The Example of St. Charles Borromeo

Luke 14: 25-33
Rom 13: 8-10 / Psa 112

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
(Luke 14:33)

Nothing is so precious here on earth
That we can’t give to help another
But once given then it gains its worth
As investment in the hereafter.

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14: 25-33)


Today the Church commemorates the feast of a great saint and reformer, who is also remembered for his boundless generosity. St. Charles Borromeo came from a noble family in Milan, and was related to the powerful Medici family. Highly talented and well connected, he chose to devote his life to the Church, and during the Protestant Reformation, led its reform during the final years of the Council of Trent. St. Charles lived a life that exemplified the kind of sacrifice that Jesus taught in His parable. He donated most of his income to charity. He avoided all forms of material comfort, giving up wealth, high honors, esteem and influence to live a life of poverty. During the plague of 1576, he spent and borrowed vast sums of money to feed tens of thousands of starving people. At the height of the plague, he elected to stay in the city, ministering to the sick and the dying, and helping the needy. The heavy burdens of his office affected his health, and led to his early death at the age of 46.

St. Charles imitated the life of his Savior, and knew that the greatest stumbling block to Christ’s Way was wealth and pelf. But the more he aspired for a humble position — like serving his diocese in Milan — the more he was asked by two successive popes to serve important positions in the Vatican. And yet he never used his connections to Rome or his influence to pursue his noble goals, but instead worked tirelessly with his subordinates to remove abuses and corruption in the Church, and deliver services to the faithful. He showed us how to carry the cross of Jesus and be His disciple.

To be Christ-centered, let us learn to imitate St. Charles Borromeo, who removed all desires in his life for wealth and pleasure. These are snares laid out by Satan to keep us chained to sin. The struggle to acquire the virtue of self-denial can be a life-long process, and requires much prayers and works of charity. It is never an easy goal. The devil and the world will constantly incite our human nature towards avarice and materialism. Jesus and His saints have shown us that it is only in giving up all excessive desires in this life that we can assure our eternal retirement in heaven.

Teach me, Lord how to be generous like St. Charles Borromeo, not only to help the needy, but to counter the sin of avarice, and preserve my life for eternity. Amen.

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