The Holy Cardinal Nephew

st-charles-borromeoAnyone ever visited Milan? It’s the largest metropolitan area in Italy.

Ever heard of Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan? It proclaimed religious tolerance in the Roman Empire. It’s called “Edict of Milan” because Milan, not Rome, served as the western capital of the empire at that time.

Anyone ever heard of St. Ambrose, one of the Fathers of the Church, quoted in the Catechism 21 times? He was Bishop of… Milan. Or have you heard of St. Augustine? He entered the Church while living in… Milan.

So Milan is a pretty important place. Pretty important “local church,” as they say.

But: At the time of the Council of Trent, four and a-half centuries ago, the Archbishops of Milan hadn’t actually lived in Milan for over eighty years. Pope Pius IV made his twenty-one-year-old nephew, Charles Borromeo, a Cardinal and the Archbishop of Milan. Charles was living in Rome at the time, and he wasn’t a priest.

Shortly thereafter, Charles’ one brother died. Many well-meaning people urged Charles to marry, in order to continue his noble family line. He didn’t necessarily have to become a priest, to be the non-resident Cardinal Archbishop of the largest city in Italy.

Pretty messed-up situation. But that was the way the sixteenth-century Church rolled. And Charles’ uncle Pope Pius was not a particularly bad man. To the contrary, he was hugely kind and pretty holy. He had noble ideals and goals. Pope Pius IV is actually one of the great heroes of the Council of Trent. He successfully re-convoked the Council after a decade-long hiatus, and he saw to its completion.

Duomo Milano columns
the Milan duomo, where St. Charles lies, under the main altar

Meanwhile, though: Being a non-resident Archbishop bothered young Charles enormously. Even though he was basically running the Holy See of Rome, as his kindly old uncle’s principal advisor and executive supervisor, Charles considered his true duty to lie with the souls of the city of Milan. Charles knew all too well that many of the priests of his diocese did not know how to celebrate the sacraments. And the people did not know the Apostles’ Creed.

So after his uncle died, Charles begged the next pope, St. Pius V, to let him go to his diocese and take up permanent residence there, so he could shepherd his flock as he should.

The rest is history. Charles Borromeo spent himself as a pastor of souls and died 435 years ago today, at age forty. He managed to give back to the Catholic clergy the ideal of shepherding the souls in your charge, by living among them, as one of them.

As you know, dear reader, in September I had the chance to follow in St. Charles’ footsteps in northern Italy, and I visited his tomb. I prayed for you there.

May St. Charles help us. Seems like Holy Church needs his help now–every bit as much as She did when he walked the streets of Milan.

Milan, Ancient but Not Easy to Pray

Duomo Milano columns.jpg

You step into a giant forest of marble, when you enter the cathedral of Milan.

St. Bartholomew Milan

Then I found myself next to the famous statue of St. Bartholomew, flayed alive for the faith.

St. Charles Borromeo lies in the crypt, under the high altar.

They don’t make it easy to pray in the Duomo Milano. Large parts of the church lie behind impenetrable barricades. Couldn’t even find the Blessed Sacrament.

But across town, the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio has the great Father of the Church, entombed with two martyrs to whom he was devoted, Sts. Gervase and Protase.

Ambrose made them the patrons of Milan, as narrated in St. Augustine’s Confessions. (St. Ambrose baptized St. Augustine.) After Ambrose died, they re-interred the martyrs with him, since he had become the city’s perennial patron.

St. Ambrose

The martyrs are vested as St. Ambrose’s deacons. They lie beneath this mosaic:

Basilica Ambrogio mosaic.jpg

Merciful Steward + Thanks, Borromeo!

At Holy Mass today, we read the parable of the dishonest steward.  It has many complicated and difficult aspects.  The steward’s own dubious moral character.  His desperate honesty with himself vs. his dishonesty with his master.  Then his master’s apparent approval of his dishonesty…  Who can understand all this complexity?

st-charles-borromeoBut at the heart of the parable lies one simple detail:  The steward reduced the debtors’ burden.  They owed 100.  To one, the steward said:  Make if 50.  To another: Make it 80.

The debtors experienced sudden, unexpected relief.  Instant reduction of anxiety and strife.  Like a jubilee.

It’s like the day during my senior year of college when my Spanish Literature professor walked into the classroom a couple weeks before the end of the semester.  He announced that he had been offered, and had accepted, a new job at a different university.  He intended to report to the registrar our grades as they stood at that moment, because he was leaving town the next day.

He had assigned us a crushing 30-40 page research paper, to be turned in at the end of the semester.  Few of us had had the time or the courage even to start working on it.  He said:  “If you have a paper to give me today, I’ll read it tonight and include it in your grade.  If not, Don’t worry about it!”

A miracle of mercy.

St. Charles Borromeo died 432 years ago today.  Everyone knows the relationship between St. Charles Borromeo and the greatest book of all time?  The greatest book of all time is, of course… Okay, after the Bible. …the Baltimore Catechism!  Thanks to Cardinal Charles Borromeo, we had the Roman Catechism. Baltimore Catechism is based on the Roman Catechism.  So:  Thank you, St. Charles Borromeo!

We make things complicated.  But they’re not.  They’re actually simple.  We are not God. God is God.  And He is, above all, merciful.

Matsui Rocks + Suffrages for the Dead

ALDS Game 1 - New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins

speed bump reaperThe World Series has never lasted until the Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo before…

…If ever there were a month for meditating on the Four Last Things, November is it…

…During the Year of the Priest, any Catholic may obtain a Plenary Indulgence by going to Mass on the first Thursday of the month.

Applying such an indulgence to the soul of a deceased priest would be a kind deed.

Nov. 4, Feast of St. Charles Borromeo

chairofpeterAt St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the chair of St. Peter is kept in a large reliquary in the apse of the church. The reliquary is part of a colossal bronze statue by Bernini. In this statue, the reliquary of St. Peter’s chair is held aloft by four Fathers of the Church. The four Fathers depicted are St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius, and St. John Chrysostom.

It has been part of the plan of God to see to the preservation of the religion of His Son by raising up zealous teachers in every age. The Fathers of the Church handed down the holy faith to us, preserving it from errors and confusion. They were men of great learning AND holiness. Christianity could not have survived without them.

St. Charles Borromeo
St. Charles Borromeo
In the sixteenth century, the Lord raised up four great saints to be the “Fathers” of the Church in the Modern Age. The four latter-day Fathers are Pope St. Pius V, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Philip Neri, and St. Charles Borromeo.

St. Charles’ feast day is Election Day. We can say that St. Charles voted.

He voted at the Council of Trent. This meeting of bishops clarified Catholic doctrine at a time of great confusion. The Council never would have happened if it weren’t for St. Charles. His clarity of mind and diplomatic skill fostered the successful completion of the Council’s work.

After the Council, St. Charles saw to the composition of the Roman Catechism.

baltimage1The Baltimore Catechism is based on the Roman Catechism. So–for those of us who swear by the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism #2–today is a day of joy and profound gratitude.

You can read the entire Baltimore Catechism #3 online.

baltimage2If you are among the unfortunate who do not have at least three copies of the St. Joseph Baltimre Catechism #2–one for upstairs, one for downstairs, one for the car–you can order copies from Amazon.

St. Charles was the baptismal patron of our dearly departed Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla.

St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us!