GUEST POST: The Captain and the Cross by J.D. Bentley

Welcome to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Week-by-week and day-by-day, we are inching towards the glorious morning of Easter. As we make our way through the wilderness, may we always focus on the light and triumph of the Passion of Our Lord. Today, I am happy to share another guest post from fellow Southerner and writer, J.D. Bentley. You can find more of J.D.’s writings at the link below. I pray that you, especially my male readers, will find the wisdom in today’s post applicable to your relationships.

The Captain and the Cross

Marriage has taught me not to care about my marriage. From the masculine perspective, caring about the marriage itself is a self-obsession that obscures the absence of substance. If I care about the marriage itself, it means I haven’t directed us towards any mission. I haven’t laid out a vision and pursued it with brute force. Which means I haven’t inspired my wife or myself to see anything beyond ourselves, anything to which we aspire.

What marriage has taught me to care about is the Cross—both Christ’s and my own–and the adventure. My wife and I are companions in a shipwreck, as Tolkien so eloquently wrote, and Paul lays it out even further:

“Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (EPH 5:22-23, RSVCE)

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her…” (EPH 5:25, RSVCE)

Pairing these verses with Tolkien’s description of a shipwreck better illuminates our roles in marriage. I am the Captain of a shattered vessel and she is my First Mate. This means, for all things, the responsibility supremely falls on me, and that is the most important lesson for a man to learn in marriage.

Growing up as a boy at the time I did indoctrinated me (and many of us) with the feminine imperative. It seeks to be inclusive and free of conflict and it does so by encouraging fairness and equality. The feminine imperative is valuable and has its place, but not among men. But this feminine imperative is so engrained in men that it is ruining marriages.

It’s a mindset of “I fixed the sink, why didn’t she clean up the kitchen?” It seeks to assign jobs—equally—and divide responsibilities—equally. Ironically, seeking harmony in such a way sows the seeds of disharmony. This isn’t the kind of thing men were made for and it’s not the kind of thing women want.

They want the Captain. The Captain sets the course, he provides the vision and steers the ship. More importantly, if anything goes wrong he’s the one who answers for it. If the ship is being thrown about in turbulent waters, he’s not thinking about what he can do to make his First Mate more comfortable and more happy. He’s thinking about the boat, the mission, the present situation and how to overcome it.

Which, of course, is what ultimately makes the First Mate more comfortable and more happy.

If the Captain sees something crucially wrong, he fixes it. He doesn’t whine and complain that the First Mate should have done it or was supposed to do it or agreed to do it. After all, it’s not the First Mate’s ship, it’s his.

In the running of the house as with the running of a ship, the husband should seek to put order to everything, to tame the chaos, to make it run efficiently. Dishes in the sink, wash them. Trash needs taken out, take it. Faucet is leaking, fix it. Sink is backed up, go outside and dig up the drain pipe.

The Captain doesn’t wait for anyone to do what they should, he cares only for his mission and overcoming whatever gets in the way of it. That is why his First Mate, his wife, is called to submit to him. Sub and mit. “Mit” from the Latin mittere, which means sending out, which refers to the mission. “Sub” meaning under. The wife is under the mission of her husband.

That means he better have a damn good mission. Submitting to anything is a voluntary act. It doesn’t mean you’re coerced into it, it means you’re sold on it.

Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church. You remember Christ, suffocating on wooden beams, mocked and maimed, bloody and bruised, impaled with a spear. That’s our calling.

Did Jesus create a covert contract with us to divide up the work of salvation so we could all “do our fair share” in the crucifixion? Was He thinking, “Oh, wow. I did all those miracles and they still wouldn’t get up on this Cross? Do I have to do everything around here?”

Of course not. Jesus knew his mission. And he showed us his mission. And through his definitive sacrifice we believed and we followed and we submitted to His mission. We took his mission on for ourselves, not because we were coerced into doing so but because it was the least we could do for the God who loved us.

And that’s the work of a husband, the Captain.

J.D. Bentley writes at Blood & Bourbon on the study and practice of masculine tradition.

