Saint Charles Borromeo
Hero of the Counter Reformation
God is so good. He made a promise which He has always kept. He has been a faithful God to a very unfaithful people. We are our own worst enemies, but God always bails us out. We're talking in this instance about the great heretical movement spawned by Martin Luther in the early Sixteenth Century, a pure flame from hell which grew and grew until it exploded into epidemic proportions.
Luther was a victim of his own ego. He was used and abused as a pawn by the powers that ruled Germany during that period. By the time Martin Lutherwas dying, he had lost all power; the reformation had gotten completely out of his control. Luther had to prepare himself to meet God the Father and explain how and why he left the people of God at the mercy of maniacs and wholesale murderers such as John Calvin in Switzerland, Henry VIII, and in years to come, Oliver Cromwell in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Luther made a statement before he died, "I wanted to get rid of one pope; I created a hundred popes." And it continued to get worse, with all blame being heaped on the shoulders of this dissident Augustinian priest.
We have often said that in times of crisis, God sends us Miracles of the Eucharist, Apparitions of Our Lady, Angelic intercessions and Saints and Other Powerful Men and Women in our Church. This account is about one of those powerful men, a true hero in our Church, Charles Cardinal Borromeo, Defender of the Faith of the Sixteenth Century. He was one of God's soldiers along with Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), Philip Neri and Pope St. Pius Vwho went to battle against Luther, Calvin and all the betrayers of the Church; and became heroes of the Counter-Reformation.
Luther's massive and potentially devastating attack on the Church of the Sixteenth Century, put the people of God into a tailspin. He was allowed to spew outrageous heresies, encouraged and supported by the greedy governments of the various principalities of Germany who wanted nothing more than to take away the papal lands and not have to pay any royalties to the Pope. They used this man as a puppet, and the world has never healed from the wounds inflicted upon the Church. By the end of the Sixteenth Century, each little principality in Germany had their own religion, custom tailored to the individual needs and idiosyncrasies of their rulers. None of what was given them in the form of doctrine had anything to do with the Catholic Church. But they were forced to accept it. Many Germans, as well as Swiss, Scandinavian and countless other nationalities, were never aware they were no longer Catholic until it was too late.
The Lord was to raise up a brilliant son in Charles Borromeo. He came from good Catholic Italian stock. His father was a Count, very skillful and spiritual. His mother was a Medici, and his uncle on his mother's side was to become Pope Pius IV.So Charles grew up in an aristocratic, truly Catholic background. Charles was born in the castle of Arona on the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Maggiore, one of the most exquisite of the lakes of Italy, north of Milan, bordering the Swiss border. It was the year 1538. Charles was a very serious boy, and sincerely pious. His family played a very instrumental part in matters of the Faith. They were steeped in their religion. Charles could always count on any number of priests or bishops, and even a few cardinals and His Holiness, Pope Pius IV, gracing his parents with their presence. It was in this solid background that he became so strong in the Faith. It was a gift from the Lord which would stay with him all the days of his life.
At age twelve or somewhere in his early teens, Charles was given the Benedictine Abbey of Sts. Gratinian and Felinus in Arona by his uncle, Julius Caesar Borromeo, for his very own. At that time, he also received the clerical tonsure. It was interesting how seriously Charles took this gift from his uncle, looking on it as more of a responsibility, than as a means of adding to his personal wealth. As young as he was, he made a point of reminding his father that income from the Abbey could not be used for their household or for any secular purpose, including paying for the upkeep of their palace. He used the income from the property for the maintenance of the Abbey, for his religious education, and for the care of the poor and homeless. Even at this early age, he was very strict and would not use any part of it even for his secular education. He observed the rules beyond the letter of the law. He was very strict, and although in his position, he would have been allowed to bend them, it was not in keeping with his religious beliefs.
In preparation for a career in service to the Church, he learned Latin in Milan. He attended the university of Pavia, where he was taught under the tutelage of Francis Alciati, who later became a cardinal of the Church. Charles had a speech impediment which, coupled with a slowness in grasping the subject material he was given, gave the impression that he was backward. But he was like the tortoise in the account of the tortoise and the hare. He was slow but solid. Everything he learned, he would use to defend the Church of the Sixteenth Century.
