Wednesday, October 11, 2017

This Is Us and the Shadow of Death


This Is Us has definitely captured the hearts of many families in its attempt to show the complexity and joy of family life as it follows the life of three siblings and traces each one of their histories along with the history of their parents. It’s a show filled with many touching moments and deals with some aspects of family life in the raw. Nobody is perfect, each one is flawed and seeking to overcome the demons from their past, and their past gives us a deeper insight into the complexity of who these characters really are and how they became the people that they are now (reminiscent of LOST). These past memories help us sympathize and empathize with their pain, and more deeply appreciate their seemingly small victories, which, in light of their past, show us just how big these steps really are. 

So many television shows take one character at a moment in time and that is all you see of them and thus it often never enters into the true mystery of who that person is and what experiences shaped them. This Is Us, however, enters into a character’s history and explains their psychology in a way that respects their human person and has one rooting for each character to overcome their flaws one step at a time. In some ways, it teaches us to treat all of our relationships in this way. To remember that every person has a past, and that those past histories will deeply effect our outlook, our worldview, and the way that we enter into relationships with certain expectations. No one in life is a blank slate. No spouse enters a marriage without their family baggage, gifts, and traditions (No brother, sister, or priest enters a religious community without them either). Everyone is shaped by their own experiences and sometimes if we knew a little bit more about the history behind the people we interact with we would come to a much deeper love and appreciation for who they are and how far they have come, and perhaps be a little bit more patient.



But what is striking to me in this show is the shadow of death. In the show, a main character dies and it is a death that deeply affects every person on the show. The death of this person is shrouded in mystery and little by little details about their death are revealed. The audience is left wondering how exactly they died, what happened, and how did the family members react to it. In some ways, the shadow of death is found in every scene. Every memory of joy that the family experiences is joyful, but once you remember, oh yeah, that person dies. That memory becomes painful. The joy and resolution that you had hoped would last, you realize can’t. And the siblings are each grappling with this person’s death, trying to find ways to healthily grieve, to not repress, but to actually memorialize this person in a healthy way. And here’s the rub. How many of us go through life, in our relationships with our friends and our family, remembering that, “Oh yeah, this person is going to die.” 

In a sense This is Us is saying “Memento Mori,” “Remember Your Death.” 

This Is Us, in a way, reminds us of our own eventual death and the eventual death of each of our family members. And that is painful. Each character we have come to know and love on the show will themselves eventually face death, if not on the show, at least by the eventual termination of the show on television. All good things come to an end. Ten out of ten people die in life. It’s not a fact we like to keep present. It seems morbid to keep that thought present in our mind. But it’s true. In some ways it can teach us to never take a moment with a loved one for granted. It can teach us to be grateful for those few moments we do have. In other ways it can remind us to live for what is most important rather than to live in the transitory. None of us knows the details of each other’s deaths, when it will happen, how it will occur, and what the outcome will be. But it will happen. Sometimes, though, we live pretending that it won’t. It is far from our minds as we go day in and day out presuming that both we and the ones we love will be there in the morning. We say “See you later” without even thinking that there’s a possibility we won’t. Yet the hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, and shootings of the last few months should teach us, we never really know... What then brings meaning to life? If all ends in death, how can life actually be good, as we all go one-by-one into the darkness of oblivion to be forgotten in the long line of history. But when we see the love that these characters share, there is a desire for it to last.



Each desire in life has an end in nature. Hunger – food. Thirst – drink. Tired – sleep. Boredom – creativity. Desire for sex – sex. What then of eternal love? Eternal joy? Eternal communion? That love that families share that seems stronger than death? I can only think of one solution, one end for these desires: Faith in the one who conquered death by dying and rising. Jesus is the only thing for me that makes any sense of life. Jesus is the answer. In Him, we know even with any pain that death might bring, death, itself will die. He has a “love as strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6). For with Him…

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:55-57)


Then we too will be reunited in victory as a family to share in the love, joy, peace and reconciliation that truly lasts in Christ. The Lord is our shepherd who will guide us there. Only then will we see that the true resolution that we are all searching for lies only beyond the grave, beyond the valley of the shadow of death, not somewhere on this little island we call home. (reminiscent of LOST).