 

Steps to a Charitable Lent: How to Observe a Fast Without Going Nuts

Hi everyone! In case you didn’t know, Lent begins on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018. This year, I will abstain from social media and blogging. This will be my last regular post before the Lenten season begins. I wanted to let you know, not because I am seeking outward affirmation, but because I connect with so many of you on social media. I don’t want you to mistake my temporary absence for ignoring your comments and messages. On Sundays, days when fasts are relaxed, I will check in to my blog and maybe even write a short post. The same goes for any social media accounts. Thank you for your support! – Sarah

I love rules. I believe rules offer us an ordered and polite society. Rules are like the high fence on the side of a cliff that keep you from falling off of the side. You can run, skip, and hop within the confines of the fence because you know you won’t topple to your death. There’s freedom in restraint.

So, when Lent rolls around, I become giddy with excitement…and dread. I like the idea of Lent on paper: abstaining from something good in order to grow in Christ. What’s not to like? I’ll tell you what: abstaining. I’m all about the rules of Lent: fasting on Monday through Saturday (Sunday, too, if you’re a hardcore Catholic) and no meat on Fridays (except Filet-O-Fish in the drive-thru). Do you know why I’m all about Lent until it’s time to actually do Lent?

Because I make up too many rules for myself.

Thanks, Mom!

Holy Mother Church isn’t a tyrannical rule creator out to micromanage every bit of your life like many believe. I’ve heard it said this way, “The Church is like our mother, in that she just wants to know what you’re doing and wants to make sure you’re well.”

That’s why the Church gives us guidelines for fasting: people ages 18-59 are required to fast during Lent, with Fridays as a day of abstinence. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we are to fast and abstain: one regular meal or two meals that do not equal a full meal. Of course, this excludes women who are pregnant and nursing, young children, the sick, and the elderly. We are all given the same guidelines with reasonable exceptions. Moms are understanding.

How to be Charitable

But, if you’re like me, you think you have to go above and beyond the guidelines set for you. In the past, I equated how severe my fasting was with the effectiveness and holiness of my Lenten season. But, through severity, I often found that I was often doing more damage than good. That’s why it’s so important to practice our Lenten fasts with charity. Here are a few ways you can practice charity and fasting during Lent without driving yourself nuts.

  1. Follow the Rules: Fast on Monday through Saturday and abstain from meat on Fridays. Anything else is a bonus. Unless you feel convicted by Our Lord to abstain on Sunday, remember that it’s not a fast day. It’s the Lord’s Day! In Matthew 9:15, Jesus asks, “How can they fast as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Rejoice in the day set aside for the worship of God.
  2. Be Reasonable: Be reasonable in your Lenten commitments. If you have to use your phone frequently for work, maybe it’s not a good idea to give up using it. Or, if you have a health condition that requires an increased protein intake, maybe you don’t need to give up meat (or maybe you can substitute with fish). Find what works for you and go from there. In my experience, when I ask what I need to abstain from, God always answers that prayer.
  3. Understand Others: Perhaps one of the best teachings I heard on Lent was years ago during my college years. This individual, a non-Catholic from a liturgical tradition, recommended that our fasts should be as private as possible as to avoid becoming like the Pharisees and hypocrites Jesus warned us about (Matthew 6:16). For example, if on Friday your non-Catholic co-worker invites you to a burger joint for dinner, it may be in your best interest to go. That interaction may open his or her eyes to the beauty of Catholicism. As the old saying goes: You may be the only Bible that person reads. I’m not saying for you to throw out your fast at every invitation or opportunity, but be understanding. It’s not necessary to say with a loud, pious voice: OH NO I CANNOT PARTAKE OF THIS BEEF AS IT IS FRIDAY AND I AM A DEVOUT ROMAN CATHOLIC WHO IS FASTING SO NO WAY PLEASE STEP ASIDE. Other tips include suggesting a seafood restaurant or choosing a vegetarian option.

I’m not a professional theologian, but I do know that our God is a merciful God. This Lent, you will probably mess it up. You’ll cave into the coffee craving or you’ll sneak a peek at your Facebook timeline. Been there, done that. Remember, learn from my experience, and don’t create extra regulations for yourself. Be charitable to everyone, even you. Listen to the Church and Our Lord, and you’ll find yourself headed in the right direction. I pray you have a very blessed Lent and I look forward to chatting with you on Sundays during Lent and after Easter!

