Thought for the Day – 4 November – The Memorial of St Charles Borromeo (1538-1584)
“An austere, dedicated, humourless and uncompromising personality” is the way that a biographer—an admiring biographer—describes Charles Borromeo. Charged with implementing the reforms dictated by the Council of Trent, Borromeo had to be tough and his toughness brought him into conflict with secular leaders, priests and even the pope himself.
Borromeo can offer us crucial inspiration and some very specific advice about tough love. For the larger good of the church during a time when it was beleaguered, he knew that he had to sacrifice his own popularity. His example demonstrates that we must be brave in God’s service.
He also also teaches crucial fairness. Evenhanded in his demands, he expected the same compliance with Council of Trent reforms from everyone. Bishops and priests alike had to dismiss their female relatives from their households; all schoolteachers—no exceptions—were required to make public professions of faith; every workingman who was apprehended in the street by one of the Archbishop’s “fishers” on Sunday was escorted to catechism class. Borromeo reminds us that the rules must be the same for all and that we will not succeed if we make exceptions and play favourites.
Borromeo’s life reminds us that we cannot be hypocrites. If we expect to re-invigorate our family, our parish, our workplace for example, we must model that reform in our own lives. While others may be displeased with us at first and while we may face hard words, we must take courage and know that the larger cause for which we work is worth the effort, and the pain.
St Charles Borromeo, pray for us!