Our saint of the day Camillus (*1550 +1614) was born in Italy of a noble family. He became a soldier but his taste for gambling and riotous living eventually lost him everything. At the age of 25 he converted as the result of hearing a sermon. He twice tried to join the Capuchin friars but was rejected because of his poor health. Having had experience of hospitals from the inside, he determined to improve them, and he devoted the rest of his life to the care of the sick. He offered himself to the hospital of San Giacomo in Rome and eventually became its bursar. Hospitals were filthy and hospital staff brutal & inadequate in those times. He introduced many reforms and founded a congregation of priests and lay brothers, the Servants of the Sick (later known as the Camillians) to serve the sick both spiritually and physically. He was ordained priest in 1584. He resigned as head of his congregation in 1607 but continued to look after and visit the sick almost until the day of his death.
In the Office of Readings is an account of his life. In it we can see how he related to the poor as if they were Christ himself.
Let me start with holy charity, the root of all the virtues and the gift most characteristic of Camillus. He was so fired by this virtue, both towards God and towards his neighbours, especially the sick, that just to see them was enough to melt his tender heart and to make him forget every pleasure, every earthly delight and attachment. Indeed, even when ministering to just one sick man, he seemed to burn himself up and wear himself out with the utmost devotion and compassion. Gladly would he have taken upon himself all their sickness and sufferings to alleviate their pain or take away their weakness.
So vividly did he picture and honour the person of Christ in them that often when distributing food to them he thought of them as his ‘Christs’, and would beg of them grace and the remission of sins. Hence he was as reverent before them as if he were really and truly in the presence of his Lord. Of nothing would he speak more frequently or fervently than of holy charity. He longed that it should take root in the heart of every man.
To fire his brethren in religion with this fundamental virtue, he would impress on them these sweet words of Jesus Christ [Matt 25 – the account of the Final Judgement]: ‘I was sick and you visited me.’ Indeed, so often did he repeat these words, he seemed to have them engraved on his heart.
Camillus’ charity was so great and wide-ranging that he took to his kind and loving heart not only the sick and the dying but also all other poor and wretched people. His heart was so full of devotion for the needy that he used to say: ‘If ever there were no poor to be found on the face of the earth, people would have to search them out and even pluck them from below the earth in order to do good to them and show them mercy!’