St. Charles Borromeo

Dear Friends,

“Ecce venio” (Behold I come).  These were the departing words of the great reformer of the Church and holy Archbishop of Milan, St. Charles Borromeo, whose feast we celebrate on November 4.  Carlo Borromeo was born in 1538 into two famous powerful northern Italian families as son of Count Gilberto Borromeo and heir of the Medici family of Florence.  His uncle was Pope Pius V (Giovanni Angelo de Medici)   He grew up very privileged and was highly educated, receiving a doctorate degree in both Church and civil law.   At an early age he entered the ecclesiastical service as a priest, bishop and cardinal.   He was given governance of the Papal States and envoy to several heads of state, including securing peace with the King of Spain and the King of France who had laid claim to his deceased father’s estate in Milan.  His diplomatic skills and his connection to the Holy See made him a valuable participant in probably the Church’s most important gathering, the Council of Trent (1545-63) which his uncle-Pope had closed.   The Council was a response to the threats and chaos caused by the Protestant Rebellion throughout Europe.  


Cardinal Borromeo is credited with modeling the implementation of the Council’s reforms, which included the creation of a formal Catechism (which would not be updated or changed until the 20th century), the establishment of the Tridentine Mass (the Latin Mass) which was the ordinary form of the Mass until the changes in the 1960s.    St. Charles believed that priestly ignorance was the main cause of the Church’s problems and one of the root causes of the Protestant movement.   He founded the first seminary, created for the formal education of priests, and established strict norms for their education.  


He was a good pastor of souls, always concerned with the growth of the faith in his diocese.   He restored the dignity of the celebration of the Mass in his diocese, reformed religious orders and congregations, insisted on holy and learned priests to assist him in the reform of his diocese and was deeply concerned for the epidemic sweeping throughout Europe, the plague.   He depicted in pictures and statues wearing a rope around his neck, carrying a relic of the Lord’s passion and walking barefoot through the streets of Milan doing penance for the alleviation of the plague.   His contemporaries held him the highest esteem and he found himself in the company of several saints including St. Philip Neri of Rome who assisted him with the reform of the religious orders and the young St. Aloysius Gonzaga, son of the Marquis de Gonzaga who Charles gave instruction and first Holy Communion to and St. Edmond Campion. 


St. Charles was motivated by a deep passion and love for the Church.   On many occasions he was accused of heresy, espionage, treason, and various other false accusations to discourage his apostolic zeal.   He even was a victim of an assassination attempt, a bulletin that merely grazed his skin while he was at Mass.   He worked tirelessly for the good of the church, even to his last days, corresponding, governing, and making decisions.   His life is a calling to love with great devotion the Church entrusted to us.   As Catholics we must strengthen our loyalty, always battling and working hard for the good of the Church and the spread of the Catholic faith.   As St. Charles was moved to reform, so must we always seek to eradicate corruption and sin from those within the Church especially through acts of penance and prayer.   Through the intercession of St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, may the Lord inspire great reformers and holy bishops to keep the Church as always the spotless bride of Christ. 


In the Lord,


Fr. Vasquez 


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