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Quiet: The Sunday Revolution

Growing up in rural Kentucky, there wasn’t a whole lot going on. On Sundays, the pace of an already slow world nearly came to an absolute stop: we went to church, ate lunch, and then took naps. That was my Sunday schedule for the better part of the first eighteen years of my life.

What irked me, though, was a precept my parents held for Sundays: no shopping, no going out to eat, no spending money.  This wasn’t a hard and fast rule, but 90% of the time, it held up (unless our proverbial ox was in a proverbial ditch). And I HATED it. When everyone else was going out on Sunday afternoons, having lots of fun that I wasn’t having, I was stuck at home, looking at four walls. On the rare occasion that we did have to make a Walmart run or out to a restaurant, I felt like I was finally liberated into proper society.

Growing in Wisdom

Now, that I’m much older, I understand why my parents were so serious about Sunday rest. The seventh day (our Sunday) was set aside by God as a day of rest from the very beginning. After laboring over creation for six days, God takes the seventh day, and makes it holy (Genesis 2:2). Even God, creator of all that we can fathom, took the time to rest. Yet, my younger self saw no need in rest when there was a perfectly open day to fill with activities. I failed to see that if God rested, and even commanded it to the Israelites, that I certainly was not exempt.

But, to paraphrase St. Paul: When I was a child, I thought and acted like a child. Literally.

As an adult, I too often see the empty parts of my schedule quickly filled to capacity. As they say, nature abhors a vacuum. If I’m totally open during one evening of the week, you can bet that by the time that day rolls around, I have some type of commitment in my schedule.

Sundays, too often, aren’t much different.

Near the end of Mass each Sunday, I’m often thinking about my grocery run to Walmart. Not only the groceries but, How can I get a good parking space close to the door? Did I remember my coupons? Should I get my hair trimmed? Should I grab a bite to eat before heading back home? All of this is going through my mind before the announcements have ended. I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation, your mind thinking of everything but the miracle of the Mass. You’re definitely not alone.

24/7/365

In the midst of our rushed society, it seems so difficult to turn off. We’ve gone from laws in place banning any business on Sunday to it as just another day of the week. I remember, before my brother was born, my mom used to work part-time at a Walmart in the next county over. On Sundays, the store would open at 1:00 PM. Yet, as time went on, the time became earlier and earlier. If it wasn’t 1:00 PM, it was noon. Noon soon faded to 10:30, and 10:30 faded into 24/7/365. This was in 1995.

Perhaps one of my favorite stories from my mom’s Walmart days is one I’ll call “You’re Going to Hell.” On a rare occasion, my mom would have to work at the store on Sunday afternoons for a few hours. This day, my mom was approached a young boy who informed her that “my daddy is a preacher.” Well enough.

What happens next, though, has gone down into clapback history.

The little boy proceeds to tell my mom, “My daddy says you’re going to hell because you’re working on Sunday.” 

My mother, not one to be schooled by a child, immediately responds with “Well, if your mom and dad weren’t out shopping today, I wouldn’t have to work.”

Point taken.

The Sunday Revolution: A Brief How-To Guide

My mom’s story is in possession of a truth nugget: If we keep Sunday holy, we allow other people to keep it holy as well. In the words of St. Mother Teresa, we must “live simply so others may simply live.” Even more, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds the faithful to avoid any unnecessary work on Sundays, especially if it hinders the worship of Our Lord (CCC 2184-2186).

Often, as I stand in the checkout line at the supermarket, I wonder how many people were unable to attend worship services due to my choice to shop for groceries on Sunday. Sure, I’m only one person. But, one person plus one person after time can add up to a society that disregards the holiness of Sundays. And as I write this, I am speaking to myself as much as I am you, my attentive reader.

I am not asking you to immediately forego your weekly family lunch at Cracker Barrel, nor am I seeking to induce guilt because you have to run into the local Save-a-Lot for a gallon of milk. Rather, I am asking all of us to change the way we think about Sundays.