The Lord was working on a parallel course. It was 1545, and Pope Paul III called the Council of Trent. It was a brilliant maneuver to accomplish two goals at the same time. He formally condemned the teachings of Martin Luther, (Martin Luther was officially excommunicated by Pope Leo X in 1521, who also condemned 41 of his propositions. But it lacked the necessary power to be accepted by the universal Church because it was not under the cover of an Ecumenical Council. In 1555, Pope Paul IV convened the Council of Trent to formally condemn Luther and his teachings and defined the doctrines of the Faith. To quote Henry Cardinal Newman, an English convert, "We do not define dogma until it is attacked." We can see the Lord gathering up His Army with Charles in Milan, St. Philip Neri in Rome (born 1515), St. Ignatius of Loyola in Spain (born 1491) and the future Pope St. Pius V (born 1504) laboring as a priest in northern Italy at this time, having been ordained in 1528. All these men were born to do great things for Our Lord in defense of the Church.
Getting back to Charles, he was a model student. He fought the label of being slow by being resolute in his commitment to excel in his studies. He showed great strength, imposing upon himself the most stringent demands. Because of his prudent behavior and demeanor, he was held up to the other students as an example of chastity which was badly lacking in the university; he obtained his doctorate in civil and canon law at twenty two years old in 1559.
He exhibited a great deal of control for a young man, his age. His uncle, a Medici Cardinal Archbishop, was elected to the exalted title of Pope Pius IV. He had great plans for his nephew, Charles, making him a Cardinal-Deacon without making him a priest. He also made him administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan, who had no archbishop for some time. Again, this was without being a priest. So Charles was ready to head back to Milan to work for the Church, not as a priest, but as a lay person. However, his uncle, the Pope, had other ideas for this bright twenty two year old future Doctor of the Church; so he brought him down to Rome to work at many marvelous projects His Holiness wanted to accomplish. Knowing that Cardinal Charles was the man for the job, he wanted him near the Vatican. In Charles, the Pope knew he had someone whom he could trust, and who had the reputation in the family of being thorough and getting the job done, no matter what it was.
Charles was made legate (An officially appointed representative of the Pope. In permanent assignments, he becomes a Nuncio before a civil government, or an apostolic delegate when representing the Pope in affairs of the Church) of Bologna, Romagna and the Marches of Ancona. Then he was named Protector of Portugal, the Low Countries, the Catholic cantons of Switzerland, as well as the orders of the Franciscans, the Carmelites, the Knights of Malta and many others. Charles was becoming a powerful man in the Church and he was still not a priest. He did hold minor orders, however at age twenty three. His slow methodical approach did annoy some people in the Vatican; but there was never cause for concern. The assignments were always executed to the exact degree of excellence of which he was expected to perform, and yet he was never in a hurry to get them done. Everything was customary and systematic. He was never harried. With the death of members of the family, he became in charge of handling family affairs, which he did again without getting overwhelmed, and at the same time accomplishing his goals more than satisfactorily.
St. Charles tried as much as possible to liberate himself from all the material trappings connected with holding a position in the Vatican as a legate of the Pope, and yet he felt he was required to live in a certain way, in keeping with his standing in the Church and also his place in his family. But these were traps to him. He wanted nothing to do with them. He committed himself to having a large household and a magnificent palace, befitting his rank and the type of entertainment he was required to put on. He would rather have lived as a recluse in a monastery, with only Our Lord as his companion. That would have been enough for him. Despite the temptations which came his way as a result of his titles and positions, he became more and more disenchanted with this way of life. He maintained mortification in his behavior; temperance and serenity in his demeanor.
We have to believe that St. Charles Borromeo enjoyed being such an intricate part of the workings of the Church, especially being such a holy young man; but he did have one problem which constantly nagged at him. He had been made Administrator of Milan. They had not had an archbishop living in the archdiocese for eighty years. And yet he could not go to Milan to dispatch his many duties. I mean, he was in effect, Archbishop of the Archdiocese, which is a full time job, but couldn't be in his archdiocese to do it. He was an extremely conscientious young man. He realized he was doing as much as he could handle, but felt that either he be allowed to administer his office on-site, so to speak, or give it to someone else who would be there working with the Church hands-on.
