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Saint Charles Borromeo - San Carlo Borromeo

Born on 2 October 1538 in the Castle of Arona, Duchy of Milan (now Italy)
Ordained on 4 September 1563
consecrated a Bishop on 7 December 1563
created a Cardinal on 31 January 1560
Died on 3 November 1584 & buried in Milan Cathedral
Beatified in 1602 & canonized on 1 November 1610 by Pope Paul V
Feast day - 4 November

Pope Saint Pius X wrote Editae Saepe, an encyclical on St Charles Borromeo, in 1910. Papa Benedict XVI wrote Lumen Caritatis in 2010, on the 400th anniversary of St Charles Borromeo's canonization.

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II
General Audience, Wednesday 4 November 1981 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1.  Today, 4th November, the Church remembers, as it does every year, the figure of St Charles Borromeo, bishop and confessor. Given that I received this saint's name in Baptism, I desire to dedicate today's general audience reflection to him, making reference to all the preceding reflections of the month of October. In them I have tried - after an interval of several months, caused by my stay in hospital - to share with you, dear brothers and sisters, those thoughts that were born in me under the influence of the event of 13th May. Today's reflection also fits into this principal plot/story. To all those who, on my patron saint's day, unite themselves with me in prayer, I desire once again to repeat the words of the letter to the Ephesians, which I reported/spoke about last Wednesday: pray "for all the saints, and also for me, because I let a frank word be given, to make known the mystery of the Gospel, of which I am an ambassador ... " (Eph 6, 18-20).

2. St Charles is precisely one of those saints, to whom the word has been given "to make known the Gospel" of which he was "ambassador", having the mission inherited from the apostles. He accomplished this mission in a heroic way with the total dedication of his forces/strength. The Church looked to him and he built it up: at first, in the period of the Council of Trent, in whose works he actively participated from Rome, bearing the weight of a close correspondence, collaborating to lead
the collegial fatigue of the Conciliar Fathers to a favourable outcome according to the needs of the People of God at the time. And they were pressing necessities. Then, the (same) Cardinal as Archbishop of Milan, successor of St Ambrose, became the tireless realizer of the resolutions of the Council, translating them into practice through various diocesan Synods.

To him the Church - and not only that of Milan - owes a radical renewal of the clergy, to which he contributed the institution of the Seminaries, the beginning of which dates back precisely to the Council of Trent. And many other works, among them/which the institution of confraternities, of pious sodalities, of lay-oblates, which already prefigured Catholic Action, colleges, hospitals for the poor, and finally the foundation of the University of Brera
in 1572. The volumes of "Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis" and the documents regarding the pastoral visits attest to this intense and far-sighted activity of St Charles, whose life could be synthesized in three magnificent expressions: he was a holy Shepherd, an illuminated/enlightened Teacher, a shrewd and sagacious Legislator.

When, several times in my life, I have had the occasion to celebrate the Most Holy Sacrifice in the crypt of Milan's Cathedral, where St Charles's body rests,
presented before my eyes was all his pastoral activity dedicated to the very end to the people to whom he was sent. He closed this life in the year 1584, at the age of 46, after having rendered a heroic pastoral service to the victims of the plague that had struck Milan.

3. Here are some words pronounced by St Charles, indicative of that total dedication to Christ and to the Church which inflamed the heart and entire pastoral work of the saint. Addressing the bishops of the Lombardy region, during the IV Provincial Council of 1576, he exhorted them: "These are the souls, for whose salvation God sent his Only Son Jesus Christ ... He also indicated to each of us Bishops, who are called to participate in the work of salvation, the most sublime motive of our ministry and taught that above all love must be the master of our apostolate, the love that He (Jesus) wants to express, through us to the faithful entrusted to us, with frequent preaching, with the healthy administration of the sacraments, with the examples of a holy life ... with an incessant zeal" (cf Sancti Caroli Borromei, Orationes XII, Rome 1963" Oratio IV ").

That which/What he inculcated to the bishops and priests, that which/what he recommended to the faithful, He first practiced in an exemplary way.

4. At Baptism I received the name of St Charles. It was given to me/I was given to live in the times of the Second Vatican Council, which, as once the Council of Trent, sought to show the direction of the Church's renewal according to the needs of our times. At this Council it was given to me to participate from the first day until the last. It was also given to me/I was also given - as to// my patron saint - to belong to the College of Cardinals. I have sought/tried to imitate him, in introducing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council into the life of the Archdiocese of Krakow.

Today, on the day of Saint Charles, I meditate on the importance of Baptism, in which I received his very name. With Baptism, according to the words of St Paul, we are immersed in the death of Christ so as in this way
to receive participation in his resurrection. Here are the words that the apostle writes in the letter to the Romans: "Through Baptism we were therefore buried with him in death, because as Christ was resurrected/raised from the dead through/by the glory of the Father, so we too can walk in a new life. If in fact we have been completely united to him with a death similar to his, we will be so also with his resurrection" (Rom 6, 4-5).

Through Baptism each of us receives sacramental participation in that Life which - merited through the Cross - has been revealed in the resurrection of our Lord and Redeemer. At the same time, rooting ourselves with our whole human being in the mystery of Christ, we are in Him for the first time consecrated to the Father. The first and fundamental act of consecration is accomplished in us, through which/whereby the Father accepts man as his adopted son: man is given to God, so that in this adoptive sonship he accomplishes/fulfills his will and becomes an ever more mature part of his Kingdom. The Sacrament of Baptism begins in us that "royal priesthood", through which we participate in the mission of Christ himself, Priest, Prophet and King.

The Saint, from whom we receive our name in Baptism, must render/make us constantly conscious of this divine sonship that has become our part. He must also support each of us in forming the whole of our life by the measure of that which it has become through the work of Christ: through his death and resurrection. This is the role that St Charles plays in my life and in the life of all those who bear his name.

5. The event of 13th May allowed me to look at life in a new way: this life, whose beginning is united to the memory of my parents and at the same time to the mystery of Baptism with the name of St Charles Borromeo.

Did not Christ speak of the grain of wheat, which fallen to the earth dies, so as to produce fruit (cf Jn 12, 24)?

Did not the Christ say: "Whoever wishes to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his own life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16, 25)?

And furthermore: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but do not have power to kill the soul; fear rather the one who has the power to destroy both the soul and the body in Gehenna/hell fire" (Mt 10, 28).

And again: "No one has a greater love than this: to give one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15, 13).

All these words allude to that interior/inner maturity, which faith, hope and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ make (us) reach in the human soul.

Looking at my life in/from the perspective of Baptism, looking at it through St Charles Borromeo's example, I thank all those who today, throughout the past and continuously even now, sustain me with prayer and at times also with great personal sacrifice. I hope that, thanks to this spiritual support, I will be able to reach that maturity which must become my part (as also the part of each one of us) in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, for the good of the Church and the salvation of my soul - as it became part of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, and of many successors of Saint Peter in the Roman seat/See, to which, according to the words of St Ignatius of Antioch, it pertains/is due to "preside in charity" (St Ignatius of Antioch, Epistula ad Romanos Inscr.: Funk, Patres Apostolici, I, 252)."

Benedict XVI's Message
on 400th anniversary of St Charles's Canonization
- in English, German, Italian & Portuguese


To my Venerable Brother, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan

Lumen caritatis. The light of charity of St Charles Borromeo has illumined the whole Church and, by renewing the miracles of the love of Christ, our Supreme and Eternal Pastor, has brought new life and new youthfulness to God’s flock, which was going through sorrowful and difficult times. For this reason I join with all my heart in the joy of the Ambrogian Archdiocese in commemorating the fourth centenary of the Canonization of this great Pastor on 1 November 1610.

