Friday, 4 November 2011

A no-nonsense leader

CB relic 001

At the converts' class last night (sorry - "RCIA process") I was valiantly trying to explain the incarnation and the doctrine of Christ's two natures but as so often happens, we got distracted into the details of Catholic practice. This is not a bad thing since a lot can be taught through these concrete examples.

This time it was relics and so we could talk about the goodness of creation, the resurrection of the body and the veneration of the saints. Today provided an opportunity for me to expose for veneration the relic of St Charles Borromeo (above), one of my own favourite saints. The reliquary also contains relics of St Francis and St Dominic, and St Thomas of Canterbury.

At the seminary at Wonersh there is a fine side altar for St Charles. This is fitting in that Wonersh was the first truly Tridentine seminary in England, and St Charles is a good patron for priests. I won't attempt to summarise his life - there are plenty of accounts on the internet and I expect other bloggers will write about him today, so I will just relate from memory of reading his life a couple of anecdotes that are typical.

Visiting one religious house to insist on its reform he found that the gates were barred to him. St Charles lived in great simplicity and austerity in his own quarters but when engaged in public duties, he wore full dress as befits a Bishop and travelled with a formal retinue. Facing the disobedience of the religious, he turned the retinue about, went back to the Bishop's palace, wrote out the bull of excommunication, returned again to the house and pinned the bull on the gates.

He was also known for his courage during the plague. Some of the poor people were boarded up in their houses so that they could not get out and infect others. When St Charles travelled to visit them, he had a ladder brought with him so that he could climb up into an upstairs window to anoint the sick and give them Holy Communion. Here is a picture that I took in the Church of St Merry in Paris which shows St Charles giving Holy Communion to a victim of the plague:

Paris 149

You will notice that St Charles did not institute a rule about giving Holy Communion in the hand during the plague.

I recall another incident from his life, in which, having now been recognised as a no-nonsense reformer, he visited a religious house where the Fathers tried to put on a good show of keeping the rule and being obedient to the Council of Trent. At the close of his visit, they asked him for a memento. He said that he had left one in the chapel. After his departure, they went to the chapel and saw on the prie-dieu for the priest to prepare for Mass, that St Charles had signed his name in the dust.

St Charles Borromeo. Pray for us (and especially for priests.)
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