Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
July 4, 2015
Gen 27:1-5.15-29, Ps 135, Mt 9:14-17
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in this homily:
- Today as we celebrate the feast of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, we see commentaries on his life in today’s first reading and in the Gospel. These we need to take seriously because with the Lord did through him he wants to do through us. And on this Independence Day in our nation, it is very important for us to think not about what our country can do for us but about what we can do for our country. And the greatest gift we could give to our country is to imitate what Pier Giorgio Frassati sake did in his native Turin. Our country needs to be taught a new the real meaning of freedom on this Independence Day and we can see how freedom is bound to the truth and the joy that comes from the true living of freedom in the life of the one raised to the altars who died 80 years ago today.
- Many of us are scandalized by what happens in the first reading today. It seems at first glance is if God were praising the intentional deception of an old blind father by his wife and by his second born son. It would seem that Jacob had been blessed by God because he had been blessed by his father Isaac as a result of lying to Isaac and even taking the Lord’s name in vain. But Jacob was blessed not because of his deception, not even because of his father Isaac’s blessing, but because of his blessing God because God wanted to show a much greater lesson than that of primogeniture. Throughout sacred Scripture God was always choosing the least and making them great. God chose David even though he was the least of his brothers. He chose Gideon even though he was the least of his family and his family the least of all the tribes in Midian. He was always choosing the weak and making them strong, choosing the lowly and exalting them and at the same time humbling those who had expectations before him that were not based on God’s expectations. That is what we see here, in the case of Jacob and Esau. God was choosing the second born son and making him the one through whom the promise he had made to his grandfather Abraham would be fulfilled. God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. And as we see this played out in the life of Jacob and Esau, we also see yet in the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. God chose someone unlikely to become one of his great disciples and apostles. Someone whose actions Shaw both his parents as well as the poor he was serving, as we will see as we focus on what occurred at his famous funeral.
- Let us turn to the incredibly important Gospel reading, on which we could preach whole retreats. Yesterday on the feast of St. Thomas the apostle, we missed the scene of Jesus eating in the house of St. Matthew surrounded by sinners. The Pharisees were disgusted that Jesus would convene with sinners in such a way. The disciples of St. John the Baptist, unlike the Pharisees, did not immediately presumed Jesus to be in the wrong. They didn’t accuse him personally but they came to him and asked why his disciples were not fasting as they fasted with John and as the Pharisees were accustomed to fast. They didn’t dare accuse Jesus of not fasting, because they respectfully thought that he might be exceptional to what everyone else was doing. But they asked about the fact that Jesus disciples were sharing feasts with that sinners rather than fasting. Jesus in response gave a very important principle. But in order to understand the principle, we need to understand the Greek of St. Matthew’s Gospel. In the English translation it’s called “wedding guests,” but in the original Greek the more literal transliteration would be “sons of the bridal chamber.” Jesus asks how the groomsmen, how the bridesmaids, how those who are the closest of all to the bride and groom could possibly be fasting while the wedding celebration was ongoing. It would almost be sinful to fast, to mourn, when such a wedding feast is going on. And Jesus was describing that while he is with us, we should be full of joy, we should be feasting, we should be celebrating, and we should be happy to share the table with those who likewise want to share in the joy of the bridegroom, who is also the Divine physician, who would come to take our sins away and make an eternal celebration possible. By this image, Jesus is describing the type of joy he wants all of us to have as routine aspect of who we are. He would say later in this same Gospel passage, when the bridegroom is taken away from them — in the firm to take away is the same verb that would be used to describe the action of ripping Jesus out of the Garden of Gethsemane — it is then that they will fast. They will fast not the way others fasted, but they would fast in order to hunger for what God wants to give them as their nourishment, in order to enter into the passion of Jesus so that they might be able to receive the fruits of that Paschal mystery. It is on that day that they would enter more deeply into the mystery of fasting, but they would be fasting in a different way. The new way that they would be fasting, and why, is alluded to by Jesus in the next two images that he uses. There’s a new type of nourishment that God wants to provide and we need a new type of hunger.
- The first image that Jesus uses is the image of a patch. He says no one sews a new patch on an old set of clothing, because the new patch when it shrinks will tear the old fabric. Instead Jesus is come not to patch up the difficulties in Judaism, but Jesus come to give us new clothing. He has come to clothe us in himself. He has come to give us a baptismal garment, which is the garment that the sons and the daughters of the wedding chamber are to wear eternally. Jesus is describing a revolutionary newness to the way we are supposed to relate to him. He is not coming to bring us from 95 to 100. He is coming to give us a new life. But we need a new receptivity to be able to embrace that gift. We also see that Jesus uses the word “fullness” in his expression of how the fullness of the patch will lead to the tearing. Jesus is that fullness. He contains all of God’s divinity. And we need to be the proper type of receptacle in order to receive that fullness. We see who that receptacle leers in the one God chose to be the mother of his son in the fullness of his divinity and our humanity. Mary is that new person who could receive what God wanted to give. And that leads us to the second image of Jesus employs. Jesus says that we do not pour new wine into old wineskins; we need new wine skins that will breathe as the new wine is fermenting so that neither wine nor wineskins will be lost. Jesus is describing for us that we need to receive him who is the new wine in a totally different way that many of the Jews were. Receiving the new wine of his new life is not going to work in the taut wineskins of a rigid Judaism. What is needed is the fullness of a new form of the worship of God that Jesus is giving, bringing to fulfillment what he had revealed to the Jews in days prior.