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

An Attempt to Enter the Mind and Heart of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati








            Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was a handsome, athletic, intelligent, vivacious, and pious Italian young man who loved mountain climbing, sports, the arts, practical jokes, Dante, and service to the poor. He lived in the early 20th century and was a man of deep faith with a special devotion to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His faith was not something compartmentalized but was something that permeated all aspects of his life and it drove him into action. Living in Italy during the rise of the Fascist movement, Pier Giorgio saw the inequality of how the poor and marginalized were treated which drew him to become politically active and personally involved in their plight. Though he was strongly discouraged and dissuaded by his affluent aristocratic parents, he continued to secretly serve and minister to the poor. It was not until his death at the age of twenty-four when he contracted polio that his parents knew how much of an impact Pier Giorgio had made in his short life on those around him, especially on the lives of the poor and the destitute. John Paul II said at the Mass of his beatification,

Certainly, a superficial glance, [Pier Giorgio] Frassati’s lifestyle, that of a modern young man who was full of life, does not present anything out of the ordinary. This, however, is the originality of his virtue, which invites us to reflect upon it and impels us to imitate it. In him faith and daily events are harmoniously fused, so that adherence to the Gospel is translated into loving care for the poor and the needy in a continual crescendo until the very last days of he sickness which led to his death. His love for beauty and art, his passion for sports and mountains, his attention to society’s problems did not inhibit his constant relationship with the Absolute. Entirely immersed in the mystery of God and totally dedicated to the constant service of his neighbor: thus we can sum up his earthly life![1]

As a bit of a renaissance man it might seem like Pier Giorgio Frassati had a perfectly easy and content life, but when one takes a look closer, one realizes that Pier Giorgio also had hardships of his own that he encountered from a young age due to the treatment of his parents and also from the social turmoil that was in upheaval around him. Pier Giorgio could have easily chosen a comfortable life as the heir to the influential daily newspaper La Stampa, but instead he chose a life of piety and simplicity in service to the poor.
In order to enter into the complexity of his inner life, we will use the psychosocial stages of development according to Erik Erikson and the modes of conversion according to Edward Braxton. We will examine his life in and through his biography, A Man of the Beatitudes, written by his sister Luciana and through letters written by Pier Giorgio Frassati, himself, as we take into account the different stages of development and modes of conversion. In many of these cases, we will use letters from a later different period of development in order to show a disposition that may have been rooted in an earlier period of development.
The stages of development according to Erik Erikson are meant to show how a person develops into an integrated person. Each formative period of time offers a unique challenge to grow or be deficient in a particular virtue in order to overcome certain difficulties or tendencies that could arise from typical conflicts due to relationships with parents, siblings, friends, or peers during that stage of development. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's life will be told in a biographical form with each of Erikson's stages heading each time period.
The modes of conversion according to Edward Braxton give a glimpse into how one can be brought not only into a more complete relationship with God, but also a more complete relationship with one’s self, for the two are united in an integrated person. These modes of conversion are ways that one comes to a particular awareness of God’s presence in that arena of life and how His presence expands one’s own perspective to become more universalized and well-rounded. These modes of conversion will be identified throughout the different stages of Erikson, but often times they overlap with different periods of life and are not as easy to delineate or distinguish in such a cut and dry manor.
There is much more that could be said about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and there are much more researched biographies about his life that perhaps are more accurate in the facts about his life. This is only an attempt to understand his mind and heart and how he developed into the kind of man that he became.


Trust vs. Mistrust – Infancy (0 – 1 ½ years old) – Hope (1901-1902)
           
Pier Giorgio Frassati was born on April 6th, Holy Saturday, 1901 in the northern Italian city of Turin. His father, Alfredo Frassati, was the influential founder and owner of the newspaper La Stampa, who later became an Italian senator and ambassador to Germany, while his mother, Adelaide Artemis, was a painter who had one of her paintings bought by Vittorio Emmanuel III, the king of Italy.[2] Alfredo was an agnostic while Adelaide was not very religious, though she never would have missed Mass, she was never seen to kneel in prayer or receive Holy Communion. The only deeply religious influence in Pier Giorgio’s family was their grandmother Linda Artemis who had a deep devotion to praying for the dead.[3] Pier Giorgio had one sister, Luciana, who was born seventeen months after him. The Frassati family was a family of means and so the basic needs of food, shelter, and care during infancy would have been easily accessible and provided for. The house often had workers and care givers on the property who would have added to the comfort and stability that Pier Giorgio had. Erikson notes, “we have learned to regard basic trust as the cornerstone of a healthy personality.”[4] Pier Giorgio clearly had a disposition of trust throughout his life which explains how open he could have been to the poor, not simply thinking they were taking advantage of him, but that they were indeed in need of his help and assistance. His openness with others in his friendships, his relationship with his sister, and his classmates are an examples of how he had formed a basic foundation of trust due to the care that he received during this formative period.


Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt – Early Childhood (1 ½ - 3 years old) – Will (1902-1904)
Pier Giorgio’s father was busy with La Stampa and so was rarely around to be involved in Pier’s life. It does seem throughout the letters that even though Alfredo was often away from the house, when he was there, there was a warmness and tenderness that he expressed with his children that perhaps was absent from their mother Artemis. Pier Giorgio’s mother was a seemingly very strict disciplinarian who had her own idea of what childhood should look like.  Luciana described their childhood as “strictly controlled and isolated.” She writes,
The memory of those far-off days still hurts because we lacked a mother’s tenderness. Our childhood was painful…we were unable to get away from the same faces, the same rooms, and the monotonous streets…. Our father spent those years and many others engrossed in La Stampa, a refuge that deprived the family day after day of his presence. La Stampa represented my father’s glory, his private kingdom away from the Pollone household, which was the domain of my mother’s house.
The emptiness created by a sea of prohibitions forced us to spend much time in each other’s company. We learned endurance, the habit of discipline and obedience, and acceptance of continual sacrifices…Being considered nothing or, worse, troublemakers, tempered our pride. We even suffered real hunger, presumably for the benefit of our health. However, we were capable of facing obstacles and pain with courage. At least our father, even though he rarely entered our private world, shared in our games.[5]

During this time of childhood, a child is trying to express their own autonomy. Yet with what is written about Pier Giorgio’s mother, it would seem that she would have tried to control the behavior of her children disproportionately. Erikson explains that when this happens it is common for the child to take with them a sense of shame and doubt.
The sense of autonomy which arises, or should arise, in the second stage of childhood, is fostered by a handling of the small individual which expresses a sense of rightful dignity and lawful independence on the part of the part of the parents and which gives him the confident expectation that the kind of autonomy fostered in childhood will not be frustrated later.[6]

Shame is the feeling of exposure and being found deficient. Doubt is the sense that one can and never will “measure up.” In reading Pier Giorgio’s letters it is clear that the dispositions of shame and doubt became a part of his relationship with his mother, and at times with his father, where Pier Giorgio felt that he had to make things up to his father and mother, and prove to them that he could be good and please them.
August 14, 1907
Dear Daddy,
On this your birthday I am writing to send you lots of good wishes for your good health. I will pray to Jesus for you and I promise to be good and to study to make up to you for all your work and the sacrifices you are making for me. Happy birthday and lots of good wishes from your,
Pier Giorgio
6 years old[7]

---

Turin, December 20, 1910
Dearest mommy,
I am writing this letter to wish you a happy feastday and I tell you that we have written a pretty poem in German which will please you. With this letter I offer you a beautiful bouquet of flowers. I will try to do everything possible to pass the exams to please you. And I promise to be good.
I have prayed for this and I always ask the good God that he will always make you happy and keep my dearest papa in good health along with you.
Best wishes also on behalf of the Salesian priest and lots of kisses from your most loving,
                                                                                                                                                                                   
Pier Giorgio
9 years old[8]

Though the dispositions of doubt and shame may have been part of his disposition towards his mother and father. It is clear that he still managed to find his own will and autonomy. He never let those aspects of his relationship with his parents stop him from attaining his own will and living the moral life creatively, even if later, his own will and desires for his life would go against his mother and father’s wishes, with perhaps one exception (his stunted relationship with Laura Hidalgo as explained later). It seems that his relationship with his parents did not drastically effect the image he had of God as loving and as one who would provide for him and all of his needs.

Initiative vs. Guilt – Play Age (3 to 5 years old) – Purpose (1904 – 1906)

During this stage of development, a child now understands that they are their own person with their own use of the will, but now they must decide what kind of person they will become, children frequently do this through play. As we read before, Luciana and Pier Giorgio often played games together. At times their father would join them and affirm them in their own creativity. Luciana explained, “In spite of the burdens of office, our father, in his brief free time after meals, continued to be our companion at games. Then the house came alive as we raced about. At these times, we were able to treat our father as a contemporary, addressing him by titles unworthy of his dignified position.”[9]

 In Luciana’s description of her brother, it is clear that she and her brother got along very well. She stated, “There was never any thought of rivalry between us.”[10] As with all siblings, it does seems that they too had their own rare quarrel.
1906
Dear wonderful daddy,
                  I love you so much so that you will be happy I will not hit Luciana any more. Happy feastday I will pray to baby Jesus for you. He kisses you, your,
                                                                                                                                                Dodo
                                                                                                                                                5 years old
(Dodo was a nickname Pier Giorgio gave to himself as a young boy)[11]

Pier Giorgio’s mother, however, continued with her demanding discipline throughout his childhood. Yet Pier Giorgio continued to grow in showing initiative despite the feelings of guilt that may have been internalized from his mother. Erikson notes, “The consequences of guilt aroused at this stage often do not show until much later, when conflicts over initiative may find expression in a self-restriction which keeps an individual from living up to his inner capacities or to the powers of his imagination and feeling.”[12] Pier Giorgio’s mother wrote after his death,
I can witness that he was always kind and patient in any family upheaval… Both as a boy and a young man he mildly accepted any remarks of mine, the just and also the unjust ones.[13]

