In 1575, the black death/plague descended on Milan [Ed. Ambrosian rite, as Milan was the city also of St Ambrose. My novice master’s religious name was Ambrose.] The city’s bishop, St. Charles Borromeo, hastened both to action and to prayer. Borromeo sold his own possessions to fund the relief effort and persuaded many wealthy citizens to contribute generously. He organized his clergy to care, materially and spiritually, for all in need. He created and staffed hospitals and quarantine houses. [Ed. we get our word “quarantine” from the forty days plague victims were required to isolate themselves, “Italian: quaranta giorni”.] Concerned by the growing ranks of the unemployed (sound familiar?) he created jobs for, or otherwise supported, large numbers of unemployed workers. Though he instilled strict distancing policies, he was nevertheless desperate not to forego his own personal contact with the suffering. Accordingly, St Charles made everyone, including his own household, treat him as though he had the plague; he went so far as carrying a long pole to keep healthy-looking people at bay when going about his business. He also made a special point of ensuring that the most vulnerable—that is, the orphaned infants whom he took “particular pleasure in rescuing”—received adequate love and attention.
Mindful above all of his flock’s spiritual needs, Borromeo went to great lengths to ensure people, despite everything, received proper religious care: “While he did not neglect their bodies, his principal solicitude was for the salvation of souls.” Most strikingly, at the peak of the epidemic, with churches closed and people confined to their homes, he had outdoor altars erected all around town, “where Mass was said daily, so that all could attend from their homes.” [Ed. the Mass “online” of its day?] He also instituted door-to-door confessions—“the confessor sitting on the doorstep outside, and the penitent kneeling within”—and home-delivery of the Eucharist on Sundays, administering the sacrament at the doorstep “as if they had been cloistered religious.”
“It did not escape him that the forty days of quarantine, if given up to idleness, afforded many temptations to sin; he therefore was heedful to provide that this time should be spent so as to promote the glory of God and the salvation of their souls.” To this end, he organized a number of activities and resources to help his flock homeschool themselves in piety and virtue. Prayerbooks were also distributed to each household, so the whole city might pray in unison at seven times of the day and night, “singing psalms and hymns in two choirs, after the manner of a chapter of canons, and saying suitable prayers, each hour being announced by the ringing of the great bell of the cathedral.” Copies of inspiring readings were translated into the vernacular and published, including works by our third-century friends Sts. Cyprian and Dionysius, relevant sermons and letters from other saints, and an account of the Franciscan St. Bernardine’s ministrations in plague-torn Siena in 1400.
Aged just nineteen, Bernardine volunteered to work in Siena’s plague hospital and encouraged his friends to do likewise. Nursing the sick and dying, he “labored with such readiness and cheerfulness of mind, that it seemed as if he were engaged in the care of his father, of his brothers, or of his own children. This should cause little astonishment, for in serving the sick, Bernardine served God, who is more than father, brother, or son to us.”
And that was not all: To provide still further against the evils of idleness, St. Charles sent round a pastoral letter, suggesting how the rest of their time might be profitably spent in mental prayer and spiritual reading, and granted special indulgences to those who practiced these exercises and prayed for the sick.
According to Borromeo’s biographer, thanks to his concern for the spiritual sustenance of the quarantined, “Milan might at this time have been not unfitly compared to a cloister of religious of both sexes serving God in the enclosure of their cells, an image of the heavenly Jerusalem filled with the praises of the angelic hosts.”
St. Henry Morse (1595–1645) and St. John Southworth (c. 1592–1654) ministered illegally to London’s Catholics during a seventeenth-century outbreak of plague. Though neither liked the other’s methods, they got results. Both were later martyred for these and other “crimes.”
Blessed Engelmar Unzeitig (1911– 1945), was arrested by the Gestapo in 1941 for preaching in defense of the Jews. Imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, he volunteered to serve quarantined inmates who were infected with typhoid. He contracted and died from the disease. He was beatified a “martyr of charity/love”, instead of a martyr from violence, similar to St Maximillian Kolbe or St Damien De Veuster, in 2016.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "“Si comprehendus, non est Deus.” -St Augustine, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "As the reading of bad books fills the mind with worldly and poisonous sentiments; so, on the other hand, the reading of pious works fills the soul with holy thoughts and good desires." -St. Alphonsus Liguori, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, “Yet such are the pity and compassion of this Lord of ours, so desirous is He that we should seek Him and enjoy His company, that in one way or another He never ceases calling us to Him . . . God here speaks to souls through words uttered by pious people, by sermons or good books, and in many other such ways.” —St. Teresa of Avila, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity… I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, what are the bases and principles of Catholicism, and where lie the main inconsistences and absurdities of the Protestant theory.” (St. John Henry Newman, “Duties of Catholics Towards the Protestant View,” Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England), "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom