03 November 2009

Saint Charles Borromeo

4 NOVEMBER 2009. Today is the memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo (Carlo Borromeo). Saint Borromeo is known for his efforts in leading many important reform efforts during the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Born on 2 October 1538, to Gilberto II Borromeo, Count of Arona, and Margherita de' Medici (sister of the future Pope Pus IV), Saint Borremeo began life, as the second son and third of six children, in an aristocratic family. Indeed, the saint was born in the castle of Arona on the shores of Lago Maggiore in northern Italy. Saint Borromeo's early years were spent in Arona and Milan. At the age of 12 the saint's father permitted him to receive the tonsure, and upon the resignation of his uncle, Giulio Cesare Borromeo, he became the titular abbot of Saints Gratinian and Felinus in Arona. Upon recieving tonsure, Saint Borromeo's father sent him to pursue studies in Milan; Saint Borromeo also studied canon and civil law in Pavia.

In August 1558 Saint Borromeo's father died. Although not the eldest son, Saint Borromeo was asked by his family to take over management of its affairs following the death of thier patriarch. He did so, but after a time Saint Borromeo resumed his studies, receiving his doctorate of civil and canon law in 1559.

In the summer of 1559, Pope Paul IV died and Saint Borromeo's uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo de' Medici was elected as Pope Pius IV. After the papal election of his uncle, Saint Borromeo was summoned to Rome and was given the charge of administering all the papal states (as Secretary of State). On 31 January 1560, Saint Borromeo was made a cardinal-deacon, being given the title of Saints Vitus and Modestus. At this time also the Arbishop of Milan resigned and on 8 February Cardinal Borromeo was named as administrator of the vacant see. Throught this time, Saint Borromeo was charged with administrating the papal states, administrating the Archdiocese of Milan, and managing his family's business affairs. Through this all, Saint Borromeo still found time to study, and founded a college in Pavia, today known as Almo Collegio Borromeo, which is dedicated to Saint Justina of Padua.

Soon, however, the affairs of the Secretary of State consumed Cardinal Borromeo's efforts. The Council of Trent had been suspended since 1552, but in large part due to Saint Borromoe's efforts, it was resumed in 1562 and was concluded in 1563. In November 1562, however, Saint Borromeo's older brother died, which led his family to try and convince Saint Borromeo to quit the Church, marry, and have children so the family's name would not end. However, Saint Borromeo declined to leave the Church and was secretly ordained a priest on 4 September 1563, impressing himself forever in the service of the Church.

On 7 December 1563, Saint Borromeo was consecrated a bishop in the Sistine Chapel, and receive the pallium on 23 March 1564. Now, as Archbishop of Milan, Saint Borromeo set himself to the reformation of his archdiocese. Reformation of the diocese was badly needed, as the diocese had been neglected by the absence of previous archbishops. In this reformation, Saint Borromeo's focus appeared to be better liturgical practives and the better education and development of the clergy. Saint Borromeo founded many seminaries, colleges, and communities of edcucation for candidates for Holy Orders. Saint Borromeo also founded the Oblates of Saint Ambrose, a community of lay men that did not take Holy Orders, but devoted themselves to the Church and followed a discipline of monastic prayers and study.

In response to the Protestant Reformation, Saint Borromeo was instrumental in the leadership he lent to the Catholic counter-reformation.

When Milan was hit with bubonic plague in 1576, Saint Borromeo led the efforts to care for the sick and bury the dead. He took no personal precautions and handed out punishment for those, expecially clergy, who were remiss in discharging their duties.

Many of the reforms pressed by Saint Borromeo were met with opposition by civil leaders and some religious communities. In fact, the Brothers of Humiity (the Humiliati) even attempted to assissinate him, so great was their opposition to his reforms.

Suffering from fever, Cardinal Borromeo died on 3 November 1584, at the age of 46. Throngs of people attended his death outside the place were he lay, saying prayers for him. Saint Borromeo was canonized on 1 November 1610, by Pope Paul V. However, the Milanese people celebrated his feast day long before his canonization, so great was their affection for their beloved Archbishop.

Indeed, the affection by all of Europe for Saint Borromoe after his death was overwhelming. His correspondence showed the degree to which his opinions were sought. He was a trusted advisor to each of the popes that he served under, and the Catholic sovereigns of Europe (Henry III of France, Philip II of Spain, Mary Queen of Scots, and others) regularly sought his advice. His brother cardinals, too, wrote in praise of his virtues.

Saint Charles Borromeo, pray for us.

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