'The Guiding Light of the Council of Trent'
by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
Whenever the Holy Father invokes his apostolic authority to canonize or beatify someone, he does so not only for the honor and glory of God (which is the primary reason) but also for the edification of the Christian faithful throughout the world. The Church recognizes in this new saint or blessed—who has become an outstanding example of holiness—a remarkable receptivity to the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit.
Even though Saint Charles Borromeo (1538-1584), whose liturgical commemoration is celebrated annually on November 4, was canonized in 1610, this brilliant, unassuming and saintly cardinal of the Church still remains—nearly 400 years later—a stellar example of Christian perfection.
Monsignor Achille Ratti, once Doctor of the Ambrosian Library in Milan, Italy and later known to the world as Pope Pius XI (1922-1939), acknowledging in the early 1900s the utter greatness of the one-time Bishop of Milan and noting his fervent desire for authentic reform among his clergy and laity, hailed Saint Charles: “Indeed he was a living temple of the Holy Spirit and the unspotted purity of his life made him the minister and the irrefutable model of the salutary general reform.”
Saint Charles knew well that to be a “living temple of the Holy Spirit” is the simple but challenging command of Christ in His Gospel. The Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is to find a sure home in the soul of each disciple of Jesus. Pope John Paul II, in his 1994 Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (“As the Third Millennium Draws Near”), wrote that the theological virtue of hope, which is inspired by the same Paraclete, “encourages the Christian not to lose sight of the final goal which gives meaning and value to life, and . . . offers solid and profound reasons for a daily commitment to transform reality in order to make it correspond to God’s plan.” (#46)
It is clear that the Holy Spirit bestowed in abundance upon Cardinal Borromeo the supernatural virtue of hope. He turned often to prayer; he did not fail to communicate daily with the Creator, humbly imploring Him to grant him the necessary grace so that he would become a saint. Then, after having been nourished in prayer, Saint Charles went forward to serve his priests and people. He had a predilection for the poor and continually sought to alleviate their distress.
The extraordinary life of Saint Charles Borromeo is evidence of the overriding influence of the Consoler. With the utmost concern, he cheerfully yielded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He realized that his task was quite straightforward: to allow the Counselor to work through him so that others would come to the Good Shepherd and be saved.
Instead of worrying about his status as a prince of the Church and nephew of Pope Pius IV (1559-1565) and attending to his own needs, Cardinal Borromeo freely spent himself in ensuring that the deficiencies—both spiritual and temporal—of those under his charge were overcome. He diligently applied himself to caring for the spiritual and material welfare of his flock.
Living during a period which saw much turmoil emanating from the Protestant Reformation, Saint Charles did not lose his profound sense of inner peace. So convinced was he that the Sanctifier would not abandon him that he proceeded to condemn fearlessly the myriad abuses masquerading as “real progress”: doctrinal errors, liturgical faults, etc. Together with such giants of the Catholic Counter-Reformation as Pope Saint Pius V (1565-1572), Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595), Saint Ignatius Loyola (c. 1491-1556) and Saint Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), Cardinal Borromeo—“the guiding light of the Council of Trent”—contributed to the Church’s understanding of herself.
Saint Charles Borromeo is fittingly cited as a special friend of the Holy Spirit. His unfeigned love of God and neighbor is proof positive that the Advocate stirred up within him the thirst for Paradise. May the efficacious prayers of this faithful man of God, loyal son of Mary and intrepid ambassador of the Church help us open ourselves to the intimations of the Holy Spirit and one day enjoy the unfathomable reward which he now experiences.
Originally published in "The Catholic Servant." Used with permission.
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Saint Charles Borromeo
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