“Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.” (Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis 1599, 1177-1178)
St. Charles Borromeo was born into an aristocratic family in Northern Italy on October 02, 1538. As a young boy, he showed intellectual proficiency. After studying law in the University of Padua at the age of 21, he was called by his uncle, Pope Pius IV, to Rome to help him in his duties as Pope. Charles was made a Cardinal and played an important role in the Council of Trent. In 1563, Charles was ordained a priest and archbishop of Milan. Although he already has his own diocese, he continued to live in Rome to assist his uncle. He was tireless in implementing reforms within the Church. He organized proper catechism in the parishes. He toned down liturgies in order to be more focused in internal dispositions rather than in ostentatious externalities. He also built seminaries for the proper training of priests.
A year after the death of Pope Pius IV, Charles’ services in Rome ended and so he went on to live in Milan to shepherd his flock personally. Charles proved to be an efficient and effective pastor. Since the people in Milan were not used to having an archbishop who personally directs their affairs, reforms were heavily obstructed by influential groups. They even tried to assassinate him but failed. Eventually, Charles was able to get the respect and admiration of the people of Milan because they saw his indomitable courage and untiring dedication in carrying out his duties as Archbishop of Milan.
One of the highest points of his ministry was when bubonic plague struck Milan in 1576. While the governor and members of the elite left, Charles Borromeo chose to stay and minister his people. During that time, he practiced works of penance and atonement to beg God to end the plague that killed a lot of his people. Even at the danger of getting sick himself, he visited and nursed his people. He brought God’s consolation to his people. Charles is indeed one of the greatest patron saints of plagues and pandemics along with St. Roch.
St. Charles rose to the ranks of the Church because of his familial ties. However, he did not use such ties to lord it over people. For him, it was an opportunity to serve God’s people. His motto, Humilitas (Humility), was preached not just by his words but by the life he lived. He belonged to an aristocratic family but he did not act as such. He renounced the vast riches of his family and lived a life of sobriety with his people. Charles is a great example for many priests of today. Rather than hiding in comfortable rectories out of fear of getting infected of COVID-19 or monkeypox, they should go out of their way and be with their people like what St. Charles Borromeo did.
It was not the eloquence of his preaching that made St. Charles Borromeo a great saint of the Church. It was the eloquence of his example that made him such. That is why he said in one of his homilies to his priests that they should preach by the way they live. Otherwise, people will make them a laughing stock. Saying one thing and doing another. Such a reminder from St. Charles is a remedy for hypocrisy. Practice what you preach and preach what you live in actuality.
The life that St. Charles lived as the shepherd of God’s flock in Milan is a life of kenosis, a life of emptying oneself of all kinds of selfishness, arrogance, and pride. And he has all the right to say, borrowing the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). A life that deserves emulation.
To end, let me share a prayer that speaks so eloquently of the life that Charles lived. This is a prayer that was attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val y Zulueta:
Litany of Humility
O Jesus, Meek and humble of heart,
Deliver me, Jesus*
From the desire of being esteemed,*
From the desire of being loved,*
From the desire of being extolled,*
From the desire of being honored,*
From the desire of being praised,*
From the desire of being preferred to others,*
From the desire of being consulted,*
From the desire of being approved,*
From the fear of being humiliated,*.
From the fear of being despised,*
From the fear of suffering rebukes,*
From the fear of being calumniated,*
From the fear of being forgotten,*
From the fear of being ridiculed,*
From the fear of being wronged,*
From the fear of being suspected,*
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.*
That others may be loved more than I,*
That others may be esteemed more than I,*
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,*
That others may be chosen and I set aside,*
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,*
That others may be preferred to me in everything,*
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,*
Let us pray,
O Jesus, though you were in the form of God,
You did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, you emptied yourself, taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
you humbled yourself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted you and bestowed on you the name
that is above every other name, that at your name, every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (cf. Philippians 2:20)
St. Charles Borromeo, Pray for us!
Written By: Rad Alem D. Galing