I love today in the Church’s liturgical calendar – the Feast of St Charles Borromeo (Nov 4th).
I began to cultivate a relationship with this heavenly friend when we were praying for our local bishop’s successor a number of years ago. Not knowing how to do this, I googled “Patron saints of bishops” and discovered this amazing man.
He was so amazing that Pope St Pius X even wrote an encyclical (really important teaching) about him in 1910 called “Editae Saepe”
St Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) had a life that was full of notable periods, but the one I admire him for mostly was the way he came to reform the diocese of Milan.
Charles had a rich spiritual life and sought to live an austere life of poverty despite having been born into a noble family and living amongst many of the corrupt clergy of the time.
St Charles went to Milan, where there had been an 80 year absence of an Archbishop. He had much work to do in restoring the Kingdom of God to a city where God had been so removed from public and private life. He spared nothing of himself in this task, and showed enormous courage despite even having a member of a religious order he was asked to reform by Pope Pius V, attempt to assassinate him.
He was viewed as quite “austere and humourless” even by his admirers, but he really did have a massively difficult task to undertake.
“Evenhanded in his demands, he expected the same compliance with Council of Trent reforms from everyone. Bishops and priests alike had to dismiss their female relatives from their households; all schoolteachers—no exceptions—were required to make public professions of faith; every workingman who was apprehended in the street by one of the Archbishop’s “fishers” on Sunday was escorted to catechism class. Borromeo reminds us that the rules must be the same for all, and that we will not succeed if we make exceptions and play favourites.” Source.
St Charles really laid down his life for his sheep, and at the relatively young age of 46, he died presumably from fever brought on by his exhausting schedule. Definitely not a careerist or possessing the psychology of princes. Definitely had the smell of the sheep on his clothing. (Thanks Pope Francis!)
In Editae Saepe, Pope St Pius X really shines a bright light on the relevance of St Charles’ example and intercession for the world today. Some of his words are so prophetic I wondered when reading it if he could foresee the difficulties in the Church and the world before they happened. I highly recommend reading this relatively short document.
Remember, this was 1910, before WW1 or WW2 or the Communist regime or Hitler.
“When vice runs wild, when persecution hangs heavy, when error is so cunning that it threatens her destruction by snatching many children from her bosom (and plunges them into the whirlpool of sin and impiety) – then, more than ever, the Church is strengthened from above. Whether the wicked will it or not, God makes even error aid in the triumph of Truth whose guardian and defender is the Church. He puts corruption in the service of sanctity, whose mother and nurse is the Church. Out of persecution He brings a more wondrous “freedom from our enemies.” For these reasons, when worldly men think they see the Church buffeted and almost capsized in the raging storm, then she really comes forth fairer, stronger, purer, and brighter with the lustre of distinguished virtues.” Pope St Pius X. Editae Saepe, 6.
This wonderful working of Divine Providence in the Church’s program of restoration was seen with the greatest clarity and was given as a consolation for the good especially in the century of Saint Charles Borromeo. In those days passions ran riot and knowledge of the truth was almost completely twisted and confused. A continual battle was being waged against errors. Human society, going from bad to worse, was rushing headlong into the abyss. Then those proud and rebellious men came on the scene who are “enemies of the cross of Christ . . .Their god is the belly…they mind the things of earth.” These men were not concerned with correcting morals, but only with denying dogmas. Thus they increased the chaos. They dropped the reins of law, and unbridled licentiousness ran wild. They despised the authoritative guidance of the church and pandered to the whims of the dissolute princes and people. They tried to destroy the Church’s doctrine, constitution and discipline. they were similar to those sinners who were warned long ago: “Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil.” Pope St Pius X. Editae Saepe, 9.
I think that perhaps Pope St Pius X could see the need for more members of the Church to take great heart and inspiration from the example of St Charles Borromeo. It is always good to read a story that has a happy ending, and certainly for the Catholics of Milan St Charles’ presence brought about an enormous amount of lasting fruit.
Happy Feast Day, St Charles Borromeo! Pray for us!