Consider this:

  1. Shop for groceries on Saturday or another weekday.
  2. Host a meal at your home, as opposed to a restaurant.
  3. Block out a segment of time on Sunday afternoons solely for rest: don’t engage in any weekday-related work. Just rest.

I firmly believe that once we change our thoughts about Sundays, ultimately, our behaviors will change. I challenge you, next Sunday, to engage the quiet holiness of the day. Make one tiny change this week, and then next week, make another tiny change. You and I may be surprised at the differences we can make in not only our lives, but the lives of others.

May God bless you as you engage in the Sunday revolution.

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13 Day Rosary Challenge: February 1st – 13th, 2018

Can you believe that January is almost over? Even more, can you believe that Lent is almost upon us again? On February 14th, the season of Lent will begin and stretch through the last week of March. While Lent is designated as a time of penitence and sacrifice in preparation for Easter, how often do we prepare for the preparation?

From February 1st through February 13th, I encourage you to join my Two Hearts Rosary Challenge. Each day, you will receive an email with daily intentions to help you grow in prayerful devotion as you approach the Lenten season. For more information and to join the challenge, click the link below:

https://mailchi.mp/08651a63d476/two-hearts-rosary-challenge

Abandoning Perfectionism

I have a specific memory of a moment in the fifth grade.

In this moment, I was weighed down with school supplies: three packs of loose-leaf paper, two boxes of yellow pencils, and a box of crayons. I reached my desk, unloaded the supplies, and neatly stacked the pencils, crayons, and paper packs. Paper on the bottom, then pencil boxes, and finally crayons. My ordering was well-orchestrated, the stack of crisp supplies was wonderfully arranged. I was proud of myself as a classmate asked, “Is all of that yours?” For a brief moment, in the top left corner of my desk, I had constructed perfection in the form of school supplies.

This fifth grade memory is not the only recollection I have of self-constructed perfection. Perfectionism, unfortunately, has dotted my life (and usually on a daily basis). From my obsession over straight-A’s in in elementary school through college to making sure the food in my fridge is stacked perfectly, I can think of only a few days where perfectionism hasn’t reared its ugly head. And like me, maybe you can relate to the constant edginess related to seeking perfection.

Most recently, I’ve struggled with balancing my chosen religious devotions. As a new Catholic, I’ve discovered so many new ways to pray to and worship Our Lord: novenas, books, daily readings, the Rosary, and chaplets. Lately, in an attempt to find a steady devotional schedule, I’ve found myself overwhelmed with my own expectations. For example, in the mornings, I typically participate in the daily Mass readings and pray the Rosary (or at least a decade). Throughout the day, I try to pray a few times using the Liturgy of the Hours. At night, I write down my thoughts using an examen journal and my own personal diary. For a perfectionist who is keen on completion, this can be tricky.

Though it’s good to participate in daily readings and prayer practices, I am often in my own worst enemy. I may think “Ah! I only prayed one decade of the Rosary today! If I don’t pray the whole thing, I’ll break my daily streak.” Or, “Ugh! I missed a day in my examen journal and now it’s all off kilter for the month!”

It’s in moments like these that perfectionism takes my attention from Christ and shifts it upon myself. Perfectionism lets me believe that I am in control of everything, that I am the center of the universe. If I forget to read the daily Mass readings, then I’ve messed up my day. This mindset totally ignores the power of Christ in my life and disregards the fact that ultimately, He is in full control. The world’s balance does not depend on whether or not I can complete a task or not.

Now, don’t mistake me for promoting apathy.

As Catholic Christians, it’s critical that we read Scripture and pray on a daily basis. But, lest we fall into the harmful pattern of perfectionism, we must understand that our perceived “goodness” will not help us maintain control. Many people who are devout have also suffered great trials. However, it was the grace of Christ that carried them through. Rather than rely on ourselves, we must learn to rely on Christ.

We must abandon perfectionism, one little error and trial at a time.