He may or may not have understood that he was a trusted member of the papal team. That word trusted is key here. There are not many people that can be arbitrarily trusted to do anything. If someone is a trusted employee, or a trusted member of a church community or government, that person is very special. That trust requires an action. In the case of St. Charles Borromeo and the Pope, that action was complete loyalty to the Pope and whatever he needed Charles to do for him. Charles was a yes man. He never gave a thought to not doing whatever was required of him; but he was torn between his obedience to the Pope and his obligation to the souls of Milan, which he judged he was not handling as well as could have been handled by someone there full time.
The Lord knew why He wanted St. Charles to be in this key position during this crucial time. It was the Council of Trent. It had been opened first in 1545 and adjourned in 1547, without ever having completed the task assigned to its members. Then in 1551, it was convened again under a new, determined Pope Julius III, but it was adjourned again after one year. The work had never been completed; it had never been brought to conclusion; the reforms, doctrines, none of these things had been instituted. "The Council of Trent was unquestionably one of the most important Councils the Church had ever convened." Until and unless all the reforms, dogmas, doctrines and declarations were formalized, the whole Martin Luther controversy was still up in the air. Until the questions raised by him and his fellow heretics were answered definitively, their errors clearly condemned, the dissidents would use this as justification to break away from Mother Church.
In going through the documents of the Council of Trent, it's interesting to observe the different attitudes of the popes, especially the contrast in the Sixteenth session in 1552, in which Pope Julius III. suspended the Council, and the Bull for the Celebration of the Council of Trent, written by Pope Pius IV in 1560 and the subsequent opening of the Seventeenth session in 1562. Pope Julius III was completely defeated. He had tried to rekindle the flame which Pope Paul III ignited when he convened the First Session in 1545. Pope Julius III and his people had been victims of strong pressure by the German princes. Protestants had been invited to the Council in the spirit of reconciliation. But their demands were so ridiculous it was impossible to concede to them. They insisted that resolutions that had already been made by the Council, especially those regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and the doctrine of Transubstantiation should be revised so as to be based solely on the Protestant interpretation of Scripture, and that the Pope had to agree to be subordinate to the Council. (It is a dogma of the Church that when a Council issues a document approved by the Pope, the Holy Spirit envelops the Council and prevents it from making any formal error - Treasures of the Church Page 163 - It is not the other way round!) In addition, war broke out between France and Germany; the German bishops left the Council and never returned.
"(the Council) thus far had arrived only at fragmentary results: its dogmatic definitions were incomplete, only a fraction of the controversies with the Protestants having been doctrinally resolved; still less satisfactory were its reform decrees, which left unanswered many urgent petitions of the bishops. In 1553, Pope Julius III prepared an extensive reform Bull to cope with the many unresolved practical problems, but he died before it could be published." (New Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 14 - Pg. 274)
When Pope Pius IV, St. Charles' uncle, was elected Pope, he vowed that he would reopen the Council and bring it to conclusion. He had good reason for this. Calvinism was running rampant, not only in Switzerland where Calvin had begun with it, but now it was threatening France. The Pope's relative, Catherine de Medici, the regent of France, was very weak taking a stand against Calvinism. She vacillated back and forth, almost on a daily basis.
Pope Pius IV knew, through infused knowledge, that he needed a General Council to get the Church at large to support the Council of Trent's stand on Protestantism. He also knew the amount of infighting that would be involved in putting together a Council, whether it be to continue the Council of Trent or convene a new Council. He knew he needed a Charles Borromeo to make it happen. Charles had everything that was needed to get the job done, with two very special qualities, (1) and most important, loyalty. The Pope knew his nephew was behind him completely, not so much because they were related, but because Charles supported the Pope's effort to turn the tide of Protestantism, which was becoming stronger and stronger. (2) a quality of sticking-to-it until the job was completed to the glory of God and the Salvation of the Church from her enemies.