It is clear throughout his letters, even from a young age, that Pier Giorgio had a strong belief in God. Because he was raised in a somewhat Catholic household, Pier Giorgio’s faith in God is described in Christian terms.  Pier Giorgio from a very young age began to show signs of a religious conversion. For he appeared to be aware of the presence of God. According to Braxton, a religious conversion is “a particular kind of response to such an experience that may be termed ‘reverence’ or ‘awe.’ By means of a religious conversion an individual becomes explicitly aware of the religious or sacred dimension of life that is within the horizon of common human experience.”[14]


Industry vs. Inferiority – School Age (5 to 12 years old) – Competency (1906 – 1913)

Throughout Pier Giorgio’s childhood the Frassati family shared meals together. Pier Giorgio and his sister Luciana were home-schooled in Pallone until eventually they were sent to public school. Pier Giorgio struggled with certain classes, especially writing and Latin. In 1908, Pier Giorgio failed his public examination at the age of seven. His struggle to write was often accompanied by harsh ridicule. Luciana writes, “In spite of his continuous efforts, the cry ‘You can’t write’ became a nagging refrain and a source of continual humiliation.”[15] Erikson writes of the struggle of this age, “The danger at this stage is the development of a sense of inadequacy and inferiority. This may be caused by an insufficient solution of the preceding conflict: he may still want his mummy more than knowledge…he still compares himself with his father, and the comparison arouses a sense of guilt.”[16] But Pier Giorgio continued to work hard and to study, always promising his parents that he would try harder.
February 17, 1911
My dear Mother, Today is your birthday, good Mother, and I am very happy to offer you my best wishes and blessings, and I will make this even nicer for you because I am writing in German. I promise to always study harder and to always be good.
                                                                                                            Many kisses from your son,
      Georg
       9 years old
(This note was written in German)[17]

Although, his relationship with his mother was often met with ridicule, it was from his mother that he learned to have a great love for mountain-climbing. She once took him on a ten hour excursion up a 10,906 foot mountain for which he had no formal training. Luciana writes, “He learned from our mother to resist everything that might seem like weakness or surrender.”[18] His passion for mountain climbing continued throughout his life.

At the age of eight, Pier Giorgio began to insist from his Latin teacher, Don Cojazzi, a Venetian Salesian, that he learn more about Jesus’ life through the life of the Gospels.[19] It was clear that his already Christian faith was becoming more of an ultimate concern for him. He underwent a theistic conversion. “When one experiences theistic conversion, one’s horizon is transformed…This ultimate concern is a grasp of what is truly ultimate…Theistic conversion is a loving surrender to a loving reality that can now be explicitly named God.”[20] When he failed Latin at the age of twelve, Pier Giorgio would then be sent to the Jesuit school, the Instituto Sociale. The shame, doubt, and guilt he felt was palpable.
Pallone, October 1913
Dear papa,
I am confused and miserable and I don’t even know how to write to you; I saw how upset Mama was and I thought about you, so much that I don’t know how to ask for a word of forgiveness. I am also sorry that I have to stay behind and I am ashamed in front of my classmates and my sister who have gone ahead of me. I hope you will once again believe in the sincerity of my resolve to study this year and to try to make up for everything as much as possible.
I received your letter: I already wrote you back. I stayed even more miserable when I read the letter of the professor to whom I am writing a couple of lines on mama’s advice.
You will see that I’ll try to prove my love for you with facts.
                                                                                                                              A kiss from your,
Pier Giorgio
12 years old[21]

It was at the Jesuit school that Pier Giorgio’s faith would deepen greatly, especially his faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Pietro Lombardi, SJ became a type of spiritual father to Pier Giorgio who encouraged him to receive Communion every morning.
Along with realizing that God was his ultimate concern, Pier Giorgio realized that God had become incarnate in the Person of Jesus Christ and so truly experienced the transformative power of a Christian conversion. Pier Giorgio could begin to identify his life with the life of Jesus in his joys and in his sufferings and in his service to the poor.[22]  
His mother began to express many fears about this deepening of Pier Giorgio’s faith. She was concerned that if Pier Giorgio was asked “certain questions” in Confession it might lead him to sins of impurity. She was afraid that reception of the Eucharist daily might become a mere habit that only “silly women” participated in. Above all, she was afraid that he might become a priest.[23] Pier Giorgio was able to take classes for the year that he failed and classes so that he could move to the next level without falling behind. When the school year was finished the Frassati family vacationed in Alassio. His mother wrote about her concerns for her son, “Every evening at Alassio he went to Benediction in the Capuchin church nearby, while we went for a stroll with our friends, and he slipped out of the boarding house, before breakfast, to go to Mass.”[24] Pier Giorgio recognized that his relationship with Jesus was not something that could be separated from his experience of the Church. It was in and through the Church that Pier Giorgio would receive the gift of Jesus in the sacraments. Pier Giorgio had thus undergone an Ecclesial conversion, which is a “dynamic that binds one to others who share the experience of the Jesus event, and who wish to celebrate and perpetuate that experience in word, sign, sacrament, and deed.”[25] After his year at the Jesuit School, he would return to the public school at Massimo D’Azeglio.
            Pier Giorgio’s concern for the poor began to emerge more prominently. He was seen to give shoes off of his own feet to the poor. He would donate money anonymously to be dispersed by others to those in need. At delicious dinners he would collect extras and hand them out to the poor.



