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Verso l’Alto!



Approaching Easter with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

We have finally passed the halfway point of Lent. Easter draws ever closer. Yet, while Laetare Sunday has called us to celebrate God’s mercy in the midst of this season, we are called, nonetheless, to keep up our Lenten prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. While his feast day is not until July 4th, it seems appropriate to turn to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati as we journey through the remainder of Lent to learn from him how best to live out the Lenten spirit, and to do so with the joy that Laetare Sunday has called us to.

Bl. Frassati was an avid mountain climber. For this reason do we turn to him as we venture towards Easter. We are climbing now. During Lent we are meant to be taking up our crosses as Christ commanded in Luke 9:23 and to ascend, with Him, the Mount of Calvary “unto a place called Golgatha, that is to say, ‘the Place of the Skull’” (Mt. 27:33). We are to ever persevere to the top of that mount. “Verso l’alto!” as Bl. Frassati wrote. “Toward the top!”

This single phrase, not necessarily written to be theological, is powerful nevertheless. It encourages us to stay true to our goal. We seek to reach the top of Calvary. We seek to reach the point where we will be crucified with Him. It may seem striking to think of it that way, but it is true. While we indeed seek Easter, the Resurrection, we must recognize the truth of Venerable Fulton Sheen’s words that “unless there is a Good Friday, there can be no Easter Sunday.” So too if we seek to share in the glory of the Resurrection, then we must also share in the pain, suffering, and death of Good Friday.

Bl. Frassati knew this. Though born to an aristocratic Italian family, Bl. Frassati from even a young age felt the necessity of serving the poor. He was willing to give of himself, to die to himself, so completely because his prayer was like that of St. Paul “that I may know Christ and the power of His rising from the dead, sharing in His pains and changing my life into the form of death” (Phil. 3:10). Suffering, especially for the sake of others, was to Bl. Frassati the greatest of things we could do, for in that way we most intimately reflect that sacrificial love, that agape, of Christ. Bl. Frassati said that “suffering that is nourished by the flame of faith becomes something beautiful, because it tempers the soul to deal with suffering.”

And so, we reach this time in the Lenten season. We’re getting tired. The climb has been long and hard. Our crosses, the weight of our sins, weigh heavy on our backs. We fear we’re going to fall; some of us already have. Yet we remember that even Christ fell three times under the weight of the cross. Yet each time He got up. It wasn’t pretty. He was bloody and scarred. He looked the furthest thing from a king except for the thorny crown that lay on His head. Verso l’alto! Perhaps those words were in His mind. Perhaps He encouraged Himself, pushed Himself up that mountain as He thought of you. “To the top! For them, to the top!”

And so three times He fell and three times He stood again. He pushed onward, ascending towards His heavenly throne. As for us, we must press onward as our Savior did. For, “the higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ” as Bl. Frassati said. Truly, if we seek to hear Him forgive us, and to hear those sweetest of words of Matthew 25:21, “well done, my good and faithful servant,” then let us not stay at the bottom of the mountain. No! Let us climb to the foot of His cross so that we may hear Him clearly say as His bloodied face looks down with tender compassion on us, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34).

And this climb is not meant to be easy. It’s difficult. As we saw before, even Christ struggled under the weight of the cross. Yet, is it not the magnitude of the struggle that makes so glorious the triumph? Indeed, Bl. Frassati saw the value of battle. To him, to fear having to struggle alongside Christ is to not have faith in Him. “I am with Jesus. I have nothing to fear.” He did not fear to suffer with Christ, to fight for Him, because he had faith that Christ was always with him. He said that “to live without faith, without a heritage to defend, without battling constantly for truth, is not to live but to ‘get along’; we must never just ‘get along.’” And he lived. He lived for Christ as he fought the battle to preach the good news of the Lord. The good news that through death came life. That is the greatest of all paradoxes, God became man and the Lord of all “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8)

So too do we follow Christ on this way of the cross. We walk ever onward up the hill with Him. We make the march to our death so that through death we might live. During this, the last leg of our Lenten journey, we lean on the cross as our help. We listen to Bl. Frassati’s words that “the end for which we are created invites us to walk a road that is surely sown with a lot of thorns. But it is not sad; through even the sorrow, it is illuminated by joy.” We see the impending joy that will come from our death to self. We march to the precipice of the great mountain so that, in the end, we might like Christ stake into the ground our victory banner: the cross on which we are crucified. We do this so that in drinking the cup He drinks and suffering the death He suffers we might also share in the glory of His resurrection. Verso l’alto!

Patrick recently learned that you can buy Bl. Frassati socks from SockReligious. He did not buy Bl. Frassati socks, though he did buy St. Patrick socks. You can reach him at pgouker@nd.edu.

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