Now, at the end of the day, I could give you all my thoughts on this topic. However, going back to truth and beauty, we must remember the last of the three transcendentals: goodness. A brother of mine once shared that faith is like a litmus test. Until you actually dip the litmus paper into the solution, you will never know the acidity/basicity of said solution. Likewise, unless we have experienced the goodness of God, how can we believe in our faith with all our hearts, mind and body? Just like how I have run synthetic reactions in order to believe that my synthetic mechanism yields good results, I too must experience God’s goodness before I am able to fully commit to Him. That is the crux. If someone is unwilling or unable to do so, then no matter what arguments I may have for them, it will never really turn into a belief. Until and unless somebody is able to see God’s goodness in Nature (and anything else really!), science remains simply a pursuit of knowledge instead of a gateway into understanding and delving into the mysteries of God’s Creations.

“I want to know God’s thoughts – the rest are mere details.” – Albert Einstein

© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan

The Ebb and Flow of Spirituality

Chris reflects on the wisdom that he has learnt from Richard Rohr’s books and talks about the movements of one’s spiritual journey

“Sooner or later, if you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,’ some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with, using your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point you will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it; or to state it in our language here, you will and you must ‘lose’ at something. This is the only way that Life-Fate-God-Grace-Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey. I wish I could say this was no true, but it is darn near absolute in the spiritual literature of the world.”
– Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.
Recently, Richard Rohr has been a blessed companion on my walk with Jesus and my journey onwards towards Emmaus. Most, if not all, of Rohr’s ideas and issues raised in his various books have struck numerous chords in my heart. As of now, I’ve read “Falling Upwards”, “Immortal Diamond” and “Breathing Underwater” and all three books were so enlightening and filled with wisdom.

Continue reading “The Ebb and Flow of Spirituality”

Christian Castaways Part 1: Spiritual Shipwrecks

Garrett uses tales of shipwrecks as an allegory for the times where we feel spiritually distant from God.

Robinson Crusoe Wyeth 1920Robinson Crusoe, illustration by N.C. Wyeth

As an English Major, one novel that I keep having to read and re-read is Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. As a boy, I loved the abridged version of the story that I owned, one that simplified the story of this intrepid castaway for children. So it was with some horror that I discovered that the original was a slow, plodding book that seemed to drag on a lot longer than it had to. To be fair to the writer Defoe, he was writing one of the first great English novels, and the art would slowly be improved upon later. So while the novel isn’t without its faults (namely, being pretty boring), I was eventually able to look past them and get a feel of what made this story so well-loved to this day.

Continue reading “Christian Castaways Part 1: Spiritual Shipwrecks”