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Finding St. Charles Borromeo in pandemic times


TODAY, Nov. 4 is the feast day of St. Charles Borromeo, cardinal-archbishop of Milan, who stayed put in place even as the secular authorities abandoned the principality upon the outbreak of the plague of 1576.

Charles organized the care of those stricken and ministered to the dying. It is said that he fed from 60,000 to 70,000 people daily using up his own funds, so much so that he went into debt.

We reflect on the response of the saint to the plague, in his own words:

To the faithful: A long time ago I resolved never to leave undone anything which might be for my people’s good. I beg you, above all, not to lose heart. Do not be affected by the example of those born and bred in the city who hurriedly abandoned it by flight at the very moment when it needed help

The dreadful state of these wretched creatures, everything lacking both for soul and body. These unhappy children seem to look on me as the cause of all their ills. Their silence reproaches me for my idleness. I put off holding out a helping hand when by my example I should have moved others to pity. I will delay no longer. By the grace of God, I will do my duty to the utmost

We have only one life and we should spend it for Jesus Christ and souls, not as we wish, but at the time and in the way God wishes. It would show presumption and neglect of our duty and God’s service to fail to do this.

To his priests: Do not be so forgetful of your priesthood as to prefer a late death to a holy one

Take the plague of the soul in consideration more than the contagion of the body which, for many reasons, is less pernicious.

Do not neglect human means, such as preventatives, remedies, doctors, everything that you can use to keep off infection, for such means are in no way opposed to our doing our duty.

In Gods mercy: God can replace us

From the beginning I resolved to place myself entirelyin God’s hands, without however despising ordinary remedies

Not by our prudence, which was caught asleep. Not by science of the doctors who could not discover the sources of the contagion, much less a cure. Not by the care of those in authority who abandoned the city. No, my dear children, but only by the mercy of God.

A testimonial

A Capuchin brother named James, who worked in the leper house where St. Charles went to almost daily to give the Sacraments to the suffering and the last rites to the dying, witnessed: “He often goes to the lazer [leper] house to console the sick into huts and private houses to speak to the sick and comfort them, as well as providing for all their needs. He fears nothing. It is useless to try to frighten him. It is true that he exposes himself much to danger but so far he has been preserved by the special grace of God, he says he cannot do otherwise. Indeed, the city has no other help and consolation.”


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