Identity vs. Role Confusion – Adolescence (12-18 years old) – Fidelity (1913–1919)

As Pier Giorgio Frassati entered adolescence, his network of friends increased as did his social involvement. At the Instituto Sociale, he joined the Marian Sodality, the Association of the Blessed Sacrament, and the Apostleship of Prayer.[26] While differences with his mother were always present, it was during this time that Pier Giorgio’s differences with his father became more pronounced. “No one knew what a silent sorrow it was to Pier Giorgio that my father lacked religious spirit. No one ever heard him speak about it. He was reluctant to speak or ask him anything,” Luciana explained.[27] Alfredo had wanted Pier Giorgio to take over the family business of La Stampa and live up to the name and dignity that his position possessed.  There was no doubt that this is what his mother also had in mind. Luciana wrote about Pier Giorgio,

His slowly maturing ideas and his instinctive inclinations made him think of the priesthood, but he felt our mother’s hostility to the idea. She had other aspirations for her son: a more conventional and glorious future at La Stampa or somewhere else in the world.[28]

His mother found a priest whom she used in order to convince Pier Giorgio to stop saying his nightly rosaries. Yet his devotion to the Rosary only increased.[29] Perhaps it was in his recitation of the Rosary that Pier Giorgio found the love and consolation of a mother that he so longed for in the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Throughout this period, Pier Giorgio was finding his own identity. Erikson notes,

The adolescent mind becomes more explicitly an ideological one by which one searches for some inspiring unification of ideas and ideals. And, indeed, it is the ideological potential of a society which speaks most clearly to the adolescent who is eager to be affirmed by peers, to be confirmed by teachers, and to be inspired by worth-while ‘ways of life.’ For it is through their ideology that social systems enter the fiber of the next generation and attempt to absorb into their lifeblood the rejuvenative power of youth.[30]

 He was not trying to live the dream or desires of his parents, rather he was living the life of faith on his own. Luciana commented,
The family always underestimated him. This did not make success easy for him. Our mother’s worries finally cast a shadow over him, from which only death released him. Silence was the only defense against such condemnation. And this is what he practiced every day at the family table. In silence he continued to mature in himself the graces of the Holy Communion he started receiving daily at the Instituto Sociale. The two years spent at the Jesuit school gave him something more truly his, something that no one could take from him: the strength of his faith.[31]

 Pier Giorgio also developed a love for gardening as he would often assist the gardeners at Pollone.[32] He learned to love art and drawing from his mother.[33] He loved bike riding and horseback riding.[34] During the summers he was known to get darker and darker during the times that he would swim.[35] He was frequently seen quoting or singing lines from Dante.[36] Throughout this time Pier Giorgio’s care and service to the poor continued in a variety of different ways. He often gave his train money to the poor. Pier Giorgio realized that his faith was not simply a private idea, it was something that need to be shown in and through deeds. Pier Giorgio experienced a moral conversion when he struggled “to attain self-consistency between the values [he] affirm[ed] and the deeds [he] incarnat[ed].”[37] At the ages of 15 and 16, it was clear he formed good friendship with other males his age as he wrote to a few of his friends from school, most notably Carlo Bellingeri, and signed them “Affectionate greetings and a handshake” or “a hug from your friend” or even “kisses.”[38]
Pier Giorgio’s center of gravity began to drift from his parents and family to the circle of friends that he was forming.  “Psychologically speaking, a gradually accruing ego identity is the only safeguard against the anarachy of drives as well as the autocracy of conscience, that is the cruel overconscientiousness which is the inner residue in the adult of his past inequality in regard to his parent.”[39] Pier Giorgio failed his examinations again in 1918 and was forced to return to the Jesuit School. At the age of 17,  Pier Giorgio joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society which was dedicated to serving the poor. Luciana writes, “This was the beginning of his social work among people, done without anyone at home knowing anything about it.”[40]

