An old black and white photograph depicts a young man scaling the side of a mountain, with the words “Verso l’alto” written over the bottom right-hand corner. The words mean “Toward the top!” and the youth is the vibrant Italian Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who died in 1925 at only twenty-four. Overflowing with life and love, Pier Giorgio accomplished much in his brief lifetime. Hardly known to the general public, he dedicated every spare minute of his time to serving others: his family, his friends, and especially the poor. The thousands that attended his unexpected funeral bore testimony to the number of souls he had touched personally. Aside from his love of souls, he took especial joy in mountain climbing, saying, “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.”
This year, St. Mary’s College took the aspirations of Pier Giorgio as their motto: Ascende superius or Come up higher. Life is a journey – hard, tough, and heart-breaking, but at the same time exhilarating, breath-taking, and beautiful. It has one purpose: that every part of the hierarchy of creation reflect the glory of God and find eternal rest in Him. As the master and head of the created order, man, gifted with rationality, is not meant only to remain among the corporeal. He must ascend; he must go up higher. Composed of both body and soul, he is the intersection of the natural and the supernatural. In the image and likeness of God, he cannot remain only on the horizon of the natural but must ascend vertically. Mountains are a symbol of this ascent. In Sacred Scripture, many prophets, including Christ Himself, ascended into the mountains to speak to God; our motto, “Ascende superius,” cites Our Lord’s own words: “Go, sit down in the lowest place; that when he who invited thee, cometh, he may say to thee: Friend, go up higher” (Lk. 14:10). Thus, we must begin in the lowliness of humility, knowing we cannot ascend the mountain alone, but only by the invitation of Christ can we begin the journey and our personal friendship with Him.
More than often, God communicates His grace through those around us, and, as every person is also a reflection of Christ, we are responsible for helping others to reach the top and can be helped by them as well. Pier Giorgio understood this well, as is manifested by his constant care for others. Even when physically climbing mountains, he did not just climb by himself, but usually with a group of friends. Friendship is the highest relationship between men, precisely because it is the reflection of our own relationship with God, and of God’s friendship with Himself in the Trinity. True friends care first and foremost for each other’s souls, for that is the highest part of their nature. That is the essence of friendship; love desires the good of the other, and that is why true friends will bring us up, closer to Him: “Ascende superius, amice.” St. Mary’s College gives an example of such friendship: a group of young people, bonding through the same beliefs, pursuing the same goals, and forming a united front so as to help each other ascend this mountain of life. Taking the words of Our Lord, and Pier Giorgio Frassati as our model, together we strive to the top. In the words of Fr. Mateo, “Do not stay on the ground: Rise high on the wings of great desires: Work hard to become saints. Fear only one thing: mediocrity!”