- In Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, we see not only the type of receptivity that Jesus is seeking and all of us, a man who had the new wine skins to receive the wine of Jesus’ grace, a man who was fully vested in the new garment Jesus had come to give each of us, but a person who was fully a son of the wedding chamber, a person full of the joy that comes from knowing Jesus is with us today and always until the end of time. What has made blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati so popular across the centuries is not that he is, as many girls continue to say today, a holy hunk. It’s not because he is a countercultural type of St., as many young men today know: that he smoked a pipe, that he loved the outdoors, that he knew how to play pool, that he love the opera the theater and many other expressions of popular culture. The real reason why blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is so popular today still is because he was full of joy. He was the life of the party. He lived as if the good news were true, as if it were the means by which Jesus’ joy would be in us and our joy would be brought to completion. And that is the source of the endless fascination of so many Catholics today, 80 years after Jesus called him as a son of the wedding chamber to the eternal wedding banquet.
- When Blessed John Paul II beatified Pier Giorgio Frassati in 1990, he called him a “man of the Beatitudes.” He was someone who recognized how blessed he was to live like Jesus went, as a man fully seeking the happiness that comes from poverty in spirit, from meekness, from being a peacemaker, from being pure of heart, from seeking holiness, from the willingness to be persecuted for the sake of our faith. He was true to the bridegroom until the end. He’s sought to make what made Jesus happy the real goal of his life. And he did all of this with the style that will never be forgotten.
- When Pier Giorgio Frassati was a young boy two things happened to him that had an enormous impact on his life. The first was contact with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. He knew that God was real. He knew that God was dwelling with him in the Holy Eucharist. And so he had a tremendous sense of the sacred that he never lost. Over the course of his few years of life on earth, he would often spend all night in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. His parents were once worried about him, and contacted the priest was the chaplain at his Catholic high school, thinking that their son was spending all night getting into trouble. Little did they know! And because of his communion with Jesus in the Eucharist, something that he received permission to receive every day, he began to have a communion with Jesus’s great love especially for those on the margins, those who were poor, those who were sick, those who are in most need. That leads us to the second great experience he had when he was a young boy. A poor family came to his home in Turin, begging for alms. Pier Giorgio answered the door, and when he saw a boy his old age, who had no shoes, he gave him his own shoes. Later when he was a little older, he encountered a poor man on the streets with no winter jacket. It was 10°F. Pier Giorgio immediately gave the shivering man his own winter jacket, something about which his father would become very angry. But the future blessed simply replied, “It was cold!” That would lead to a lifetime of charity in just a few years. He joined a local conference of St. Vincent de Paul, which led him eventually to take custody of hundreds of poor people. He was responsible for their medicine, their food, sometimes even their rent. He would spend all the money that was given him in care for the poor. He would dedicate his entire allowance to those in need, he gave all his high school graduation gifts to the poor, and he would often forsake the train in order to walk home so that the train money could be given to those who are in greater need. There’s one famous story that when a friend asked him why he was taking the third class on the train, even though as the son of the founder of the famous Italian newspaper La Stampa, who would be a senator in Italy and the future ambassador to Germany, he was easily able to afford the first class, which would be more in line with his aristocratic roots. Pier Giorgio replied that the reason he was in third class because there was no fourth class. He was keeping a tearful list of all those he was helping, to make sure none would fall through the cracks. Eventually he caught polio from one of the women for whom he was caring. He caught a particularly virulent form of the disease, one that would prove fatal in general within a week. He didn’t tell his family members because they were all caring for his grandmother who at the time was on her deathbed. But on the night before he died, he left a note for one of his friends who was with him in the St. Vincent Depaul conference describing how one of the poor for whom he was caring needed to receive his injections the following day. And he entrusted to his little sister the book in which he had listed all the poor he was helping, the money they needed, the food they needed, the medicine they needed, and so many other things. It was only then that she became aware of just how broad and apostolate of charity her brother, the man of the beatitudes, was exercising. His funeral is one of the most beautiful events in recent hagiography. After his death, his parents anticipated that he would have a funeral because many of the people of their class would show up to offer their condolences. They had no idea the thousands of poor people from Turin would also show up to the funeral. They had no idea why so many poor people were there. They soon found out. But the poor were also in for a surprise. The one who was caring for them used to call himself Fra Girolamo, because when he became a member of the third order of the Dominicans, he had taken the name Jerome (Girolamo in Italian) after one of his great heroes, Girolamo Savonarola. They had no idea that the one caring for them was a member of the famous Frassati family. But both his parents and his poor friends recognized in him a man who was absolutely full of joy, charity, in faith, someone who in short had reminded them that God was with them.
