Editor’s note: Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati’s feast is on July 4th. The following article is adapted from the upcoming book, Finding Frassati: And Following His Path to Holiness. It is available to pre-order from your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
Pier Giorgio’s Eucharistic Life
Jesus Christ has promised to those who feed themselves with the most Holy Eucharist, eternal life and the necessary graces to obtain it.—Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 129.
Have you ever attended a Eucharistic Congress? It is a thing of true beauty to attend the closing Mass and see a great procession of bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, and altar servers making its way through a gathering of thousands of lay faithful — all for Jesus in the Eucharist.
Pier Giorgio made it a point to participate in Eucharistic Congresses when possible. On April 2, 1922, he sent a postcard to his mother with just one sentence: “A thousand greetings and kisses from the Eucharistic Congress.” The following year, he rearranged his schedule so that he could attend a Eucharistic Congress in Genoa, where an amazing procession of the Blessed Sacrament took place both on sea and on land. Although these occasional large events filled him with enthusiasm, it was a regular appointment on his calendar that fortified his soul: his daily meeting with Jesus in Holy Communion.
Pier Giorgio was ten years old when he made his First Holy Communion, on June 19, 1911. In those days, he would have had to wait until he turned twelve; Pope Pius X issued a decree in the summer of 1910, however, that allowed children to receive the Sacrament at “the age of reason” — about seven years old. The papal decree did even more than lower the age of First Communion; it also urged parents to enable their children to receive frequently, even daily, if possible.
This opportunity presented itself to Pier Giorgio two years later, when, at age twelve, he was enrolled in a school operated by the Jesuit Fathers. There he was encouraged by the headmaster, and obtained permission from his mother, to begin receiving Our Lord daily in the Blessed Sacrament. For the next twelve years, the Eucharist became the central point of Pier Giorgio’s life and the driving force behind his works of charity. “Jesus comes to me every day in Holy Communion,” he said. “I repay him in my miserable way by visiting the poor.” He received the Eucharist for the last time on his deathbed, on July 3, 1925 — a mere fourteen years after making his First Holy Communion.
It has been said that if we truly believed in the Real Presence, we would go crawling on our hands and knees to receive the Eucharist. Pier Giorgio believed. The effort he made as a teenager and young adult to receive daily Communion is even more impressive when you consider that his mother went to Church only on Sundays and his father was a fallen-away Catholic who did not attend Mass with the family.
Speaking to Catholic youth in his area, Pier Giorgio appealed to them with all the strength of his soul to “become totally consumed by this Eucharistic Fire.” By doing so, he said, they would find the strength to fight interior temptations and gain all of the necessary graces to obtain eternal life with Christ and true happiness on earth. These weren’t mere words. Pier Giorgio lived them. His example challenges us to do the same.
Inspired by the example of Blessed Frassati, let us take advantage of every opportunity to receive Our Lord worthily in the Eucharist and encourage others to do the same. Go to an extra Mass this week and, if possible, bring a friend.
Pier Giorgio’s Practice of Penance
In His Infinite Mercy, God has surely not kept my innumerable sins in mind.—Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 137.
How often do you go to Confession? The answer to this question on various surveys over the years has been astonishing. Less than once a year or never — the response from more than three-fourths of Catholics — will certainly not put anyone in the narrow lane on the highway to holiness.
Consider that saints such as Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II went to Confession at least weekly. Blessed Pier Giorgio also went very frequently — sometimes daily. Why? Did they know a secret about this sacrament that is hidden from the rest of us?
One of my favorite stories is an account of a time when Pier Giorgio went to Confession on a busy sidewalk in Turin. According to a priest named Father Righini, they ran into each other one day around 11:00 a.m. while crossing the street. Pier Giorgio was on his way to Mass at La Consolata, a beautiful and beloved basilica. After greeting the priest, Pier Giorgio asked if he “could have the pleasure of going to confession.” As Father Righini looked around for a nearby church, Pier Giorgio said, “That’s not necessary. I’ll confess here on the street.” He removed his hat, made a large Sign of the Cross, and humbly began his confession.
This type of encounter was out of the ordinary for Father Righini, who admitted to being very distracted while hearing the confession. He noted, though, that Pier Giorgio had no concern at all for what anyone passing by might have thought, and afterward, he went on his way satisfied and happy.
Pier Giorgio received the Sacrament of Confession for the first time on June 11, 1910. Over the years, as he came to believe that the smallest sin could lead to greater sins, he sought God’s forgiveness for the most minor displays of impatience or annoyance. Luciana Frassati wrote that her brother “wanted to approach God more frequently to purify his soul, and he sought help from his confessor’s advice so that he could live the Christian life more deeply. Possessing the Lord’s peace, it was easier for him to suffer, to make sacrifices, to deal with the daily silence in our house and the harsh tests of charity outside the home,” (L. Frassati, Mio Fratello Pier Giorgio).
Perhaps, then, this was the secret known also by saints such as Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II, who frequently confessed; that is, the regular practice of Confession fortifies us to endure the trials we face and to resist the near occasion of sin in our daily lives. Actually, this is not a secret. At some level, we all know it. We just tend to focus more attention on our sins than on the graces awaiting us in the confessional. Or, as the case may be, on the side of a busy street.
If you’ve been away from the sacraments for a while, ask Blessed Pier Giorgio to help you make a good confession this week. The spiritual lives of his friends were always a priority for him, and he will not let you down.
This article is adapted from Christine M. Wohar’s forthcoming book, Finding Frassati: And Following His Path to Holiness. It is available to preorder as a paperback or ebook from your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
image: portrait of Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati by Luciana Frassati / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)