Memorial of St Charles Borromeo, Bishop

The Feast of St. Charles Borromeo has had a special significance to me for as long as I have been a Jesuit. The novitiate where I began my Jesuit formation is called St. Charles College, and at the front of the building stands a statue of St. Charles. Part of the reason for this is that he is the patron saint of seminarians, and was influential in establishing seminaries as we know them after the Council of Trent in order to improve priestly training. As with establishing places for the formation of priests, so many of the things that he did throughout his life were to improve the practice of faith in his day. Some were welcomed by a faithful who were tired of the abuses of the pre-Trent Church. But support often faltered when people stopped hearing “those people should reform their lives” and started hearing “and so should you.” Through good times and bad, though, St. Charles lived the gospel and took steps to encourage others to do so as well.

The determination of St. Charles is something we can remember in our own lives. From the first minutes of his pontificate, Pope Francis has been challenging the Church on how we live our lives, and how we proclaim our Faith through our lives. In St. Charles’ time, those disillusioned by Catholicism turned to Protestantism. In the present time, the disillusioned leave religion (at least its organized form, and perhaps even the individualistic form). In both times, there are reforms to carry out to correct this. As with Trent, the reforms may be met with enthusiasm as we see how Pope Francis is encouraging others to change, and change in ways are favored by the prevailing culture. But what happens when we once again brush up against popular sentiment? Pope Francis certainly sees an element of struggle in proclaiming the gospel—his warning of the work of the Devil makes that clear. So how do we respond when the struggles occurs in earnest? Will we follow the example of St. Charles, and continue the reforms, or sit on the sidelines and pray the struggle passes us by?

November 4th, 2013