Monday, November 4, 2013

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Romans 11:29-36; 14:12-14)

When Pope Francis tells bishops to refrain from trips abroad to be with their people, he is echoing an abuse prevalent in the Renaissance church.  Bishops of remote dioceses would live in the great cities of the time spending the money of the people they left behind.  This kind of abuse triggered the Protestant reformation and the vigorous Catholic reform from within directed by the Council of Trent.  St. Charles Borromeo, whom we remember today, was one of the leaders of the latter movement.

In some ways Charles was not a likely candidate for leading reform.  Born into a prominent Italian family, he was chosen by his uncle, Pope Pius IV, to be a cardinal and the administrator of the diocese of Milan at twenty-two years of age – a clear case of nepotism.  However, Charles not only took part in the Tridentine Council but vigorously instituted its reforms by establishing seminaries and religious education for children.  When the plague ravished Milan, he personally saw to the care of the sick-poor.

St. Paul writes in the first reading “how unsearchable are (God’s) ways!”  We should recognize that God often works beyond the norms that we impose on reality to produce good where it is unexpected.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t have norms like “no more nepotism” but to caution us from judging any situation differing with our norms as inherently bad.