It took ten years after the previous council had been adjourned, for the final sessions to be opened. Charles Borromeo had to be in charge of overseeing the Council, so that all obstacles were overcome, in an effort to make it successful. It was touch and go many times during the two years he actually sat in on the proceedings. It almost fell apart on a daily basis, bringing back the fear that all the work the Council had been convened for in the first place would never be realized. Charles Borromeo vowed he would not let that happen. God knew he wouldn't. The Pope knew he wouldn't. He just couldn't let anything get in the way of the success of the Lord's work
Together with the other members of the Council, he pounded out the additional nine sessions needed to put everything into order, to write the dogmatic and disciplinary decrees which were necessary to make the Council a success. It has been attested to that St. Charles Borromeo was the single most important factor behind driving the Council of Trent to its successful conclusion in 1562. The following year, 1563, he was ordained a priest. Within a matter of months, he was ordained bishop. He prayed now that the Council was successfully completed, he would be able to go to Milan and run his archdiocese. In addition to his own feelings about what we could call absentee management, that is, bishops of major dioceses and archdioceses living at the papal court in Rome, rather than being among their people, shepherding and pasturing their flock, this had become a very touchy situation during the last two years of the Council of Trent.
But we have to explain Pope Pius IV's thinking, not just his, but all the popes prior to him. Today, we live in a modern world of communications, where nothing happens anywhere in the world that you cannot see and hear about on the six o'clock news. The distances between Rome and many of the Dioceses are not far to our way of thinking, what with planes and cars and Autostrade (Major highways). But in reality for that time, to go to Milan from Rome, for example, which is approximately 572 kilometers, or 358 miles could have been a two to three week trip. Communicating was a long drawn-out thing. Even to send a message, it took a horseman about a week minimum, flying like the wind, to get an important message from the Pope to a bishop and vice-versa; and that's assuming the messenger was not ambushed by enemies of the Pope somewhere along the way.
The Pope needed the bishops to be there with him, by his side, mostly for loyalty, but also for quick decisions. He had to know they were not plotting against him, running their own little kingdom in their Diocese. Even today, the bishop or archbishop is usually the richest, most influential man in town. He owns a great deal of property, has access to much money, and is the Spiritual Leader of hundreds of thousands of the Faithful. In the case of very large Archdioceses, like Chicago or Los Angeles, the Archbishops of those Archdioceses are Spiritual Leaders to millions of Catholics. What would it take for the evil one to fill a bishop or cardinal's heart with treachery and pride, especially if they were a far distance from headquarters? What would it take for the local prince or emperor to pressure them into disloyalty and disobedience to the Pope? And how long would it take before the Vatican were even aware of a betrayal from one of her cardinals or bishops?
Pope Pius IV was pretty adamant about St. Charles staying at the papal Court in Rome. He did have another reason, however, than just having him available at a moment's notice. The closing of the Council was just the beginning of the work involved. This particular Council, one of the most important, if not the most important Council in the history of the Church, had to be followed up with many things. As a supplement to the Council, many works were produced to implement the doctrines and dogmas of the Council. Some of them were:
Revised Index of Forbidden Books was published in 1564.
Roman Catechism for Pastors was published in 1566.
The Reformed Roman Breviary was published in 1568.
The Reformed Roman Missal was published in 1570.
While Charles was not involved in every aspect of these works, he had a hand in all of them. He was particularly involved in the drawing up of the Catechism, and in major liturgical reform, especially where the music was concerned. He actually composed a Mass called "Papae Marcelli." But he felt a great pull to Milan and pressed his uncle to allow him to go there, at least for a visitation. Finally, the Pope gave in and allowed him to go, just for a visitation.
There had been a vicar whom St. Charles had appointed; he and a group of Jesuits were specifically sent to try to bring about reforms in the archdiocese, and had been mostly unsuccessful in accomplishing their goal. It needed the archbishop, whom Charles had become, to go and put things in order, and spend some time with his flock. However, before he left, the Pope appointed him Legate a Latere for all Italy.( Title of a specific, confidential representative of the Pope. Usually, he is entrusted with particular powers to enable him to carry out his mission.) In effect, St. Charles was the Pope in whatever area he would visit during the time he was away from Rome. He had broad powers from the Pope. Again, Pope Pius IV knew to whom he was delegating these powers. St. Charles was his right-hand man.
