Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Saint Charles Borromeo and Counting the Cost

Painting of St. Charles Borromeo by Orazio Borgianni;
an altarpiece for San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome.

(Wednesday of the of the 31st Week in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on 4 November, 2009 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Luke 14:25-33)

Jesus Christ, in our Gospel this morning, talks about the cost of discipleship. By the end of that passage there is one thing that is perfectly clear: the price is a steep one. We must be willing to sacrifice everything:

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
—Luke 14:26-27

Nothing should keep us from following Jesus Christ; neither good things nor bad, neither obstacles nor difficulties, neither distractions nor discouragement. We reach out and cling to Christ, allowing Him to move us forward by His infinite grace and mercy.

The Church, in Her providence, has seen fit to give us today the Feast of St. Charles Borromeo as a tremendous example of what it means to count the cost and follow Christ.

St. Charles, at the age of 23, was created a cardinal of the Catholic Church by the newly elected Pope Pius IV, who was his uncle. You might be thinking, “Wow! Good for him,” but it wasn’t. It was a burden and a weight of responsibility which included the administration of the Church in Milan, care and protection of the Low Countries (today Belgium and the Netherlands), as well as Portugal, the religious orders of the Franciscans and the Carmelites, just to name a few.

But perhaps the heaviest burden was his inability to fulfill his deepest desire to serve the people of God in Milan. Instead he was kept in Rome, where his uncle had placed him in charge of the management of the papal court, the household, palaces and a great deal of other tasks. Having dispatched these responsibilities with due diligence and fervor, he was also more than aware of the dangers and temptations that could accompany life in those circumstances.

He confided in friends and leaned on them for support and prayers yet he was ever faithful and undistracted by the trappings of the world and society around him. He was undeterred in his ministry of service regardless of the time or place. St. Charles became one of the chief architects of the final sessions of the Council of Trent and a force for reform in everything he did. He put Jesus Christ first.

And so it was that he was finally able to attend to the Church at Milan and his reception was overwhelmingly positive. The people recognized the love he had for them and they responded in kind, love for love. He was thought well of and esteemed, and that too never became a distraction for St. Charles. He never became lost in the desire to be liked by everyone around him; he remained focused on Jesus Christ putting Christ at the center of his life, and for that reason he was able to effect change and bring about a much needed restoration of the Church in that place. He loved his people, as they say, "just as they were, but too much to leave them that way."

But his efforts and passion for reformation were met with much opposition. Many people loved St. Charles and revered him; many people also hated him. Some of them even tried to kill him. He was shot at twice. One time it was a near miss that struck the cross he was holding instead. The other time he was shot while praying in his own family chapel. The bullet hit him square in the back but miraculously did not enter his body and he was spared.

Not even that kind of opposition was able to distract nor discourage St. Charles from the ministry that God had called him to. He was indefatigable because he was keenly aware of the cost of discipleship and in every situation he placed Jesus Christ first, before those he loved most, before his own gifts and abilities, before all of the offices and responsibilities he possessed, before all the frustrations and difficulties he encountered on a regular basis, and before his very own self.

Brothers and sisters in Christ: what are the obstacles and difficulties, distractions and discouragement that you are experiencing right now? What are those crosses and sufferings which you have carried and labored under up until now? And what do you do with them?

Hopefully you are able to talk to brothers and sisters in Christ about those struggles, and hopefully that conversation takes place in a spirit of charity and not one of grumbling. God wants us to help each other carry the burdens and the crosses of life.

And hopefully you have also talked to God about those very same things. There is nothing wrong with asking God for a different cross, or a lighter one.

But ultimately we are called, when all is said and done, to do what Jesus Christ is asking each of us in the Gospel this morning when it comes to our crosses:

To pick them up,
and follow Him.