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St Charles Borromeo
Archbishop of Milan and Cardinal (entered heaven this day in 1584)
The distress in your last note caught my attention. You say you are tempted to simply “give up” your non-academic commitments in order to be able to study sufficiently, not having enough time for both. Hogwash. You are feeling the pressure of midterms and suffering from the misuse of time. If you examine how you organize your week you will see that you study inefficiently and give in to whims instead of following a self-disciplined schedule. Be humble; don’t panic. Go over exactly what you have to do in each class and in each one of your other commitments in order to achieve your goals in each (and if you have no goals, the first step is to make some). Then plug all those things into your calendar for the coming month. Then stick to it – and you and I both know that’s the hardest point. Maybe today’s saint can be an inspiration for you.
St Charles is one of those giants of the Church. Born and raised in the area around Milan, he came from a wealthy and noble family, in an age when nobility and wealth made their presence known. He spent his early years getting the best Renaissance education a man could get, and when his uncle became Pope Paul IV, he moved to Rome and became a member of the Papal court, being named a “Cardinal-Deacon.” That meant that the Pope heaped responsibilities upon him, but he was not yet ordained to the priesthood. And so, by the time he was 23 years old, his to-do list contained duties related to the following “non-academic commitments,” to use your term: Papal Legate of Bologna, Romagna, and the March of Ancona, and Papal Protector of Portugal, the Netherlands, the Catholic cantons of Switzerland, and the orders of St Francis, the Carmelites, the Knights of Malta, and others. Additionally, he was given charge over the archdiocese of Milan (though the Pope forbade him from leaving Rome to tend to it personally), he had to govern his family affairs (no small task for Italian nobility), he patronized learning and the arts in Rome, and he kept up a healthy schedule of recreational and social activities (which was expected of every worthy Cardinal-Deacon). That’s how he spent his early twenties. Have you cause to complain, my dear nephew, in light of such an example? Rather, I would say you ought to learn from him how to do more in less time, and do it better. His “secret” was hardly secret. It consisted of planning ahead, never rushing, practicing willful concentration on the task at hand (“do what you’re doing” as the old Latin saying goes: “age quod agis”), and just plain working hard. Through it all, he kept his prayer life first: going to confession and celebrating Mass early every morning before taking on the tasks of the day.
These simple habits served him well for the rest of his life, enabling him to infuse new vigor into the entire Catholic Church through his tireless efforts to conclude the Council of Trent and subsequently reform (in accordance with the Council’s indications) the Archdiocese of Milan (and the surrounding areas) from the clergy on down – a reform which has served as a model for conscientious pastors ever since. It was never easy (he survived at least two attempted assassinations), but it filled him with energy, and filled the world with the light of Christ in an especially dark moment of Christendom’s trek.
So, my young nephew, don’t be lazy, and don’t complain; rather, be disciplined, and keep first things first, remember the purpose of it all: seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these other things will be given you as well (cf. Matthew 6:33).