His time in Milan was well-spent, both for him and the Church. He was able to see first-hand the resolutions of the Council of Trent at work. He taught suffragans (Bishops from other dioceses, sent to Milan to learn from his teachings the reforms of the Council of Trent.)
At the provincial council he held for the region of Milan. They were instructed in ways to implement decrees such as,
The discipline and training of the clergy,
The celebration of Divine Services,
The administration of the Sacraments,
The teaching of the Catechism on Sundays.
St. Charles was extremely successful in this provincial council and was sent a letter of congratulations by the Pope. It was during this trip, while he was working his way back to Rome by way of Tuscany, exercising his legatine duties, that he received word that His Holiness, Pope Pius IV, was dying. He rushed back to Rome to be at the bedside of his uncle and friend, his mentor, his "Sweet Christ on Earth." (St. Catherine of Siena called all Popes. See Saints and Other Powerful Women in the Church, chapter on St. Catherine of Siena)
He stayed with the Pope until he died and his successor, Pope St. Pius V, was elected.
There was no question but that the new Pope had need of the broad experience of St. Charles Borromeo in putting together his papacy. He persuaded Charles to stay in Rome for awhile. But Charles really wanted to return to Milan and his flock. He felt he was just beginning to make breakthroughs with the people of Milan, as well as the priests and bishops of the surrounding areas. But he had given in to the Pope. Remember, it's not that easy to say no to a Pope. I wish the Pope would just ask me something so I could say Yes! And this is not just a Pope, but a Pope who was eventually canonized a Saint of our Church. So he had to be pretty special. It probably took all the strength St. Charles had to stick to his guns. But he prayed for perseverance and the right words to explain to His Holiness how important it was for him to return to Milan.
St. Charles enlisted the aid of all the most eloquent saints who had gone before him: St. Anthony, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, every Saint he could think of, plus Our Lady and his Guardian Angel as well as the Guardian Angel of Pope St. Pius V. With all that ammunition behind him, he asked the Pope to let him return to his Archdiocese of Milan. He explained how important it was, not only to him, but to the people of the archdiocese, as well as the priests and bishops with whom he had worked. The Holy Spirit worked through St. Charles and whispered into the ears of the Pope St. Pius V. He could understand the importance of this move for St. Charles as well as for the entire Church, and so he dismissed St. Charles with his blessings.
In April of 1566, just a few months after Pope St. Pius V was installed Supreme Pontiff, Charles was allowed to return to Milan. This was an important time for him. He had known for a long time how necessary it was for his people to have a full-time bishop. Now he was able to begin working full time for his archdiocese. All the distractions of the papal Court, as beautiful and spiritual as they might be, were taken away from him. There was no longer a need for the big household, or the large staff or the many affairs which he had to put on for the sake of the papal Court. Charles was a very simple person as far as his desires and needs were concerned. He did not want all the wealth which was thrust upon him at various times in his life. Now he could divest himself of whatever was not actually necessary for his subsistence.
His almoner (A person named by a prince or lord to dispense alms or monies to indigent subjects. In the modern church, that position has been given over to members of a religious community to distribute alms.) was shocked at the way St. Charles went about giving away as much of his wealth as possible. The first severe task he put upon himself was the tightening up of his household. However, he was never imprudent in the austerity which he practiced. He would never allow himself to become so weak because of his fasting that he would fall behind in the major tasks he had given himself, in the fulfillment of his many duties. So he didn't starve himself. He ate as little as was necessary, just what he needed to do what he had to do. He also had a lot of money. It came from many different sources. But it always came. He didn't need it. He didn't want to accumulate it. So he gave away what he didn't need. He made sure that whatever responsibilities he had were taken care of properly, because that was what he was, a proper person. But he never cared for excess. He was happy to share what he had with those who did not. He was a true Franciscan, even though we don't think he ever became one.
