The Example of St. Charles Borromeo

Luke 14: 1, 7-11
Rom 11: 1-2,11-12,25-29/ Ps 94

My friend, move up to a higher position.
(Luke 14:10)

Pray that from pride we may be freed,
A place of honor not to seek;
A humble heart God loves indeed,
He spurns the proud, exalts the meek.

One Sabbath, when Jesus was invited to a dinner at the house of a leading Pharisee, they watched him carefully. . . . When he noticed how they chose the places of honor at the table, He told a parable to those who were invited, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Today the Church commemorates the feast of a great saint and reformer, who is also remembered for his profound humility. 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 humility 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 His Way was wealth and pelf. But the more he sought 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. By being Christ-centered, he showed many the right path to humility.

To be Christ-centered, (and not self-centered), let us imitate St. Charles Borromeo by removing all desire for important positions, whether in our community or in the workplace. The struggle to acquire this 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 to pride and self-exaltation. Christ’s dying on the cross has provided our salvation, but still we must continue to strive to humble ourselves in repentance and faith. Let us take role models like St. Charles Borromeo to help us attain this elusive grace of humility. “Claim no honor in the king’s presence, nor occupy the place of great men; for it is better that you are told, ‘Come up closer!’ than that you be humbled before the prince.” (Prov 25:6-7)

Teach me, gentle Jesus how to be meek and humble of heart. Let Your blood on the cross wash away all my pride, self-importance, and the need for recognition. Amen.

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