1. The time in which Charles Borromeo lived was very delicate for Christianity. In it the Archbishop of Milan gave a splendid example of what it means to work for the reform of the Church. There were many disorders to sanction, many errors to correct and many structures to renew; yet St Charles strove for a profound reform of the Church, starting with his own life. It was in himself, in fact, that the young Borromeo promoted the first and most radical work of renewal. His career had begun promisingly in accordance with the canons of that time: for the younger son of the noble family Borromeo, a future of prosperity and success lay in store, an ecclesiastical life full of honours but without any ministerial responsibilities; he also had the possibility of assuming the direction of the family after the unexpected death of his brother Federico.

Yet Charles Borromeo, illumined by Grace, was attentive to the call with which the Lord was attracting him and desiring him to dedicate the whole of himself to the service of his people. Thus he was capable of making a clear and heroic detachment from the lifestyle characterised by his worldly dignity and dedication without reserve to the service of God and of the Church. In times that were darkened by numerous trials for the Christian community, with divisions and confusions of doctrine, with the clouding of the purity of the faith and of morals and with the bad example of various sacred ministries, Charles Borromeo neither limited himself to deploring or condemning nor merely to hoping that others would change, but rather set about reforming his own life which, after he had abandoned wealth and ease, he filled with prayer, penance and loving dedication to his people. St Charles lived heroically the evangelical virtues of poverty, humility and chastity, in a continuous process of ascetic purification and Christian perfection.

He was aware that a serious and credible reform had to begin precisely with Pastors if it was to have beneficial and lasting effects on the whole People of God. In this action of reform he was able to draw from the traditional and ever living sources of the Catholic Church: the centrality of the Eucharist, in which he recognized and proposed anew the adorable presence of the Lord Jesus and of his Sacrifice of love for our salvation; the spirituality of the Cross as a force of renewal, capable of inspiring the daily exercise of the evangelical virtues; assiduous reception of the Sacraments in which to accept with faith the action of Christ who saves and purifies his Church; the word of God, meditated upon, read and interpreted in the channel of Tradition; love for and devotion to the Supreme Pontiff in prompt and filial obedience to his instructions as a guarantee of full ecclesial communion.

The extraordinary reform that St Charles carried out in the structures of the Church in total fidelity to the mandate of the Council of Trent was also born from his holy life, ever more closely conformed to Christ. His work in guiding the People of God, as a meticulous legislator and a brilliant organizer was marvellous. All this, however, found strength and fruitfulness in his personal commitment to penance and holiness. Indeed this is the Church's primary and most urgent need in every epoch: that each and every one of her members should be converted to God. Nor does the ecclesial community lack trials and suffering in our day and it shows that it stands in need of purification and reform. May St Charles’ example always spur us to start from a serious commitment of personal and community conversion to transform hearts, believing with steadfast certainty in the power of prayer and penance. I encourage sacred ministers, priests and deacons in particular to make their life a courageous journey of holiness, not to fear being drunk with that trusting love for Christ that made Bishop Charles ready to forget himself and to leave everything. Dear brothers in the ministry, may the Ambrogian Church always find in you a clear faith and a sober and pure life that can renew the apostolic zeal which St Ambrose, St Charles and many of your holy Pastors possessed!

2. During St Charles’ episcopate, the whole of his vast diocese felt infected with a current of holiness that spread to the entire people. How did this Bishop, so demanding and strict, manage to fascinate and to win over the Christian people? The answer is easy: St Charles enlightened the people and enticed them with the ardour of his love. “Deus caritas est”, and where there is a living experience of love the profound Face of God who attracts us and makes us his own is revealed.

The love of St Charles Borromeo was first and foremost the love of the Good Shepherd who is ready to give his whole life for the flock entrusted to his care, putting the demands and duties of his ministry before any form of personal interest, amenity or advantage. Thus the Archbishop of Milan, faithful to the Tridentine directives, visited several times his immense Diocese even the most remote localities, and took care of his people, nourishing them ceaselessly with the Sacraments and with the word of God through his rich and effective preaching; he was never afraid to face adversities and dangers to defend the faith of the simple and the rights of the poor.

