Coming to Know the Real Carlo Acutis

In just a short time, Blessed Carlo not only lived life to the full, but also became a teacher to his peers, the poor and to the whole Catholic Church.

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By Father Roger Landry

On Saturday, Oct. 10 in Assisi, Carlo Acutis was beatified. On Oct. 12, the Church celebrated his feast for the first time, on the 14th anniversary of Blessed Carlo’s 2006 death of acute leukemia. 

The time between Carlo’s birth into eternal life and his being raised to the altars was almost as brief as his 15 years of life on earth. In that short span, however, Carlo not only experienced the “life to the full” (Jn 10:10) that Christ came into the world to bring, but became a teacher to his parents, peers, the poor and now the whole Church. 

He may already be the most famous 15-year-old to die. While the beatifications of Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, John Paul II and John Henry Newman were bigger than the pandemic-reduced crowds in Assisi, none had 15 days of preparation and veneration, or a vigil of prayer the night before, like he did. The others were all quite famous during their life, while few outside of Milan and Assisi would have known Carlo. 

But now, just 29 years after his birth, Blessed Carlo is perhaps touching far more people than any of those great saints did when they were 29. And he’s just getting started. Pope Francis penned three paragraphs about him in his 2019 exhortation to young people Christus Vivit and now thousands of articles and hundreds of websites tell his story. 

When I first learned about him, I was impressed by his precocious hunger for God: He prayed the Rosary every day from a young age; made his first Holy Communion a year early and then attended daily Mass thereafter; cared for the homeless each night; traveled regularly to Assisi; loved the saints; learned computers to design websites to spread his love of the Eucharist and Mary and to teach about angels and the four last things. I figured, frankly, that he must have come from a home similar to the one that produced, for example, St. Thérèse. 

Instead he came from a home that, as his garrulous mother Antonia has humbly said in various interviews, wasn’t even lukewarm. By the time Carlo was born, Antonia had been to Church only three times in her life, the days she was baptized, confirmed and married. Carlo, through his questions and zeal, eventually got her to take her faith more seriously, and she was just one of many converts. While Carlo’s grandparents practiced the faith and he attended Catholic schools, it seems pretty clear that the Lord interacted with Blessed Carlo much like he did with the young prophet Samuel. 

Several things strike me about his life. 

He had an advanced awareness of the meaning of life and how to live well. “To be always united to Jesus is my program of life,” he declared. In contrast to contemporary narcissism, he said that happiness comes from keeping “one’s face turned toward God” and sadness from focusing your attention on yourself. “Not I, but God” was his mantra. “Find God,” he stated, “and you will find the meaning of your life.” 

He lived life with a certain urgency: “Every minute that passes,” he said, “is one minute less to become like God,” and to become like God was his desire. “What does it matter if you can win a thousand battles if you cannot win against your own corrupt passions?” he asked. “The real battle is with ourselves.”

Right before he died, he said, “To have a long life doesn’t mean that this is a good thing [because] one can live a very long time and live badly.” He humbly confessed, “I am happy to die because I have lived my life without waiting a minute on those things that do not please God.” 

Blessed Carlo had an ardent love for Jesus in the Eucharist. He lived a Eucharistic life, calling the Eucharist “my highway to heaven.” He attended daily Mass from the time he was 7 and spent time each day in adoration. “The more Eucharist we receive,” he believed, “the more we will become like Jesus.”

He had a Eucharistic amazement, so fascinated by the Eucharistic miracles across the centuries that he went on an adventure to try to visit them all and to document them so that others could share his astonishment. It didn’t make sense to him that there would be huge crowds for soccer games and rock concerts but no lines before the tabernacle where God is present and lives among us. 

He had a deep love for Mary. “The Virgin Mary is the only woman in my life,” he said, and he called the Rosary, which he prayed daily, the “shortest ladder to climb to heaven” and the “most powerful weapon,” after the Eucharist, “to fight the devil.” Like his inspiring 196-part series on Eucharistic miracles that has posthumously traveled the world, he also had conceptualized a 156-part series on the Marian apparitions, which was completed by his mother after his death.

He had a love for the Church and the saints. “To criticize the Church means to criticize ourselves,” he said, because “the Church is the dispenser of treasures for our salvation.” We judge the Church not by those who don’t live according to her teachings but by those who do, which is why he drew near to the saints, like St. Francis of Assisi and various great young saints like Tarcisius, Aloysius, Dominic Savio, Bernadette, and Francisco and Jacinta Marto.

He had a vibrant charity. He stuck up for classmates being bullied, invited to his home kids who were suffering because of their parents’ divorce or domestic problems, tutored classmates who were struggling with homework or computer problems, patiently rescued friends experimenting with drugs or addicted to pornography, spent time with the elderly helping them with tasks, “hunted” for litter in parks or on the beach to beautify the world, brought warm drinks and food to the homeless and used his allowance to buy them sleeping bags or warm clothes. “Life is a gift,” he said, “because as long as we are on earth, we can increase our level of love.” 

His greatest charity was to try to share the faith. From the time he was 11, he taught catechism and sought to inspire younger kids to choose to strive for sanctity. To make the faith practical, he made a “Holiness Kit” for them that involved nine steps that he himself practiced: to love God with all your heart; each day to try to go to Mass and receive Communion, pray the Rosary, read a passage of sacred Scripture, and make a visit to Jesus in the tabernacle each day; to go to confession once a week; to help others as often as you can; and to rely on your guardian angel as your best friend. 

He attracted people to the faith more by his example and friendship than by words. His mom said, “To live close to someone like Carlo means not to remain neutral in your faith.” His zeal led him use his computer skills to try to design websites not only on the Eucharist and on Marian apparitions but also a 170-part series on the Last Things and a 131-part series on Angels and Demons in the lives of saints. 

Despite all of this, there’s a danger in the devotion to him now growing very fast. It’s that, like Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, he might suffer from well-meaning but superficial caricature. Some reduce Frassati from a man of the beatitudes and heroic charity to a “holy hunk” who hiked and smoked a pipe. Similarly, some are basically promoting Blessed Carlo as a PlayStation-competing, comic-book-loving, jeans-and-sneaker-wearing computer whiz. In trying to make holiness “cool,” they’re instead making it mundane by focusing on accidents rather than substance. 

Like his beloved St. Francis, however, Blessed Carlo was an “influencer for God” not by his worldliness but by his ordinary otherworldly radicalness. His most famous quip was, “All people are born as originals, but many die as photocopies,” and some are unfortunately trying to make him two-dimensional, evidently believing that the depth of his originality in God’s image would repel rather than attract the young even more. 

The world and the Church, however, are in need the real thing. 

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!