 

Abandoning Perfection

The Thing About Weight Loss

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In June 2017, I underwent bariatric surgery in Tijuana, Mexico. After over a decade of struggling with my weight, I knew I had to do something about it. In a previous post, I mentioned how I had “done it all.” Literally: Weight Watchers, ear stapling, low carb/high protein, personal training, supplements, visits with nutritionists, and more.

I jumped into something I never said I would do (bariatric surgery), in a place people believe you shouldn’t go for surgery (Mexico). But, when your insurance probably won’t pay for a $30,000+ surgery because your only condition is obesity, you have to take matters into your own hands. That’s what I did. The Saturday before my surgery, I went received the Sacrament of Confession and went to Vigil Mass. The next day, June 18th, I boarded a plane with my mother and flew to San Diego, crossing into Mexico later that evening.

I never looked back.

I was at the end of my rope, which apparently led me to a Tijuana hospital room while watching cars line up at the U.S./Mexico border. Finally, on the night of June 19th, as I was wheeled away for surgery, my heart was pounding out of my ears. I could see blood coming into my IV from my rapidly accelerating pulse. As the doors on the elevator closed, I repeated in my heart like a record, “All you saints and angels, pray for me.” As the surgical tech helped me onto the operating table, I begged Our Lord to get me out of the operating room alive. I knew it was too late to back out. Once the anesthesia hit, I don’t remember anything else.

Nearly $5,000 and six months later, choosing bariatric surgery (sleeve gastrectomy) for my health needs was one of the top five decisions I’ve ever made. I’m happier, healthier, and there’s a bounce in my step that wasn’t there before. As of the writing of this post, I am down 72 pounds from my pre-surgery weight. Am I now a paragon of perfection regarding nutrition and exercise? Absolutely not. When the surgeon took out 75% of my stomach, he didn’t bother take out the part of my brain that craves enchiladas.  It’s still a daily struggle, but not as much as a fight as it used to be.

In all of my success, I’ve particularly enjoyed buying new clothes. For someone who’s been the same size for most of their life, this phenomenon may be hard to imagine. But, for someone who has been a size 24 in pants and dresses, it’s a whole new world. In a matter of months, clothes that were always off limits to me were now within my realm. From June 2017 to November 2017, I had dropped 10 sizes, going from a 24W to a 14 regular. I could now wear “regular” women’s clothing. I walked in the nearest Macy’s and walked out with a haul that cost more than I care to think about. It was a wonderful, terrific, feeling. Who knew size 14 could be so fun?

In the midst of all of my positive transformations, I started to notice other changes as well. Not positive, not negative. Just changes.

For example, I had updated my social media photos to newer head shots. Nothing racy or revealing, just pictures at festivals or out in the sun. Within days, I received unsolicited messages on Facebook and Twitter from men inquiring about my marital and relationship status. Just today, my “other” inbox in Facebook lit up with another lonely heart looking for a connection. 72 pounds ago, this rarely (if ever) happened. Guys openly flirt with me now in public. It’s bizarre. Still, another change is the attitudes of the people around me. When I venture beyond my home, those who would rarely speak to me now go out of their way to make conversation. Formally cordial acquaintances now say little-to-nothing at all. It’s not everyone, though. In fact, it’s a handful of people. Maybe it’s in my imagination. But, it’s noticeable.

Also, I’ve noticed a change in myself. Now that I’m thinner and nine pounds away from my goal weight, I treat myself with more respect and dignity. I think more highly of myself. When I was nearly 300 pounds, thoughts about myself weren’t as respectful and dignified. While I didn’t hate myself, I hated my body. I hated my eating habits and I hated how I had let stress take my body to a place it shouldn’t be.

While I didn’t frequently read women’s magazines, I hated how I didn’t resemble those women in the pages (even the token plus-size models). Even though I wouldn’t admit it, I had been trapped by society’s expectations, if but in a small way. It took losing nearly 75 pounds for me to realize that I was in a cycle of distressing thoughts and practices. I was like a fish in water: I didn’t know how I had been hooked by secular standards. For me, it was normal.

