Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo

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St. Charles Borromeo is a saint for all who ask, “Is the Church filled with those who seek power?” And he is the saint for all who ask, “Is the Church filled with those who seek Christ?” Because, in his life, Borromeo was both.

He was born 1538 into a wealthy and powerful family. His uncle was Pope Pius IV, and from him, Borromeo inherited properties and titles. By the age of 22 he was a cardinal. He wore the scarlet not as a sign of martyrdom, but as a sign of privilege. He hunted and played and ate fine foods and drank fine wines.

Borromeo could have been the poster boy for protestors of the time, like Martin Luther, who preached against abuse in the Church.

But Borromeo was also a serious student. He earned his doctorate in theology three years after he was named a cardinal. His work was important to the decrees and teachings set forth in the Council of Trent.

Perhaps it was his intellectual curiosity that led him to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, a near contemporary who died the year Borromeo became a cardinal.

The retreat changed his life. Borromeo gave away his toys and ornaments, his houses and holdings, and began a life of simplicity and poverty. When he was named the Bishop of Milan, he led his people as a wise and loving shepherd. When famine ravaged the city, Bishop Charles paid for food for thousands. He fed them for three months, until the food supply could be re-established. When plague ravaged the city, Bishop Charles went among the sick, tending to their needs and comforting them.

One of Borromeo’s great concerns was for the education of the faithful. Most children had no education of any kind, but Bishop Charles, through his Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, began training catechists to teach the faith. He wanted the lessons to be available to all, and it is said that his catechists taught some 40,000 students.

St. Charles Borromeo is the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.

Honor Bishop Charles and his thirst for knowledge by learning one new thing about your faith today. Look up the answer to a question you’ve been considering. Memorize a Bible verse or passage. If you don’t know the story of your patron saint, read it. If you don’t the name of your patron saint, find out. If you’ve always wondered what certain words mean — transubstantiation, or Logos, or icon, or basilica — pick one and search for the answer. And ask St. Charles Borromeo to help you in your study.