Faithful Friday: St. Charles Borromeo

By Caroline Liberatore (Rated G)

St. Charles Borromeo was born in 1538 near Milan in the castle of Arona. His family was one of good socioeconomic standing and were themselves immersed in religious duty. At the young age of 12, Borromeo committed himself to service of the Church through the practice of tonsure. This servitude is the end to which he directed all of his energy—academically, financially, and otherwise. Although his family was quite wealthy and generous towards him, he received no bounty other than that which was required for his education.

After earning his degree at the University of Pavia, Borromeo was appointed as cardinal-deacon by Pope Pius IV—his uncle. Despite his young age, he was allotted a great deal of responsibility in this office. During this time, he was propelled to commit himself to priesthood after the sudden death of his brother. This decision was staggering to his family, who desired him to marry and maintain the Borromeo name. Despite this external pressure, Charles held fast to his conviction and became Archbishop of Milan at 25 years old.

As a faithful and intentional bishop, Borromeo had a significant and broad scope of influence. Most notably, Borromeo played a role in founding, fashioning, and maintaining the Council of Trent, and is one of the main reasons why it was effective. Borromeo was passionate about preserving the Church’s historic credibility, while also reforming it to be more pure and true. Borromeo discouraged excessivity in the Church, and played a role in refining doctrine, liturgy, and hierarchy. This tangible and cognizant approach to reform would end up being the most effective defense against the simmering Protestant critiques of the Catholic Church.

Borromeo’s influence was not merely contained within the Church, however. As it was when he was young, he had a tender heart towards people of all backgrounds and circumstances. He chose to stay in Milan amidst the plague, which was a remarkable decision for one of his standing. Borromeo did not merely share his excess with those sick and in need, but deliberately chose to enter a position of poverty himself for the sake of others. This generosity was evident for all of his life—Borromeo’s nature was to give excessively and cling to no comfort.

Charles Borromeo died at the age of 46, due to illness and cumulative weariness from the magnitude of his service.

May we, as St. Charles Borromeo, be deliberately and entirely committed to costly service of the church and those in need.


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