That is what Jesus asked the rich young man to be willing to part with in order to gain eternal life. The young man had been so excited to find out what he needed to do that he actually ran up to Jesus to ask him. But “his face fell,” scripture tells us, “and he went away sad” when he heard the answer. That is the last we hear of him. We never even learn his name.
Today, we celebrate the birth of another rich young man whose name is known all around the world. Giving up everything was not as difficult for Pier Giorgio Frassati.
Born April 6, 1901, Pier Giorgio grew up in Italy, the son of a powerful journalist and politician. He lived with all the trappings of wealth. Maids, cooks, gardeners, a chauffeur, and a variety of other household staff served the needs of the family. He came in contact with very influential members of various segments of society, from politics to the arts. He traveled and attended balls and casually visited high-ranking Church officials. He was no stranger to the luxuries his family’s social standing made possible.
Unlike the rich young man of the gospel, however, Pier Giorgio managed to stay detached from everything. In a speech to young Catholics, Pier Giorgio said, “We must sacrifice everything for everything: our ambitions, indeed our entire selves, for the cause of the Faith.”
He embraced works of charity because he saw Jesus in every person he met. He brought medicines, school supplies, food, clothing, anything that was needed, by sacrificing his own comfort. On a particular trip to Vienna, he saw firsthand the poverty-stricken condition of students there. Without hesitation, he gave his travel money to them, saying he “could do very well” by eating just one meal a day and having just a cup of coffee or milk late in the afternoon.
He recognized that charity went beyond material giving. He brought hope by sharing his time, his friendship and his love for the Sacraments. He prayed with people. He brought them to Church. He led them to Confession. It was not uncommon to see “the son of an ambassador shaking the grimy and embarrassed hand of an unknown worker.”
Pier Giorgio loved to do things anonymously. He preferred not to be recognized as being a member of an important family. Once, he went with a friend to the homes of wealthy people to sell tickets for a charity fundraiser. They were mistaken at times for beggars and told to go through the servants’ entrance. His friend was offended but Pier Giorgio took it in stride with a good sense of humor. He would suffer any humiliation to obtain the means to help the less fortunate. He felt every sacrifice was worthwhile.
What inspired this rich young man to give so much of himself? Pier Giorgio spoke of two main sources of motivation for his actions. First, was the selfless example of Christ. “Young people, learn how to sacrifice from our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “In order to atone for our horrible sins, He sacrificed Himself as an Innocent Victim on Calvary, and He renews this wonderful Sacrifice every day in every part of the world during Holy Mass.”
Second, was the promise of eternal happiness “where joy will have no measure nor end, and where we will enjoy a peace beyond anything we could imagine.” For Pier Giorgio, a life of continual sacrifice was nothing compared to the treasure Jesus promised. Faith in the reward to come enabled him to remain detached from worldly wealth until he drew his final breath at the young age of 24. He left this earth happy and received his true inheritance:
Editor’s note: Christine M. Wohar is the author of the book Finding Frassati: And Following His Path to Holiness. For today only (April 6th), you can get a 24% discount on this inspiring book by using the promotional code Frassati24 through Sophia Institute Press.
Photo © Associazione Pier Giorgio Frassati, Rome. Used with permission.
Feature image: Stained Glass of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. John Paul II Chapel, Mundelein / photo by Fr. Gaurav Shroff / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)