Reaching the Goal: Learning from Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati About the Spiritual Life
“Every day that passes, I fall more desperately in love with the mountains… I am ever more determined to climb the mountains, to scale the mighty peaks, to feel that pure joy which can only be felt in the mountains.” - Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
Growing up in Colorado meant that I was hiking as soon as I knew how to walk. Scaling mountains, climbing over obstacles and peeking over cliff edges is not unfamiliar to me. I love hiking. There are so many big and little things to enjoy, from observing the smallest wildflower on the trail to taking in a view that I spent hours anticipating while on the trail.
“Every day, my love for the mountains grows more and more. If my studies permitted, I’d spend whole days in the mountains contemplating the Creator’s greatness in that pure air.” - Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
I love the mountains. It’s easy for me to find God on the mountain through the joys and struggles of the hike, especially when my faith was just beginning to become my own. But I remember once asking an acquaintance after a long morning of hiking if they wanted to come to Mass with me the following morning. “Nah,” she said, “This is my Church.” She gestured out towards the trail. Part of me understood where she was coming from. It wasn't the first time I had heard a sentiment like that. And it wasn’t the last time either.
I was in high school when I learned about Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Some of the older girls in my youth group affectionately called him “Frassati the Hottie” and it caught my attention. As I learned more about his story, his love for the church and for creation resonated with me. This guy seemed so….normal. Some would have thought he was a bit of a delinquent. He was a popular guy. He loved to hike and climb. He was my kindred spirit.
“What is clear is that faith is the only anchor of salvation and we must hold tightly to it: without it, what would our lives be? Nothing, or rather, wasted, because in life there is only suffering, and suffering without faith is unbearable. But suffering that is nourished by the flame of faith becomes something beautiful, because it tempers the soul to deal with suffering.” - Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
It’s impossible to climb a mountain as a Chritstian and not ponder the Christian life. The summer I turned 15, I was a nanny and rode my bike to and from work everyday. I was in really good shape. When my family went on a hike, I was ahead of them the whole time, bounding over obstacles and urging them to keep moving.
The next summer, I had a car and worked a retail job. I didn’t get out as much and was eating mall food for lunch almost every day (you know, soft pretzels and Orange Julius). We went on the exact same hike and I could barely keep up. I was out of breath, I was way behind everyone else, and I had very little energy to put one foot in front of the other. We didn't finish the hike as quickly because they had to frequently stop and wait for me to catch up.
The views were the same, the company was the same, but I was not. Similarly in the Christian life, in the periods I am not praying everyday and exercising Christian virtues, I struggle to focus while I’m at Mass and I am more apt to fall to sin. But when I am actively participating in Mass and praying every day, I have the strength to say no to temptation.
“I think peace will be a long time coming. But our faith teaches us that we must always keep on hoping we shall enjoy it one day.” - Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
If you were to poll people and ask what the most beautiful thing they have ever seen is, some might say their bride on their wedding day, a sunrise on the beach, a work of art in a museum, or the first time they saw their son or daughter.
For me, the most beautiful thing I ever saw was on a hike. I was studying abroad in Austria in college and went for an afternoon hike in the Austrian alps. We spent hours climbing. It was steep and there were parts of the trail that were only a bed of large rocks and we had to be careful not to turn our ankles.
We reached the top and we were in a sea of woods. It was very congested and we couldn’t see around the trees to look over the tiny village we lived in that was surrounded by mountains. After expressing my disappointment, a friend who had done the hike before said that to see the view we hoped for, we had to climb up a 150 ft tall cell phone tower that peaked just over the tree line.
Many people in our group said no, but I was up for the challenge. The climb was terrifying. I do okay with heights, but as I got higher, I knew that one misplaced step would result in me tumbling to the ground with no guarantees that I would get up. My hands were sweaty, my legs and feet shook from overexertion. But I took deep, slow breaths, charted every step, and climbed, never lifting my foot until the other one was secure.
I made it to the top. The view made me entirely forget every ounce of struggle I experienced on the way up the mountain and cell phone tower. The sun was beginning to set and the clouds seemed to dance, colored with every color of the rainbow. There was a slight breeze and the only sound was the leaves rustling and occasional bird call. The air tasted sweet. I could not only see the mountains that surrounded our little village, but the mountains behind those mountains. I drank it in, memorizing every peak and valley. Now, I can close my eyes and be right back on that mountain on top of that cell phone tower. It truly seemed like heaven.
As Christians, we know that our plan does not triumph over God's plan. We may reach the end of a journey and be disappointed with the outcome. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have something better in store for us. Something that we could never imagine that will absolutely take our breath away. His plan is complete and total perfection. We just have to be willing to trust his voice to discover it.