Saturday, November 04, 2006

On the Road with St. Charles Borromeo

Perhaps the street I've driven on more than any other in my life (for it is the main east-west road through the center of our town) is St. Charles Road. And whether I am heading to work, going shopping, or picking up my daughter from high school, I'm glad that in this increasingly secular age, there's still a vital concrete thoroughfare that connects me to my faith. Now if they would only name our alley "Borromeo Boulevard," I would be set ...

Actually, a road is the perfect thing to name after today's Saint, for Charles was always on the move performing his many roles in a short but eventful life. Borromeo was born into wealth, his father a Count and his mother a Medici. In 1559 his uncle became Pope Pius IV and although Charles was then only 21, the Pope made his "much-loved nephew" Cardinal of Milan. Butler's thought this strange because the Pope had already loaded Borromeo with Rome-centered jobs including Papal Secretary of State, Papal Legate to Bologna and Romagna, Cardinal-Protector of Portugal and Switzerland as well as the Carmelites and Friars Minor. Strange, but to me it was even stranger that his uncle made Charles a Cardinal when he wasn't yet even a priest.

With the exception of the Milan post (mainly because the Pope wouldn't let him leave Rome), Charles performed his many tasks flawlessly and still found time for music and exercise. And when Pius IV reconvened Vatican I, it was Charles who was the mastermind behind drafting its decrees and the energy necessary in getting them passed.

But Charles still wasn't a priest, and didn't become one until 1563, when his elder brother died and he was forced to decide between Holy Orders or managing the family fortune. He chose the priesthood, but was desperate to get away from the still pompous Papal Court scene and truly become the Bishop of Milan. Two years later, Borromeo would get his wish, when his Uncle Pius IV died and was replaced by the saintly Pope Pius V.

When Charles arrived in Milan, there basically hadn't been a bishop there in 80 years. The clergy that was left were mostly uneducated, unholy and lazy. The laity was largely uncatechized, rarely went to Mass, and in the North, were turning to Protestantism. Charles immediately sent the obedient priests back to the seminary and the disobedient ones packing. For the youth, he founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) and despite his speech impediment (Charles had a noticeable stutter), personally won many of the Zwinglian Protestants back to the Church by his preaching and presence. Of course, reform is rarely popular; several dissident clergy made an attempt on Borromeo's life, but this only caused the people to love him more.

Already one of the outstanding figures in the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Charles' charity in the coming disasters made him a shoe-in for Sainthood. In the Milan Famine of 1570, Charles both procured supplies and personally helped feed 3,000 people daily. Then when the plague struck in 1576, Charles organized the care for the sick and spent his family fortune getting daily aid to up to 70,000 citizens. Charles' health would never be the same after this lengthy stint with the sick, and when he died in 1584 at the age of 46, he had already gained cult hero status. And now, whether I'm on my way to Lombard, Elmhurst or heaven, I know there's no better road there than St. Charles -- Borromeo, that is.

No comments :