Finally, the thing about weight loss is that it’s not just your body that changes: it’s your life and your world. Some changes are wonderful: your health improves, your outlook is more positive, and your body is at ease. Some changes, not so wonderful: friends and family may treat you poorly because they think you’re a new person (and they don’t like it). Maybe others are threatened by your drastic transformation. You may realize that maybe you weren’t the best to yourself. It’s normal, and I’ve been there.

Yet, given my success in my journey, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Dear Lord,

When we believe that our bodies don’t fit the mold the world offers us, it’s easy to despair. We forget that we were thought of and created by You in Your infinite wisdom. Forgive us when we fail to recognize that our value comes from You, not the size of our dress or a number on a scale. Help us to take care of the bodies You have given us so that we may glorify You more and more. Thank You for creating me.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 

 

2018 in Perspective

 

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I want to take a moment to wish you a very Happy New Year! I pray that, even though we’re fewer than three days into 2018, you’re experiencing happiness. The new year always brings a sense of a fresh start to me and I love the feeling of anticipation and hope. The first days of a new year are like looking at newly-taped boxes: the months lay ahead like unopened gifts. It’s a very fun time, at least for myself.

This year will be my first full calendar year as a confirmed Catholic. Instead of sliding into 2018 without any passing thought, I wanted to create an intentional entrance. In many places on the Internet, especially Twitter, the idea circulated of a patron saint for one’s year. Many that I follow on the social networking site had picked a saint to pray with throughout the new year, using the Saint’s Name Generator (the site, after a simple click, will display a saint’s name and feast day: some known, some lesser known).

Granted, I am very wary of using any type of randomizer to determine God’s will in any situation. But, with the vast number of saints, I knew the generator would be of assistance. After clicking through, I was pleased that I was presented with Blessed Pier Giorgio Frasatti, often referred to as the Man of the Eight Beatitudes. In brief, Frasatti is noted for his piety and care for the needy. He died of an illness, possibly contracted from his work in poor neighborhoods, at the age of 24. Also, shortly before his death, he became a Tertiary Dominican. Interestingly enough, in the past months I have been interested in Dominican spirituality. In 2018 I look forward to learning more about the life and Catholic faith of Blessed Frasatti.

Finally, I have dedicated my year to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In a nutshell, the Sacred Heart devotion is focused upon the love that Jesus had, and still has, for humanity. EWTN describes the devotion this way:

“In honoring the Heart of Christ, our homage lingers on the Person of Jesus in the fullness of His love. This love of Christ for us was the moving force of all he did and suffered for us — in Nazareth, on the Cross, in giving Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, in His teaching and healing, in His praying and working. When we speak of the Sacred Heart, we mean Jesus showing us His Heart, Jesus all love for us and all lovable.”

A personal struggle I have is that of freely giving mercy and love. I’ll readily admit that I want to slide people into categories: the deserving and undeserving. Those who deserve my mercy, grace, and love are those who are living in a way I approve. These are “proper” people: those who are generally good and well-rounded, but sometimes just hit a tough spot. That’s where I can step in with my ministry of love. Everyone else not in my self-declared “deserving” category is a person to be tolerated, and in a best-case scenario, ignored.

While I write these words, I can physically feel the conviction of the hardness of my heart. While I’m subconsciously sorting people into “deserving” and “undeserving” categories, I often forget that Jesus did not become incarnate just for me and my internal list of approved people. Even worse, I forget that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). I’m a sinner, you’re a sinner. We are all in the same group: undeserving. Despite all of this, Christ died for every soul that has (and will) live.

I chose to dedicate this year to the Sacred Heart because I want to be more like Christ. I want to be more open and loving of those around me, not just those I think are worthy of my love. Even though I believe myself to be good, I’m still a sinner. Christ chose to die in order to reconcile me to God. Through this fact, Christ gently puts me back in my place and reminds me that despite my best intentions, I am still in need of His grace, mercy, and divine love. Jesus is truly the Good Shepherd.

So, do you have a saint who you will walk and pray with this year? Do you have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart or a favorite prayer practice? If so, I’d love to hear about it. You can contact me here. I pray that your 2018 is full of the love of Christ. Allow Him to change you from the inside out. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ!”

Happy New Year!

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

The higher we go, the better we shall hear the voice of Christ. // Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati