Hardships and Hope
Were epidemics and/or pandemics part of St. Angela Merici’s experience?
The pandemic “Black Death” scourged Europe from 1346 to 1353. When Angela was born (1474), plague was periodic and local. Milan suffered an epidemic in the 1490s and Brescia in 1524, during her time there. People trembled before their vulnerability to disease.
There is no evidence of why Angela’s sister and parents died when she was in her teens (not all at once). Agostino Gallo testified that Angela had episodes of illness but did not generally respond well to medications, preferring “onions, leeks, and similar things.” Her chosen therapy was washing her hair. In Cremona, she was on the threshold of death, eager for heaven, and angry when she realized that she would survive.
How did she think about life-shortening illnesses – one of life’s hardships?
Angela shows the whole picture: our earthly trials and our heavenly destination. She puts them in sharp relief: “this miserable and treacherous world” and heaven’s “celestial joys and treasures” and “everlasting triumphs.” She warns us against making achievements, possessions, or comforts in this world the treasures of our hearts, things which are passing and vulnerable to life’s vicissitudes: “…and henceforward abandon totally all love for this miserable and treacherous world, where there is never either rest or any true contentment, but only empty dreams, or bitter hardships, and every kind of misery and wretchedness.”
The world’s treasures pass, but so do its inevitable sorrows. Angela hopes and trusts in God: not that nothing will go wrong, not that we will be spared suffering, but a trust that God will not abandon us and will lead us into Paradise. “Although at times they will have troubles or anxieties, nevertheless this will soon pass away and be turned into gladness and joy. And then, the suffering of this world is nothing in comparison with the blessings which are in Paradise. Also, let them hold this as most certain: that they will never be abandoned in their needs. God will provide for them wonderfully. They must not lose hope.”
Angela faced hardships and sorrows, was bereaved, and now abides in the joy that we too will enter. “Also, tell them that now I am more alive than when they saw me in the flesh, and that now I see them and know them better. And can and want to help them more.”
Her promise lifts our hearts.