Monday, November 4, 2013

St. Charles Borromeo - A Tiny Spark

November 4 is the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo (1538 - 15840), the patron saint of catechists and catechumens, whose life and spirituality have inspired many religious orders. He served as the Bishop of Milan and is a leading figure in the Catholic reformation.

Charles was born in 1538 to an aristocratic and powerful family in northern Italy. As the second son, he was destined for a career in the Church from an early age. He received the clerical tonsure at age twelve and was sent to the Benedict Abbey of Saints Gratian and Felinus for his education. He received a doctorate in civil and canon law at the University of Pavia.

When his uncle, Cardinal de Medici, was elected pope in 1559, as Pius IV, Charles was made cardinal of the at the age of 22, and then appointed administrator to the archdiocese of Milan while still a lay person and a student. Next, he was made the pope's secretary of state, papal legate to Bologna, the low countries, and the cantons of Switzerland and cardinal - protector of the Franciscans, the Carmelites, the Knights of Malta, and others. He played a major role in the diplomatic efforts that led to the reopening of the Council of Trent in 1562, which had been suspended since 1552. He helped draft the catechism, missal, and breviary it produced. He was the mastermind in shaping most of the council's decrees -- and he was only twenty-six years old when it closed.

When his older brother died, Charles became head of the family, but refused to pursue the life this entailed (including marriage), and conferred this position on his Uncle Guido. Instead, he was ordained a priest in 1563, and was made Bishop of Milan the same year. He immediately set about reforming the diocese with great respect for those involved. He started seminaries for the education of clergy, founded a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for the religious instruction of children, and encouraged the Jesuits in his diocese. He survived an assassination attempt in 1569, fed 3,000 people from storms during a famine, and set an example of personal heroism during the outbreak of the plague in 1576, organizing care of the sick, burial of the dead, and feeding of the population. His simplicity, piety, generosity, and self-sacrifice during this time, made him beloved by his flock. Exhausted, he died at the age of 46. His last words were, "See, Lord, I am coming, I am coming soon."
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