“To defend his purity, Saint Francis of Assisi rolled in the snow,
Saint Benedict threw himself into a thornbush,
Saint Bernard plunged into an icy pond.
And you . . . what have you done?”
– St. Josemaria Escriva
“And you…what have you done?”
The first time I read that quote from St. Josemaria, I felt as though it had knocked the wind out of me.
I’m about to turn 24, and when I saw his words, it was too weird.
See, my Pier Giorgio was 24 when he died. And I’d been thinking about that.
“And you, what have you done?”
Of course, I think about my Pier Giorgio pretty regularly anyway, so the fact that our ages came up was not terribly extraordinary. This is not morbid. It’s a milestone. He was “ready” when he was 24. He was doing everything he could to strive for holiness. In fact, Blessed John Paul II described him once as “wresting holiness from everyday life.”
“And you, what are you doing?”
Well…ehhh…not exactly that.
Sometimes, sure. I try, yeah.
But, believe you me, there’s more than plenty of work to do.
Now, before you get all irate on me: YES, I am aware that God gives different graces to every soul. YES, I am aware that my path to holiness will be unique. HOWEVER, the saints are part of God’s plan to get us to Heaven, and I think a little healthy introspection is not misplaced. But introspection is not what I’m talking about this time.
No, this post is for my Pier Giorgio.
Many of you are already (very keenly) aware that he and I are pretty much best buds. That I constitute a one-girl fan club. That I talk at him, to him, and about him not infrequently. Some of you may even be sick to death of him. (If you’re in the “sick of him” category, you’re really lame, by the way.) One of my friends heard him mentioned and asked me, “Pier Giorgio, that’s your guy, right?” (Day. MADE.) Another of my friends refers to him as my “saint crush.”
Well, he’s not exactly a saint crush. Legit question though. I mean, hey:
I thought about trying to explain this and was reminded of a story I heard Fr. Larry Richards tell. When he gives retreats, he likes to ask retreatants how they “know” God exists. After shooting down their proofs for God’s existence, he demands they ask him that same question: “Okay, Father – how do you KNOW God exists?”
“Because I KNOW HIM. Because I have sat in Adoration and experienced His presence. Because I have seen Him work in my life.”
I love my Pier Giorgio because I know him.
He is so knowable. We have letters and pictures and stories from family and friends.
How could you resist loving holiness that looks like this?
And, uhm, why the heck would you even want to?
I just don’t even know what’s not to love. Even the annoying stuff. Yes, I do occasionally find him annoying, as all normal sisters at some point find their normal brothers at least a little annoying, no matter how handsome, charming, and lovable they are. His (for-real-genetic) sister, Luciana, was a little younger but very close to him in age and thought the world of him…most of the time.
Okay, first of all: the man was a practical joker. ANNOYING. But I seem to fall in love with the saints who are known for that…Blessed Miguel Pro was a notorious prankster as well. Ugh.
Secondly, he smoked. Cheap cigars. It drove Luciana nuts. And a pipe, he liked pipes, too. In fact, funny story, this was the picture they used for his beautification Mass:
Except they airbrushed the pipe out, which I find completely hilarious. I heard that story and snickered. Because you can do that with Pier Giorgio. You can laugh that somebody thought it would be wise to airbrush this smoking, pranking, rowdy jock of a saint into a polished pose when, really, part of the magnificence of his sanctity is the fact that he was a smoking, pranking, rowdy jock…Who also loved to throw parties. This is him with the paper hat on.
But he’s lovely, too. I mean, just really lovely. His letters to friends and family are so genuine, so tender. He loved people, and loved loving them. He was a leader among his friends, and they loved him. They loved him when he sang loud even though he couldn’t actually sing. They loved him when he climbed out of broken-down trains to march up and down declaiming Dante’s poetry while they waited for repair workers to arrive. They loved him when he would trade small favors and ask for his end that they go to Adoration with him, loved him when he’d reach a mountaintop after the climbs he relished and pray for the repose of the souls of every climber who had died on the slope.
How could you not love somebody that colorful?
He didn’t like school and wasn’t good at it. But he worked hard, very hard – doing his best to fulfill what he saw as his vocation: to study and work and do well at school. He chose for his profession to be a mining engineer. His reason (apart from the fact that he liked rocks, weird) was that miners were some of the worst-treated members of society. He felt that in becoming a mining engineer he would have a chance to get close to and work with “the least of these,” and for Pier Giorgio that meant getting close to Jesus.
Because my Pier Giorgio wasn’t just some jock. He might be labeled that today, except he was unswervingly kind and considerate. He had a great sense of solidarity with the underprivileged, with those who had been shoved aside. In one of the (many) political demonstrations he was involved in, he ended up arrested. He was offered special treatment as the son of the famous diplomat…and refused it, opting instead to spend the night in the crowded cell with his compatriots.
Personable and lovable…unless you were in the gang of Fascists who tried to break into his family home. In which case he would swing in like Robin Hood, fistfight the whole lot out of the house, and then chase them down the street shouting, “Blackguards! Cowards!”
Ohhh yeah. He did that, when he was about 20 years old.
Oh, and he did this:
So, how did he, cigar-smoking, keg-dragging, Fascist-beating, boisterous man become a Blessed?
Hmm…more on that later. 🙂