To many, however, his initial move into Milan was considered very radical. He felt that he had much too much in the way of possessions. He had to dispose of a great deal of it immediately. He sold many things which he owned, of which he held no value. The lion's share of the proceeds from the sale of all this stuff, valuable stuff, expensive stuff, but stuff nevertheless, went to the poor, indigents, or what we would call today, street people. As Jesus said in Scripture, "The poor you will always have with you." John 12:8
We don't think St. Charles thought that by giving his money away, he could end starvation or poverty. He was a very logical man. He believed in the Scripture passage above. He just didn't need the possessions and knew some people who did need them. So he put his wealth where he thought it would do the most good.
When St. Charles was allowed to return to Milan for good, he found a raggedy archdiocese steeped in abuses and excesses, but more than anything, a flock without a shepherd, longing and hungering for a father figure who would minister to them. They found this in St. Charles Borromeo and more. He was a powerhouse of energy. Perhaps the Lord permitted him to stay in Rome as long as he did to train him for this major undertaking, that of whipping an archdiocese into shape, and making it into a model diocese which would not only benefit the people of Milan and their surrounding areas, reaching as far as Germany, Switzerland and France, but for the whole church. The prototype which Borromeo created has been the standard for the government of physical and spiritual programs within the entire Church until this day.
The people loved him. He was so filled with the Holy Spirit as he spoke to his spiritual children, they could not help but be filled with this love, and project it to whomever they met. It was an epidemic of the most splendid sort. They actually looked forward to persevering in virtue and suffering for the sake of the Kingdom because he made it such a loving way to live. St. Charles so practiced what he preached in his own life that the people wanted to follow him. For instance, his own household was too large, too sophisticated, too cosmopolitan. They lived too well; they shouldn't have; they were mostly clergy. St. Charles wanted to live a simple life; he had to convert his own household. Then he could convert the diocese. And most of that transformation took place as a result of his example rather than his decrees. He had a steep road to climb, and he had to begin with himself. Here is an example of what he walked into:
"Throughout the diocese, religion was little known or understood and religious practices were desecrated by gross abuses and disgraced by superstition. The Sacraments were neglected, for many of the clergy scarcely knew how to administer them, and were lazy, ignorant and debauched; monasteries were full of disorder." Butler's Lives of the Saints, Volume 4, Page 258
He had to make a clean sweep, build a diocese from scratch, and he did. He instituted so many reforms, it doesn't seem possible that one man could have done it all. And we must keep in mind that at this time, he was only twenty eight years old. It was pure Holy Spirit. He was responsible for the institution of some of the following:
1.Reorganization of Diocesan administration into a workable set of offices with separate, individual functions.
2.He called six different provincial councils and eleven diocesan councils to set policy and a working relationship by the people of the church with each other and with their bishop.
3.He began methodical and frequent visits to every part of his diocese.
[Author's note: This may not sound like such a big accomplishment to us. Our bishop usually gets to every parish in the diocese at least once every year or so. Keep in mind, however, that this diocese, and most like it at that time, may not have ever seen a bishop in the lifetime of anyone in the parish. This particular diocese, Milan, had not had a bishop living in the diocese for over eighty years. The bishops pretty much stayed in Rome. Plus, even if the bishops wanted to embark on such a grand excursion, their means of transportation were pretty primitive by our standards. If a bishop began a journey to visit all the parishes in his diocese, using a stagecoach, he might never finish it in his lifetime. So you can see what an undertaking St. Charles had given himself.]
4.He opened up seminaries in the Archdiocese, first to the Jesuits, and then to the followers of St. Ambrose. St. Ambrose was very loved in Milan. He was an early Father of the Church and Archbishop of Milan during very difficult times, leading the people with no thought of his own well-being or comfort. His name and charisma followed him for over a thousand years from the time of his death.
Again, this may not seem like any big thing, but seminaries were not in existence prior to the Council of Trent. Actually, St. Charles was very instrumental in the creation of the seminary system during the Council. So actually, he was basing what he did as Archbishop of Milan on what he was partially responsible for putting into the Canons of the Council of Trent. He so believed in the need for formal education and training of priests that it was one of the first reforms he put into effect in his diocese.
