Friday, November 4, 2016

St. Charles Borromeo: A Humble Shepherd Close to His People

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo, one of my favorites. I love St. Charles!  Known for his zeal, humility, untiring love for the poor and the ill, his pastoral wisdom, urgent renewal of the clergy, and for the formation of seminarians, Charles Borromeo is one of the great pastors of the Church's history. His example inspires those of us who are priests to continue to grow in our vocation.

In the face of the protestant reformation, St. Charles saw the need for the renewal of the clergy, for better catechesis, and for zealous pastoral care of the flock. Many dioceses suffered greatly because their bishops were not resident in their dioceses.  They were absentee shepherds. Charles saw how detrimental this was to the care of the flock.  This temptation is still one that afflicts priests and bishops.  While shepherds are ordained for the whole Church, their primary responsibility is the particular flock entrusted to their care. Quite often, however, bishops and priests can become disinterested in their particular flocks and become immersed in other things. St. Charles probably drove many in his diocese crazy because suddenly they had a bishop who was in residence. He was concerned with everything about his local church. He was involved in the formation of clergy, the catechesis being given in parishes, and the worthy celebration of the liturgy.  A resident bishop meant that corruption within the local church (which was rampant) was no longer ignored.

Despite being a zealous reformer, Charles was also noted for his extraordinary humility. It is no wonder that he is often held up as the model of a good bishop. His feast day provides all of us who share in the ministry of shepherds the opportunity to reflect on our own need for renewal, holiness, and pastoral zeal. While in Charles' day, bishops were often physically absent from their particular dioceses, today we run the risk of being physically present but detached, nonetheless. Pastors (bishops and priests) can be so immersed in extrinsic realities that we become disinterested in the souls entrusted to our care. Despite being called upon to engage in many other responsibilities, Charles never lost sight of the people for whom he had pastoral care. 

Charles reminds us that renewal in the Church is always first and foremost about holiness. It is about teaching solid doctrine, worshipping well, and growing in holiness and virtue. It is often a temptation to think that renewal in the Church is about reordering external realities. But St. Charles reminds us that it is about interior renewal. It is about reordering our lives to Christ. Renewal in the Church requires priests to become holy. Charles challenges us priests to grow in humility and in zeal.

Although Charles died at only 46 years of age, his record of activity is extraordinary. He served the Church zealously and became the model pastor. I'd say the one thing that he did that was most important was he stayed with his people. We live in an age when shepherds can leave their flocks untended, not only because of the ease of travel, but also because the media available to us enables us to become less engaged with the people entrusted to us and more engaged with the world wide web.  Pastors can become more and more remote from their people by creating layers and layers of bureaucracy between themselves and their people. Renewal, however, comes when shepherds know their sheep and are close to them.

St. Charles Borromeo was a great pastor because he could say with Christ, "I know my sheep and mine know me." 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points. There seem to be many layers of bureaucracy in the Church though. How to cut through it?