St. Charles Borromeo was elevated to Cardinal at the age of 22 years old and was not prepared. He was not yet a priest. It was he as papal secretary of state, who did the lion’s share of the work in bringing the final sessions of the Council of Trent into session again in 1562. His older brother Federigo died during the Council and it caused him to devote himself to the religious life. He resisted all efforts for him to give up his office and marry for the interests of his family and instead was secretly ordained a priest in 1563.
After the Council he devoted himself to three monumental projects, the Catechism that incorporated the teaching of the Council of Trent and the revision of the Missal and the Breviary. He also worked on the commission for the reform of church music.
He then undertook the monumental task of reforming the Archdiocese of Milan in accordance with the decrees of Trent. He did not return to his Archdiocese in Milan until 1565 and was met with great rejoicing as the first resident archbishop in eighty years.
He gave up much of his property to the poor and lived with great mortification, all the while reforming the clergy, founding schools and the Confraternity of Christian doctrine for the children (Sunday school). He showed himself to be dedicated to a profound reformation in the interior life of the Church. He encouraged priests and religious to believe in the power of prayer and penance as a means of becoming holy. He preached to them that “souls are won on one’s knees.
In 1569 he survived an assassination attempt by member of the Order of Humilati (“a doctrinally suspect religious order”), some of whom decided they could not live with the reforms he imposed on them. It was considered a miracle that the bullet, from an arquebus, did not penetrate his vestments.
He helped to bring about a great re-conversion to the Church in Switzerland, risking his life at a time when Calvin’s version of Christianity was strong, visiting all of the Catholic cantons. When famine followed by plague struck Milan in 1576, he risked his life continually visiting the sick and the dying and his example finally led others of his clergy to follow his example.
He visited hospitals, organized penitential processions in the streets because he believed the plague was a “scourge sent by heaven” to bring the people to a spiritual reckoning so that more souls might be saved. He was convinced that the great mercy of God was evident in this crisis in which 6000 people died in two months.
In periods of plague or famine, processions, usually carrying the relics of the Blessed Virgin or a Saint, have been held and praying for relief from the calamity. One example was that of Pope Gregory the Great in 590, who organized a procession from all seven areas of Rome to come together at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary, praying for forgiveness of sins and an end to the plague. At the tomb of the former Emperor Hadrian, Pope Gregory saw a vision of St. Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword, which indicated the plague was over.
When the magistrates in Milan tried to get the Cardinal Archbishop, St. Charles, to end the processions, he was able to remind them of the effectiveness of a similar procession by Pope St. Gregory the Great. He even got the governor of the province, who had fled, to return to the city.
Later, when the people were too afraid to come out on the streets, St. Charles closed all the Churches and built altars outside them so that the faithful would have the opportunity to attend Mass even from the windows of their homes. He also initiated the practice of the forty hours devotion, displaying the Blessed Sacrament outside the Church for a period of forty hours. He asked for volunteers to help the people in the most need and donated Church tapestries to their relief. Led by St. Charles the Church he tried to feed 60,000 to 70,000 people each day, going into debt after expending his own funds to do so.
He died November 3, 1884 at the age of 46, after a lifetime of courageous good works. During his lifetime popes and sovereigns all over Europe sought his advice. Cardinal Baronius called him “a second [Saint] Ambrose, whose early death, lamented by all men, inflicted great loss on the Church.”
St. Charles pray for us, especially now during this crisis of the coronavirus.
Saint Faustina Kowalska
Maria Faustina Kowalska was born on August 25, 1905 in Glogowiez, Poland. She grew up in a poor, but religious family. Her father was a carpenter. She mserved as housekeeper in several cities before joining the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in 1925, where she was assigned duties as a cook, gardener and porter.
Despite her humble background it was soon evident that she had a rich interior life as a mystic. She regularly saw and received messages from Jesus himself. Although she confided these to her confessor Father Michał Sopoćko, who supported her, she struggled at times to know if God was really calling her to establish the new devotion of divine mercy. This was because of her profound humility and to be sure she was not being deceived by Satan. In time Jesus helped her to understand her mission and carry it out.
She recorded in her diary: “Neither graces, nor revelations, nor raptures, nor gifts granted to a soul make it perfect, but rather the intimate union of the soul with God. These gifts are merely ornaments of the soul, but constitute neither its essence nor its perfection. My sanctity and perfection consist in the close union of my will with the will of God.”
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Saint Faustina followed the instructions she received from Jesus to have a picture of Jesus painted that reflected what she saw of him in her visions. This is the Divine Mercy image shown below:
More importantly, she initiated the process whereby the Church, under Pope Saint John Paul II initiated the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Novena. These beautiful prayers were approved as a Catholic devotion and are widely said in the Church.
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