5.CCD - Confraternity of Christian Doctrine - St. Charles created CCD in its original form. Actually, CCD was begun by St. Charles under the inspiration and leadership of Pope Pius IV, his uncle. This was done for the people of Rome. There was such a need for educating the people in the churches of Rome on the teachings of the Catechism that it was begun and promoted in 1560. When St. Charles left Rome after his uncle died in 1565, he brought the concept to Milan and put it into practice, according to the mandate made by Pope Pius IV.
6.He began a diocesan religious society, originally called the Oblates of Milan, which were subsequently named the Oblates of St. Charles. This was a reform of clergy which St. Charles began in 1579.
7.He opened up schools and cultural and social institutions within universities in Pavia and at the University of Brera in Milan.
8.He provided shelters for street people of his day: wanderers, the lost and neglected, reformed prostitutes and orphans. Today we would call them the marginalized and disenfranchised, battered women and abused children. The names change with the technology, but the situations remain the same.
We have to stop for a moment to make a comment. Obviously, St. Charles Borromeo was very concerned with social justice. If you just look at some of the reforms for which he was responsible, you know his heart was with his people. He sold and gave away most of his possessions, or at least those that were his to give. He opened up shelters for the poor; he opened up and financed schools. St. Charles was able to accomplish all this without compromising the Faith. This is an important point we have to make here.
He was one of the movers and shakers of the Council of Trent, and the reforms which took place as a result of finalizing the Council. Sweeping reforms were made; not only that but the Council of Trent has been credited down through the ages with being the single greatest factor in defining and defending the doctrines of our Faith. But what did the Council of Trent affirm and defend? The Eucharist, the Mass, the Primacy of Peter and our Popes, the Priesthood, the Sacraments, everything that we as a Church profess today, was solidified in the Council of Trent. And St. Charles Borromeo was a leading orchestrator of these reforms. He didn't water down our beliefs. He didn't play down the Faith for the acceptance of a few, or of many for that matter. He didn't decrease the values which have been given to us down through the centuries. And if you look at the reforms he made listed above, he was catering to the same problems in society, which are prevalent in our Church and our world today. And yet he held fast to the values of our Church.
We're told we live in a completely different society today than we did at that time. That's true to a degree. We have more means at our disposal today to relieve the distress of our people. The problems are all the same. It is true, today our young people have taken to shooting up schools and schoolmates as well as teachers and parents. It's not unlike what it was then. The big difference today is we've given our people too much access to too many weapons with which will kill! And we've sent them a loud and clear message that life has no value; it's all right to murder. That comes from our legislation against life in all its forms, abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia. If it's all right for adults to kill, it surely must be all right for children.
St. Charles Borromeo did not feel the need to be popular or liked. You can't put through the kind of sweeping reforms in the Church and the State and have everyone like you. Another advocate of Social Justice of the Nineteenth Century, St. Don Bosco, was definitely not liked by all. He was loved by the children. He was adored by his community. But there were many attempts on his life. The same can be said of St. Charles Borromeo. He was a fighter. He was a Defender of the Faith. Because of the conquests of little principalities by foreign powers, such as dukes of Spain and France, as well as little dictators in Italy, plus inter-marriage for the sake of gaining control of property in key countries, the laws of Milan, just as an example, were completely based on individual agendas.
He found himself at odds with the Spanish governors of Milan over matters of jurisdictional and secular natures. It came to some pretty hard-headed confrontations. In one instance, it was only through the diplomatic resources of the Pope and Prince Philip II of Spain that a sort of peace and arbitration was executed. But then he ran into problems with the clerical communities over the same thing, jurisdictional and disciplinary authority. He was actually barred from entering a church by the canons of the Church. When St. Charles would not acquiesce, and persisted in his right to make an Episcopal visit to the Church, soldiers from one of the Spanish dukes, the Duke of Albuquerque, shot at him with a musket. Thank God for the poor aim of the soldier, or the lack of accuracy of the firearms, or the intervention of the Angels, but St. Charles was not hit. However, the Crucifix he was holding was nicked.
