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Sunday Homily, 28 April 2024 - Fr Paul Rowse, OP

The news is starting to break, that Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati will be canonised next year.  He is dear to us because he was a member of the Dominican Tertiaries, the lay branch of the Order.  Frassati’s dates are 1901-1925; over his short life, which was ended by polio, he became a legend in his native Turin in Italy for his charitable work and social action.

He often said: “charity is not enough; we need social reform”.  But he never supported Mussolini and certainly opposed fascism.  Pier Giorgio Frassati was an average student who could recite Dante from memory.  In addition to being a Dominican tertiary, he was also a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society, but was also known as The Terror for the practical jokes he used to play.  Pier Giorgio was an avid mountaineer and able swimmer, but wanted to become an engineer to serve Christ better among the miners.  His mortal remains are incorrupt, and visited us in Australia back in 2008.

What is amazing about Frassati’s journey towards canonisation is that it was started by the poor of Turin.  More recently, our recognised saints are sponsored by the institutes they founded.  There’s nothing wrong with that: our own St Mary MacKillop was presented by her daughters, the Josephites.  Other recent saints are martyrs who have impressive stories to attract our notice, like Sts Maximilian Kolbe or Oscar Romero or the 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya.  The soon-to-be Saint Pier Giorgo Frassati has none of that behind him: he didn't found a great body of people which later mobilised in his cause; there's no singular act of heroism to win the day in apparent defeat.  Instead, Frassati had Christ’s poor on his side.

We’re all called to show charity and to do it.  Frassati loved the poor.  He wept when a man came to the family home begging for food with no shoes: Pier Giorgio gave him his own shoes.  A poor widow who had to work for a pittance after the tragic death of her husband received a first Holy Communion dress for her daughter and a Confirmation suit for her boy, both gifted by Frassati.  But he stands out most at prayer.  When he prayed, Frassati would barely move.  Thus enveloped by grace, he didn’t even notice when melted wax dripped on him from a candelabra above.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati is certainly one of the many who produced the kind of fruit the Lord wants.  He’s thinking of the fruit of right character, good conduct, and faithful converts.  We shall know that Christ is alive in us when there seems to be no limit to what we want to do for him in our part of the Church and the world.  That sense of effortlessness and the incessant urging towards what is good and right are signs that the Lord’s life is coursing through our own.  We’re to set out minds thinking of the ways in which his resurrection can appear in our mortal life.

We remember how the Lord was sown in the earth on Good Friday night, how he was buried and abandoned like seed in a field.  But out of the earth sprung up new life, limitless life.  And to that limitless life, which is the resurrection of Christ, we are attached by our baptism.  We are grafted on to him, so that we receive what he has and we pass on what we’ve received.

The kind of fruit the Lord is referring to isn’t a legacy.  We cannot point to it as if it were ours: the good fruit belongs to the vine not just the branch.  The kind of fruit the Lord is referring to is his work which he undertook during his public ministry and which is now carried on throughout his Church.  Whereas for just 33 years, he was one Man who is God doing good to one person at a time; but now, risen from the dead, he is in each of us doing all-good to all people.  When someone is healed and comforted by us, it is Christ who heals and comforts.  When someone is visited and provided for, it is Christ who visits and provides.  When someone is encouraged and strengthened, it is Christ who is at work.  The good fruit of the true vine comes through the branch: we marvel at the good work of the risen Christ which he enables and empowers us to do.

So, we need more Frassatis: he was a branch of the vine which produced the Lord’s harvest of good fruit.  We can easily map Frassati's life on to Christ's: the two are one. We need people who love Christ so much that they easily spot him at prayer and in need; we can use people who delight in meeting him whether they are assisting in the liturgy or in labours made on his behalf.  We derive strength from prayer before setting out to do his work.

If we remain with Christ and he remains with us by persevering in doing good and repenting of our sins, then there is no limit to what good the Lord can make us do for his sake.  We ask the Lord to hear Frassati’s best prayers for us, that we may imitate him in such prayer and good service, and so enter into the joy of our risen Lord, to whom be the glory for ever.  Amen. Alleluia.

Fr Paul Rowse, OP Parish Priest

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