Intimacy vs. Isolation – Young Adult (18 to 40 years old) – Love (1919-1925)

During this time in Italy there was a deep divide between the Catholic Party and the Liberal Party. Because Alfredo’s newspaper was heavily involved with politics as was Alfredo himself, soon to be senator and ambassador to Germany, taking an opposing stance on politics was a bold move. Luciana writes,
Like so many young people, he [Pier Giorgio] felt the desire to shout, to get involved in politics, and to take part on one side or another…Pier Giorgio decided to adopt the Popular Party’s position…taking this position against the political ideas of our house meant setting himself against a society, a class, a mentality, crossing the Rubicon.[41]

As ambassador to Germany, the Frassati family moved to Berlin. For a short time Pier Giorgio lived with the Rahner family, among of whom was Karl Rahner, the famous 20th century theologian. It was during his stay with the Rahner family, that Pier Giorgio realized that he was not called to the priesthood. He told Frau Rahner, “I want to be able to help my people in every way, and I can do this better as a layman than as a priest, because in our country priests do not have as much contact with the people.”[42] Pier Giorgio began to attend the Royal Polytechnic University in Turin to study engineering in mining. He desired to serve with the working class in the mines and to be one with Christ in the poor. Still Aflredo tried to influence his son to follow in his footsteps. “Our father had not realized that the quiet boy was upsetting all his plans with his own personality. He thought he could move him like a pawn with his strong will, which he did not take others’ feelings into account. Pier Giorgio was the male heir, and the house of Frassati would lose its full glory without him.”[43] Alfredo wrote his son,
Berlin, February, 1922
Dear Giorgio,
[By] always acting without reflection on things that should be extremely important to you (as in the special case of forgetting the book you needed for your next exam) you will become a man who is useless to others and yourself.
Your father[44]
---
Berlin, 1922
You must persuade yourself, dear Giorgio, that life needs to be taken seriously. The way you behave will not do for yourself or your family, who cares about you and you are very distressed by all these things that happen too often and are painfully and monotonously repeated. I have little hope that you will change, although you really need to change immediately: take things in an orderly way, always think seriously about what you should do, have a little perseverance. Do not live by the day, as thoughtlessly as any blockhead. If you care a little about your family, you must change. I am very, very upset.[45]

It was during this time that he joined the university’s Catholic club, called Cesare Balbo and became involved in Catholic Action. He soon became the leader of the club, where his dynamic personality attracted and inspired people.[46] He was conscious of the suffering of different groups at this time due to the changing social dynamics.           
Turin, January 12, 1923
TO THE CATHOLIC MEN AND WOMEN STUDENTS OF BONN
In these tragic and painful moments when your country is trampled under foreign feet, while your adversary occupies your hearths as an enemy of your country, we Catholic students send you an expression of our fraternal love. We have no possibility of changing the sad situation, but we feel within ourselves the entire strength of our Christian love which unites us in brotherhood beyond all national boundaries. Governments today are not heeding the Pope’s warning: “True peace is more a fruit of Christian love for one’s neighbor than it is a fruit of justice,” and they are preparing new wars for the future of all humanity. Modern society is drowning in the sorrows of human passions and it is distancing itself from every ideal of love and peace. Catholics, we and you, must bring the breath of goodness that can only spring from faith in Christ. Brethren, in these new trials and terrible griefs, know that the great Christian family is praying for you; act in such a way that your sufferings and trials might become lighter for you to bear. Since peace cannot return to the world without God, at least may you, as men of good will, cherish in your hearts Him Who in the stable was announced by the Angels as the Savior of Humanity.

Pier Giorgio Frassati
University Club “Cesare Balbo”
21 years old[47]   
 
            Pier Giorgio realized that no political party would fully live up to its promises and he realized that any true solution to problems would have to come from God, Himself. He thus experienced an intellectual conversion, which is the “process of reflecting upon these activities and penetrating the knowing process in a way that further expands our horizons.” Problems at home only exacerbated. The marriage between Adelaide and Alfredo became filled with many tensions. Family meal times became incredibly difficult. Luciana wrote, “When we were all grown up, perhaps the saddest time during her day was when she was at table. In spite of her proverbial appetite, she sometimes seemed to swallow with difficulty, her throat constricted by crying.”[48]
            Pier Giorgio, inspired by the example of the Dominican Savonarola, became a Third
Order Dominican. Pier Giorgio became very involved in his friendships. During this period of his life the majority of letters that he wrote were addressed to his friends in whom he found support for his faith. He formed a group of friends called the Tipi Loschi Society or the “Shady Characters Society” with seven of his closest friends. The idea was to form a friendship that could support one another in their faith and in the acquisition of virtues.  
Thursday, July 19, 1923
Dearest Tonino,
But how does one prepare oneself for the great Transition and when? Since one does not know when Death will come to take him away, it is very prudent to prepare oneself every day as if one is going to die that same day; and so from now on I will try to make every day a little preparation for death, so that I shouldn’t find myself unprepared at the point of death and have to regret the beautiful years of youth, wasted from the spiritual side. And what are you doing? What do you say about these resolutions of mine, which I hope I will be able to keep with the Grace of God?[49]


This group of friends were involved in skiing, mountain climbing, practical and inside jokes, and ultimately union in prayer.