In another separate situation, St. Charles was in his home, praying with the members of his household, when a paid assassin shot at him at such a point blank range, it could only have been the wings of the Angels which caused the bullet to graze him slightly. The civil authorities hung the would-be assassin. We're not sure if it was punishment for the crime committed, or for not having successfully concluded the task he had been given and paid to do.
At any rate, it became very obvious to the powers that be, that this was a man to be reckoned with. He was not about to back down from anything, when it came to his Church and his God. Also, his reputation grew outside the diocese of Milan as well. He began making apostolic trips to other dioceses, such as Brescia, Cremona and Bergamo, all to the east of Milan. He made missionary trips into the Italian and German Alps to bring the Word of God to many who were victimized by the widespread lies of Protestantism. In addition, in some of these areas which had never had anybody there to minister to them, witchcraft and sorcery were also prevalent. You must remember, this time was when the greatest spread of Calvinism took place. In his travels to Switzerland, he found that although John Calvin had died prior to this time, his heresies were firmly entrenched there. St. Charles took his life in his hands to evangelize there, but he did!
St. Charles Borromeo was considered slow of speech and pace, from what we can gather, however he ran his entire life. He burned out at an early age, forty six years old. He was on retreat, when he came down with a fever at the end of October 1584. He was brought back to Milan on a litter. Within three days, he was dead. We believe that he had done all that the Lord wanted him to accomplish in a very short period of time. Twenty six years after his death, in 1610, he was canonized by Pope Paul V.
St. Charles's life was one of great spirituality and dedication to the Church. There were no apparitions of which we're aware, no Stigmata. He was just a solid worker in the Lord's Vineyard. There were many miracles during his lifetime and also which were obviously due to the intercession of St. Charles Borromeo. The most powerful miracles were those of changing men's hearts, of defending the Truths of our Church, and bringing about sweeping reforms in our Church. He was a man of great wealth, who used his riches to benefit those less fortunate than he. He was very focused on bringing the people of God, especially those of his beloved Archdiocese of Milan, back into the fold.
St. Charles Borromeo was a majestic role model, a very special role model, a role model for Bishops and Cardinals. Everyone needs Role Models! But especially those in authority who have been entrusted by God to shepherd His children. They are answerable; because to the degree that we have been blessed, to that degree we are accountable. Possibly more than anyone, bishops and cardinals need our prayers. Pray to St. Charles Borromeo for his intercession for your bishop or cardinal. He was first and foremost a prelate and Defender of the Church. Now, as a Saint in Heaven, he prays for his fellow bishops who are called to take up his torch and Defend the Faith!
Dear Bishops of the world, your dear brother Bishop and Cardinal didn't give in to the pressures of the day. He fought the tensions of his day; if it was not the secular government disputing his jurisdiction, it was the priesthood fighting him over disciplinary actions he was imposing, especially on those complaining that the Church's teaching on Jesus was obsolete in their age. He didn't bring the Church and its marvelous traditions down to the perceived levels of the people. He showed the people how they could rise to the levels of Christ. He didn't allow his clergy to give in to the carnal desires which were so accepted at that time.
Although St. Charles found himself smack in the middle of a church, influenced by the pagan humanism and secular humanism of the Renaissance, he did not capitulate. No, St. Charles brought his clergy to the level of Jesus, in Whose Name they were ministering to the world. The Laity, the street people, the beggars, the marginalized and disenfranchised, were given self worth, not by Jesus coming down to their level, not by worshipping each other, but by being raised by their bootstraps to the level to which they were called by the Sacrifice of their Redeemer, that of giving His life for them and for us.
We thank you, Lord, for St. Charles Borromeo. Especially in this day and time, when all around us seems so hopeless, thank You for giving us hope. When there seems to be no help, thank You for giving us help through Your servant, St. Charles. St. Charles, pray for us, and for your fellow Bishops and Cardinals.
Browse our Saint Charles Borromeo Collection
About the Authors:Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”