Verso L’Alto!

In the early 1920s, a certain Pier Giorgio Frassati, of Turin, Italy, inscribed the above photo of him climbing a mountain with the words “Verso L’Alto.” This Pier Giorgio died a few years later of polio, which he likely contracted from the poor he was so fond of ministering to.

Today, we know this man as Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, a “man of the Beatitudes,” as Saint John Paul II called him. Born to a wealthy, non-practicing Catholic family, he dedicated his short life to helping the poor with all the money, time, and energy he had; sneaking out to daily Mass in the morning and returning to his bed before his parents knew he had left; frequenting all-night Eucharistic Adoration (while his parents thought he must have been out carousing); and working for social reform in Italy, among other things.

I could definitely write a whole blog post just on Frassati alone, but that’s not what I want this post to be about. What I really want to talk about is this well-known inscription of his–Verso L’Alto, which means “Towards The Top.”

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about my spiritual growth over the past couple of years. (Probably because it’s Lent; ’tis the season for reflection, right?) At this point, I feel, I dunno, I guess kind of good about my progress. After all, I go to Mass more than just Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation, I generally go for an hour of Eucharistic Adoration per week, I go to Confession every 1 to 2 months, I pray every night, and I fast on the days I’m supposed to fast on.

But let’s get real. Couldn’t I be doing more? Why not go to Eucharistic Adoration 2 hours a week instead of 1? Why not fast on days other than Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? Why not volunteer more? Why not pray the Rosary more? Why not pray longer at night?

Verso L’Alto!

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati wasn’t just a “good Catholic.” He was a really good Catholic. We can’t reach sainthood and become whom God meant us to be just by sitting complacently where ever we are in our spiritual life. We always have to go towards to top, upward, as high as we can go.

God wants us to radically orient our lives towards Him. Not just turn to Him in a way that makes us comfortable, but in a way that makes us a little uncomfortable. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, “The world offers you comfort; but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

I think that when we feel a little too comfortable where we are spiritually, pride can seep in. You can kind of settle down and just be like, “At least I’m a better Catholic than Joe Shmoe down the road. I’m better than most, not a saint, but pretty good. Might as well stop climbing now.” ( <—- BAD! )

Verso L’Alto!

Always do more relative to where you are at. The latter half of that sentence is really important: relative to where you are at. You’re in competition with yourself, not others.

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Challenge Yourself Spiritually!

When we experience personal growth in any facet of life, that growth didn’t just come out of nowhere.

“I was passing the days solely sleeping, watching TV, playing video games, and hanging out with friends, you know, all the things that bring me personal comfort. Didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing. And then as a result of this careful preparation, I discovered the meaning of life as I sat on my couch eating Doritos and watching ‘The Hangover,'”

SAID NO ONE EVER!

Growth is usually the result of some sort of challenge in our life. Let’s look at it from a non-religious angle:

When I was 11, my dad said we had to move 7 hours away! It was a really, really difficult time for me. In retrospect, I see that this change in my life helped me to be more adaptable. It also helped me to realize that the “unknown” isn’t that scary after all.

There are so many challenges that pop up in the lives of teens today. Examples include: moving, death of a loved one, divorce of parents, academics, drama with friends, bullying, body image, etc.
Usually these challenges ultimately lead to some sort of personal growth after some reflection.

So, if we want to advance in our spiritual lives, what are doing just staying in our comfort zones!? We need to challenge ourselves! And I think Catholicism offers so many excellent challenges that lead to spiritual growth.

Reconciliation. Is that comfortable? No– admitting sins isn’t terribly comfortable. But we grow so much when we realize God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. We realize how much we need Him in our lives. Sounds like growth!

The Real Presence. Comfortable? No– you saw how so many people left Jesus in John 6 when He was basically like, “Guys, you gotta eat me if you want life in you. No, seriously. For the third time, I mean it.” But through receiving Christ in the Eucharist and resting in His presence at Eucharistic Adoration, we come to understand how amazing He is. Growth- check!

The Obligation to go to Mass every week and on days of Holy Obligation. Comfortable? Not 100% of the time. Some days we just don’t FEEL like going to Mass. But by going, we commit ourselves to God. We suppress our human desire to be lazy, realizing that God is more important. Yay growth!

Required days of fasting (Ash Wed and Good Fri for Catholics 18 and over) and abstinence (no meat on Fridays during Lent and on Ash Wed). Comfortable? No– Most people love eating. But by following what the Church has outlined for us, we understand that our carnal desires aren’t everything and that God is worth the suffering (even though it’s actually not TOO much suffering when you consider that people go hungry EVERY day of their lives in third world countries). Growth: now dat’s what I’m talkin’ about!

The list continues.

Sometimes things like fasting and the obligation to go to Mass get dismissed as unnecessary “works.”

James 2:17–
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

AMEN! You say it James!

You can have faith in Christ, but if you aren’t doing things to show it and further it…sounds like a pretty dead spiritual life with a paucity of personal growth on the side.

So go out there and challenge yourself this summer!!

“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort; you were made for greatness.”
~Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

First Time Fasting

This is the first Lent that I’ve been of age to fast. In case you’re unfamiliar with Catholic teaching, all people 18 to 60 (I THINK the upper end is 60. I’m not sure because I’m nowhere near that age, so it’s not really on my radar. So don’t quote me.) are obligated to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting is defined as eating one regular meal and two small meals that don’t exceed one meal when combined. You are allowed to drink all day. Oh, and one more twist…Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence, which means you can’t eat meat. (All Fridays during Lent are also days of abstinence.)

To be honest, I was a little afraid about fasting on Ash Wednesday. My parents don’t follow most Catholic stuff, so I’d never seen anyone fast before. I had no idea what to expect. Plus, I eat a ton of food regularly. I’m thin, so I must have a high metabolism or something. So I didn’t sleep much on Ash Wednesday eve because I was nervous.

I was actually pleasantly surprised on Ash Wednesday! Catholic fasting isn’t really that hard! I had my first snack around 12:30. I had my meal around 5:30. Then I had my last snack around 10 PM, and then I went to bed and was pretty happy about breakfast in the morning.

My stomach growled a little in the beginning. But, believe it or not, that wasn’t the real problem. I got used to it after a while. The real problem was that I missed tasting yummy things. What a gift God has given us with taste! It didn’t seem in the spirit of Lent to have sweets on that day, so I didn’t. Why would I waste precious calories on cookies? I learned that I like eating not for the way it makes my stomach stop growling, but for the way food tastes.

I also learned that I could go with a lot less food than what I actually consume. It makes me feel bad for starving people in other parts of the world. If only I could have given to them what I didn’t eat!

You know, I don’t think I ever really understood Lent before I fasted. It really gets you in a disciplined mindset for the Lenten season. If Jesus could die on the cross for us, why can’t we just eat less for a day? It’s the least we could do.

It’s not like I’m like, “Yesssssssssssssss! Come on Good Friday! I want to fast again!” But I’m not dreading it either. I’m really somewhat indifferent. I know it will be a good thing though.

Happy Lent everyone!