St Charles, moreover, was recognized as a true and loving father of the poor. Love impelled him to empty his home and to give away his possessions in order to provide for the needy, to support the hungry, to clothe and relieve the sick. He set up institutions that aimed to provide social assistance and to rescue people in need; but his charity for the poor and the suffering shone out in an extraordinary way during the plague of 1576 when the holy Archbishop chose to stay in the midst of his people to encourage them, serve them and defend them with the weapons of prayer, penance and love.

Furthermore it was charity that spurred Borromeo to become an authentic and enterprising educator: for his people with schools of Christian doctrine; for the clergy with the establishment of seminaries; for children and young people with special initiatives for them and by encouraging the foundation of religious congregations and confraternities dedicated to the formation of children and young people.

Charity was always the deep motive of the severity with which St Charles practiced fasting, penance and mortification. For the holy Bishop it was not only a matter of ascetic practices aiming for his own spiritual perfection but rather of a true ministerial means for expiating sins, for invoking the conversion of sinners and for interceding for his children’s needs.

Throughout his life, therefore, we may contemplate the light of evangelical charity, of forbearing, patient and strong love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). I thank God that the Church of Milan has always had a wealth of vocations especially dedicated to charity; I praise the Lord for the splendid fruits of love for the poor, of service to the suffering and of attention to youth of which it can be proud. May St Charles’ example of prayer obtain that you may be faithful to this heritage, so that every baptized person can live out in contemporary society that fascinating prophecy which, in every epoch, is the love of Christ alive in us.

3. However it is impossible to understand the charity of St Charles Borromeo without knowing his relationship of passionate love with the Lord Jesus. He contemplated this love in the holy mysteries of the Eucharist and of the Cross, venerated in very close union with the mystery of the Church. The Eucharist and the Crucified One immersed St Charles in Christ’s love and this transfigured and kindled fervour in his entire life, filled his nights spent in prayer, motivated his every action, inspired the solemn Liturgies he celebrated with the people and touched his heart so deeply that he was often moved to tears.

His contemplative gaze at the holy Mystery of the Altar and at the Crucified one stirred within him feelings of compassion for the miseries of humankind and kindled in his heart the apostolic yearning to proclaim the Gospel to all. On the other hand we know well that there is no mission in the Church which does not stem from “abiding” in the love of the Lord Jesus, made present within us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Let us learn from this great Mystery! Let us make the Eucharist the true centre of our communities and allow ourselves to be educated and moulded by this abyss of love! Every apostolic and charitable deed will draw strength and fruitfulness from this source!

4. The splendid figure of St Charles suggests to me a final reflection which I address to young people in particular. The history of this great Bishop was in fact totally determined by some courageous “yeses”, spoken when he was still very young. When he was only 24 years old he decided to give up being head of the family to respond generously to the Lord’s call; the following year he accepted priestly and episcopal Ordination. At the age of 27 he took possession of the Ambrogian Diocese and gave himself entirely to pastoral ministry. In the years of his youth St Charles realized that holiness was possible and that the conversion of his life could overcome every bad habit. Thus he made his whole youth a gift of love to Christ and to the Church, becoming an all-time giant of holiness.

Dear young people, let yourselves be renewed by this appeal that I have very much at heart: God wants you to be holy, for he knows you in your depths and loves you with a love that exceeds all human understanding. God knows what is in your hearts and is waiting to see the marvellous gift he has planted within you blossom and bear fruit. Like St Charles, you too can make your youth an offering to Christ and to your brethren. Like him you can decide, in this season of life, “to put your stakes” on God and on the Gospel. Dear young people, you are not only the hope of the Church; you are already part of her present! And if you dare to believe in holiness you will be the greatest treasure of your Ambrogian Church which is founded on Saints.

Venerable Brother, I joyfully entrust these reflections to you and as I invoke the heavenly intercession of St Charles Borromeo and the constant protection of Mary Most Holy, I warmly impart to you and to the entire Archdiocese a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 1 November 2010, the fourth centenary of the canonization of St Charles Borromeo.


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