October 29, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Charles Borromeo

John F. FinkSt. Charles Borromeo, whose feast is celebrated on Nov. 4, has been given credit for the completion of the Council of Trent.

He was still a young student when his uncle was elected Pope Pius IV in 1559. Nevertheless, his uncle made Charles a cardinal and the administrator of the Diocese of Milan. Later, he elevated him to secretary of state in full charge of the Papal States. After Charles was ordained at age 25, he was appointed Archbishop of Milan.

But Charles was too busy in Rome to move to Milan. He convinced his uncle to reconvene the Council of Trent in 1562 after it had been suspended for 10 years, and he kept it in session when it was on the verge of breaking up.

When the council ended in 1563, Charles went to Milan, where he put into practice the reforms decreed by the council. He was an outstanding administrator until he died at age 46 in 1584.

He was not canonized for his administrative abilities, but for his holiness. He led his priests by example. One of his instructions to those priests is included in the Office of Readings for his feast. His wisdom, though, is just as appropriate for laypeople as it is for priests.

He admitted that we are all weak, but said that, if we want help, God has given us the means to find it easily. If we want to remain chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way that we live, we must resolve to use suitable means to accomplish that, mainly through penance, prayer, and the avoidance of evil discussions as well as harmful and dangerous friendships.

What if we come to Mass and find our minds full of distractions, he asked. Perhaps it was because we didn’t prepare for Mass before it started. Did we take the time before Mass began to collect our thoughts?

He said, “If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.”

He warned his priests that they must “preach by the way you live,” and he advised them not to give themselves to others so completely that they have nothing left for themselves.

Charles stressed the need for meditation. He said that “nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: ‘I will pray, and then I will understand.’ ”

If we do that, he said, everything we do becomes a work of love.

The countless difficulties we have to face every day, he said, are part of our work, but they can be overcome through meditation because “in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.” †

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