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Reform and Renewal, Courtesy of the “Barefoot Cardinal”


”Nothing pleases God more than to be his Son’s helper and to undertake the charge of saving souls” ~ Saint Charles Borromeo

Today our Church celebrates the Memorial of the remarkable Saint Charles Borromeo (1538-1584), Archbishop, Reformer and Confessor. The nephew of Pope Pius IV, Charles was a doctor of both civil and canon law who would go on be ordained a Priest, consecrated a Bishop, and appointed the Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan all before celebrating his 26th birthday. Together with Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Philip Neri, he fought for the reform of the Catholic Church, emerging as a major figure of the Counter-Reformation. As such, he implemented the changes brought about by the Council of Trent within his own diocese of Milan.

The Council of Trent was charged with reuniting a fractured Church on the heels of its first real schism orchestrated by Martin Luther and King Henry VIII. Saint Charles helped to establish seminaries in order to insure that future priests would be properly formed and educated. He even assisted in the creation of the first universal Catechism of the Catholic Church, a document that belongs at the ready in every Catholic household, for within it contains the fullness and richness of our faith.

A virtuous man who possessed the courage of his conviction, Saint Charles was a firm and ardent believer in the healing power of the confessional. He required all of his priests to confess weekly while he confessed on a daily basis. “Jesus is goodness and patience itself,” he would often say. “His mercy is moved by the tears of sinners, and He never refuses pardon and grace to those who ask it with a truly contrite and humbled heart.”

Saint Charles prayed before, during, and after every decision he made. The need for unceasing prayer was a topic we touched upon just a few days ago. If the Son of God saw fit to employ this divine discipline, how much more essential would it be for us to do the same?

In the alternate 1st Reading, appropriately selected in support of Saint Charles Borromeo’s Feast Day (Romans 12:3-13), Saint Paul warns the Romans “Not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think,but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned.” Humility was a trademark of Saint Charles Borromeo. He was known as the “Barefoot Cardinal” due to his penchant for unassumingly walking the streets of Milan sans shoes. “Be sure that you first preach by the way you live,” he would always say. “If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”

As we pause today to reflect upon the life of Saint Charles Borromeo and his tireless pursuit of renewal, we are reminded that the renewal process itself is a never-ending journey, whether it be within the Church or in our own personal spiritual development. With that in mind, I leave you with the words of the Collect Prayer chosen for today’s Mass in honor of Saint Charles Borromeo:

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Preserve in the midst of your people, we ask, O Lord, the spirit with which you filled the Bishop Saint Charles Borromeo, that your church may be constantly renewed and, by conforming herself to the likeness of Christ, may show his face to the world. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever.” ~ Amen

Saint Charles Borromeo, pray for us….

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