- Pier Giorgio Frassati’s motto was “Verso l’alto,” an expression he would often write on photographs that captured him climbing steep mountains where he would lead hikes. It means an Italian, “toward the top!,” and it is a fitting summary of his entire life. He was always seeking to go to the top, seeking the things that are above, the things where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. And he was always seeking to help the poor, the downtrodden, those in the pit, be lifted up. He was capable of so much love in such a short time because he regularly received the new wine Christ was pouring into this fitting vessel each day at daily mass. He was capable of so much heroism because he was vested in Christ’s own heroism. And he did all of this with joy, because he knew that when one is in communion with Christ in the sacraments and prayer, and in communion with Christ in becoming a servant of all, one finds a joy that the world cannot give or rob. As we celebrate today with joy our national Independence Day, we recognize that the greatest service we can give to our nation is to continue the type of service that the blessed we celebrate today gave his contemporaries. A witness of incredible joy that comes from Christ in living his Gospel. A witness of the new life Christ gives. A witness of the grace for which he wants us always to hunger. Pier Giorgio Frassati was the incarnation of the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and the encyclical Laudato Si. He showed us the joy of the Gospel and the love for all the blessings with which God has blessed us, including the blessings of nature that he loves so much and the gift of life. And he showed us what to do with our freedom. God has made us free precisely so that we can love in the truth. And when we do we will be as joyful as the man of the Beatitudes we celebrate today. Let us get ready to receive Christ’s new wine in the new wine skins he never ceases to provide us. Let us allow him anew to clothe us in himself. And let us with Pier Giorgio Frassati go toward the top, as friends of the bridegroom, as sons and daughters of the wedding chamber, so that God willing with many others, we might come to the eternal wedding banquet to party forever with Pier Giorgio, with Jesus, and with all the sinners Christ is saved!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 Gn 27:1-5, 15-29
he called his older son Esau and said to him, “Son!”
“Yes father!” he replied.
Isaac then said, “As you can see, I am so old
that I may now die at any time.
Take your gear, therefore–your quiver and bow–
and go out into the country to hunt some game for me.
With your catch prepare an appetizing dish for me, such as I like,
and bring it to me to eat,
so that I may give you my special blessing before I die.”Rebekah had been listening
while Isaac was speaking to his son Esau.
So, when Esau went out into the country
to hunt some game for his father,
Rebekah [then] took the best clothes of her older son Esau
that she had in the house,
and gave them to her younger son Jacob to wear;
and with the skins of the kids she covered up his hands
and the hairless parts of his neck.
Then she handed her son Jacob the appetizing dish
and the bread she had prepared.Bringing them to his father, Jacob said, “Father!”
“Yes?” replied Isaac. “Which of my sons are you?”
Jacob answered his father: “I am Esau, your first-born.
I did as you told me.
Please sit up and eat some of my game,
so that you may give me your special blessing.”
But Isaac asked, “How did you succeed so quickly, son?”
“The LORD, your God, let things turn out well with me.”
Isaac then said to Jacob,
“Come closer, son, that I may feel you,
to learn whether you really are my son Esau or not.”
So Jacob moved up closer to his father.
When Isaac felt him, he said,
“Although the voice is Jacob’s, the hands are Esau’s.”
(He failed to identify him because his hands were hairy,
like those of his brother Esau;
so in the end he gave him his blessing.)
Again he asked Jacob, “Are you really my son Esau?”
“Certainly,” Jacob replied.
Then Isaac said, “Serve me your game, son, that I may eat of it
and then give you my blessing.”
Jacob served it to him, and Isaac ate;
he brought him wine, and he drank.
Finally his father Isaac said to Jacob,
“Come closer, son, and kiss me.”
As Jacob went up and kissed him,
Isaac smelled the fragrance of his clothes.
With that, he blessed him saying,“Ah, the fragrance of my son
is like the fragrance of a field
that the LORD has blessed!
“May God give to you
of the dew of the heavens
And of the fertility of the earth
abundance of grain and wine.
“Let peoples serve you,
and nations pay you homage;
Be master of your brothers,
and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be those who curse you,
and blessed be those who bless you.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 135:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6
Praise the name of the LORD;
Praise, you servants of the LORD
Who stand in the house of the LORD,
in the courts of the house of our God.
R. Praise the Lord for the Lord is good!
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
sing praise to his name, which we love;
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself,
Israel for his own possession.
R. Praise the Lord for the Lord is good!
For I know that the LORD is great;
our LORD is greater than all gods.
All that the LORD wills he does
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and in all the deeps.
R. Praise the Lord for the Lord is good!
Alleluia Jn 10:27
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord.
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Mt 9:14-17
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them, “Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast.
No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth,
for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse.
People do not put new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined.
Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”