Pier Giorgio happened to fall in love with Laura Hidalgo, a member of the Tipi Loschi Society. His mother, however, did not approve of her. Luciana wrote,
It never crossed our minds to consider Laura, a student of mathematics, as the beloved of Pier Giorgio’s heart. It did not occurs to us even though the girl felt she was being cross-examined by our mother…We did not realize therefore Pier Giorgio was watching Mother’s reactions as intently as one awaiting mercy or condemnation, and it was up to me, more than a year later to inflict on Pier Giorgio the negative verdict.[50]

Pier Giorgio had internalized his mothers feelings and wanted to honor her opinion. It was clear that throughout his life, Pier Giorgio desired her approval,
Turin, July 19, 1922
Dear Mama, forgive me again for all the little sorrows which I have given you, but remain assured that, if I sometimes failed you, I will try to do better in the future, because I often think of you and I always pray to God for you, that He might grant you those consolations which I cannot give to you due to my faults, even though I love you so much
Pier Giorgio
21 years old[51]

Even though he deeply desired his mother’s approval. It did not prevent him from going out of his way to show charity to others. Pier Giorgio continued to be friends with Laura and deeply struggled in his love for her.
Turin, March 6, 1925
I have often been in the mountains with Her, often with others; but then I have convinced myself that not being able to attain the Goal, it is necessary to kill the germ which if well looked after produces huge benefits, but otherwise, sorrows. In my internal struggles I have many times asked myself why should I be sad? Why should I suffer, endure this sacrifice unwillingly? Have I perhaps lost the Faith? No, thank God, my Faith is still firm enough and so let us strengthen, let us reaffirm what is the only Joy with which one can be satisfied in this world. Every sacrifice is worthwhile if only for that; then as Catholics, we have a Love which surpasses every other love and which after that owed to God is immensely beautiful, just as our religion is beautiful. Love, which had as its advocate that Apostle who preached it daily in all his letters to the various Faithful. Charity, without which, says St. Paul, every other virtue is worthless. It is indeed that which can be a guide and direction for our whole life, for a whole program. This, with the Grace of God, can be the goal toward which my soul can strive. And so at first we are dismayed, because it is a beautiful plan, but a hard one, full of thorns and not many roses, but we trust in Divine Providence and in His Mercy. Pope Pius X of blessed memory recommended to Youth the practice of Holy Communion, and I cannot but give thanks to God at every moment for having given me parents, teachers, all friends, all of whom have guided me through the main path of the Faith. Imagine if in this moment in which my soul is going through this crisis, I had the misfortune of not believing; life would not be worth living for one more instant and only death would perhaps soothe every human suffering.[52]

Luciana married a Polish senator and departed from her lifelong companion and brother. This parting was extremely difficult for Pier Giorgio Frassati.
Turin, January 29, 1925
TO ISIDORO BONINI
Will I be able to solve this grave problem? Will I have the strength to succeed? Certainly the Faith is still the sole anchor of salvation to which we must grasp strongly: without it what would our whole life be? Nothing or better it would be spent uselessly; because in the world there is only sorrow, and sorrow without Faith is unbearable, while sorrow nourished by the torch of the Faith becomes a beautiful thing because it fortifies the soul in its struggles. In today’s struggle, I cannot but thank God because He has willed in His Infinite Mercy to grant this sorrow to my heart so that by means of these arduous thorns I might return to a life that is more interior, more spiritual. Until this age, I was living too materially and now I need to refortify my soul for future struggles because from now on every day, every hour there will be a new battle to fight and a new victory to conquer.
Yes, oh dear friend, this is a grave moment for me, because in these days the sister, who I unfortunately never appreciated as much as in these days when she is far from me, has left home. The struggle is hard, but it is also necessary to overcome and to find again our little road to Damascus so that we can march along it toward that Goal which we all should attain.[53]
---
Turin, February 4, 1925
TO LUCIANA
Write to me often because at least receiving your letters can fill the enormous void which you have left among us. At first living together every day I wasn’t able to sufficiently appreciate all that you mean to me, but unfortunately now that many kilometers separate us, now that we must be separated not for a few days but for life and only to see one another from time to time, I understood what it means to have a sister at home and what a void her distance can leave. Especially write to mama so that she can live happily, you were the one who cheered up Mama in all her sorrows. [54]

