Five years ago today, I was ordained a transitional deacon, on my way to becoming a priest. For me it was a very significant day: it was the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, and I was being ordained at the St. Charles Borromeo Pastoral Center. So I feel like I have a bit of connection to St. Charles, who is the patron of learning. I certainly depended on his intercession while in seminary, and there is a statue of him in the seminary chapel.
St. Charles was a very bright boy and part of a well-connected Italian family. His uncle eventually became Pope Pius IV, and he made Charles a cardinal, recognizing his intellect and devotion to the church. He served for a while as the Vatican Secretary of State. After his elder brother died, Charles made a definite decision to be ordained a priest – in those days one did not need to be a priest to be a cardinal. Soon after he was ordained a priest, he was consecrated bishop of Milan.
He didn’t take up residence in Milan for a while, though, because he had convinced the pope to re-start the Council of Trent after it had been suspended for ten years. He worked hard to respond to the Reformation, and is credited with keeping the Council of Trent on track at a period when it was often in danger of breaking up.
When he at last took up residence in Milan, he spent a great deal of his time reforming the Church there. Although the reform was aimed at both clergy and laity alike, specific regulations were drawn up for bishops and other clergy: If the people were to be converted to a better life, the clergy had to be the first to give a good example and renew their apostolic spirit. He himself was known to give a good example: he lived very simply and shunned any kind of personal luxury, he was known to feed thousands of the poor daily, at great personal cost, and he ministered to the sick and dying in the city during the plague.
Saint Paul, in our reading from his letter to the Philippians today, said that he considered everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ. Saint Charles Borromeo certainly felt the same, and acted on that word by living simply and caring for those in need.