Even though his letters describe the very difficult pain that he was experiencing in the absence of his sister, Pier Giorgio was growing in intimacy and in friendship with those whom he opened up to about his inner thoughts and feelings. Erikson notes about this stage, “The youth who is not sure of his identity shies away from interpersonal intimacy; but the surer he becomes of himself, the more he seeks it in the form of friendship, combat, leadership, love, and inspiration….”[55] He was sharing the gift of his very self. Pier Giorgio wrote,
In this earthly life after the affection for parents and sisters, one of the most beautiful affections is that of friendship; and every day I ought to thank God because he has given me men and lady friends of such goodness who form for me a precious guide for my whole life.[56]


            Pier Giorgio was two exams away from graduating with a degree from university when he contracted polio, most likely from his service to the poor. His grandmother was dying at this time and so most of the attention was given to her and her needs, although Pier Giorgio’s symptoms worsened with a rising temperature and vomiting. Pier Giorgio, even in his sickness, stumbled to the nearby parish, as paralysis was beginning to set in, in order to get a priest for his dying grandmother. When his family went to his grandmother’s funeral, Pier Giorgio had already become paralyzed without anyone even knowing it. His mother chided, “Pier Giorgio could choose a better moment to be ill.”[57] No one knew just how sick he was because of the way he continued to try to be attentive to others even in his illness. On July 4th, 1925 Pier Giorgio died at the age of twenty-four. His funeral was massively attended. His family had no idea how many lives this young man had impacted as people from different parts of his life came to touch his coffin and ask for his prayers.[58]

            By examining the life of Pier Giorgio Frassati through the psychosocial stages of Erik Erikson and the conversions of Edward Braxton, one can truly see the depth of his human person. What is amazing about the life of Pier Giorgio is that despite the many hardships he endured in his childhood in his relationships with his parents, especially his mother, Pier Giorgio continually chose virtue over vice. There were many things that could have hindered Pier Giorgio psychologically that could have potentially stunted his personality, but by the grace of God working at his life at a young age, Pier Giorgio was able to choose virtue time and time again, and he was able to choose God. It is incredibly inspiring to see a man who was so well-off who fully developed his personality to be able to empty himself out of love and service to his friends, his family, and the poor. Pier Giorgio would see this as the work of Christ within Him in the strength that he received in His daily Eucharist. His example teaches us that we are not determined by our circumstances, but with the help of grace we are able to overcome crises and allow ourselves to be transformed by love in service to our fellow man to truly live out a life of beatitude.


Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, may you be raised to the altars! Pray for us.











[1] John Paul II, Homily for the Beatification of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, May 20, 1990. Qtd in Luciana Frassati, My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days, (Kentucky: New Hope Publications, 2013) ix.
[2] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1975), 9.
[3] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 21.
[4] Erikson, Identity and Life Cycle, 58.
[5] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 22-24.
[6] Erikson, Identity and Life Cycle, 76.
[7] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters to His Family and Friends, (Boston, MA: Pauline Books & Media, 2009), Kindle edition, Location 317.
[8] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 401.
[9] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 28.
[10] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 66.
[11] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 314.
[12] Erik Erikson, Identity and Life Cycle, 85.
[13] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 68.
[14] Braxton, The Wisdom Community, 75
[15] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 29.
[16] Erikson, Identity and Life Cycle, 91.
[17] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 400.
[18] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 24.
[19] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 24.
[20] Braxton, The Wisdom Community, 76.
[21] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 474.
[22] Braxton, The Wisdom Community, 79
[23] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 30.
[24] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 33.
[25] Braxton, The Wisdom Community, 80.
[26] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 10.
[27] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 66.
[28] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 43.
[29] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 44.
[30] Erik Erikson, Youth and Crisis, 133.
[31] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 36.
[32] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 22.
[33] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 36.
[34] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 37, 46.
[35] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 981.
[36] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 41.
[37] Braxton, The Wisdom Community, 83.
[38] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 525.
[39] Erikson, Identity and Life Cycle, 99.
[40] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 46.
[41] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 47.
[42] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 72.
[43] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 64.
[44] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 64.
[45] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 65.
[46] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 52.
[47] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 2459.
[48] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 60.
[49] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 2663.
[50] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 107.
[51] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 1886.
[52] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 4391.
[53] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 4215.
[54] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 4275.
[55] Erikson, Identity and Life Cycle, 101.
[56] Pier Giorgio Frassati, Letters, 98.
[57] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 157.
[58] Luciana Frassati, A Man of the Beatitudes, 160.