Wednesday, November 4, 2009

St. Charles Borromeo - Resuming the Pastoral Visitation - 1st Thursday

Statue of St. Charles Borromeo in Ottawa's Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica

During my sabbatical year in Rome, I delighted in reading an English translation of the great Italian novel, Alessandro Manzoni's 1827 I promessi Sposi (The Betrothed). Inspired by Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, it was the first Italian historical novel.

It deals with a variety of themes, from the cowardly, hypocritical nature of a priest (Don Abbondio) and the heroic sainthood of others (Padre Cristoforo, Federico Borromeo), the latter based on the life of St. Charles Borromeo, to the unwavering strength of love (the relationship between Renzo and Lucia and the struggle of these betrothed to finally meet again and get married), and offers some keen insights into the meanderings of the human mind (the Nun of Monza).

In Italy the novel is considered a real masterpiece of world literature and a basis for the modern Italian language, and as such widely read and studied in every school. Many expressions, quotes and names from the novel are still commonly used in Italian, such as Perpetua (the name Italians use for a priest's housekeeper) and Questo matrimonio non s'ha da fare ("This marriage is not to be performed", used ironically).

The heroic bishop in Manzoni's novel pays homage to Saint Charles Borromeo who cares for the needs of his people when, in a time of plague, rumours spread and social disorder ensues: a timely tale in these days of threats from the imminence of the H1N1 flu pandemic.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (March 5, 1696 – March 27, 1770), St. Charles Borromeo (painted 1767-69), in the Cincinnati Art Museum

Saint Charles Borromeo (1538-1584), saintly Archbishop of Milan,
was born in 1538 in the castle of Arona on the borders of Lake Major. He was the son of Count Gilbert Borromeo, known for his almsgiving and his rigorous fasts; it was his custom never to eat a meal without first giving alms. The Countess, Charles’ mother, was also exceptionally virtuous.

Their family was composed of two sons and four daughters, all of whom manifested in their lives the splendor of their Christian heritage. Their maternal uncle, John Angelus of Medici, became Pope Pius IV. Charles was clearly destined for the ecclesiastical vocation; all his preferences in study made it clear.

When he was twelve years old, a paternal uncle willed to him an abbey; the child constantly reminded his father that this revenue was the patrimony of the poor. His father wept for joy, seeing his son’s solicitude for the just application of his trust.

Count Gilbert died when Charles was twenty years old, and he was obliged to come home from Pavia where he had been studying law; he returned there, however, to complete his doctorate at the university after settling his affairs.

One year later, when his maternal uncle became Pope Pius IV, he created Charles cardinal, and after another year nominated him Archbishop of Milan. The Pontiff detained him in Rome, however, seeing his extensive capacities and adding to these offices other administrative duties which ordinarily require the prudence of mature years.

No one was disappointed in his services, despite the fact he was maintaining delicate papal relations with other nations, as protector of Portugal and the Low Countries, and was at the head of the Knights of Malta, the Orders of Carmel and Saint Francis, among other duties.

When the Council of Trent (1545-1563) was nearing its conclusion, Saint Charles, who had participated with authority in many of its twenty-five sessions, desired to leave Rome to attend to his diocese of Milan, a duty which his vicar general had carried out until that time.

The urgency of the situation there persuaded the Pope to consent regretfully to his departure. Saint Charles intended to put into execution the reforming decrees of the Council, create seminaries and schools and in general restore discipline in the Church of Milan.

As Archbishop of Milan he saw to the observance of the decrees, and thoroughly restored the discipline of his see. Criticism hounded him there, but left him unmoved; he kept with him in his episcopal household of about one hundred persons, a certain priest who delighted in finding fault with whatever he did; he treated him with great consideration, and in his will left him a pension for life.

He was very severe with himself, eating only once a day, and limiting himself often to bread and water. When someone suggested he should have a garden at Milan to get some fresh air, he replied that the Holy Scriptures should be the garden of a bishop.

The sermons of Saint Charles produced great fruits among all ranks of the people. When young he had manifested a speech defect with a tendency to speak too fast, but he overcame these handicaps with many efforts. A man who admired him said that he always forgot the orator himself when he preached, so transported was he by the great truths he heard explained, and the longest sermons of Saint Charles seemed short to him.

Everywhere the holy Archbishop established schools of Christian doctrine, numbering in all seven hundred and forty, in which over three thousand catechists were employed, presiding over forty thousand students.

Once Saint Charles heard a cardinal who was a bishop of a small diocese say that his diocese was too small to require his constant residence there, as canon law required; Saint Charles said to him with force that the price of one soul is such as to merit the residence and entire time of the greatest of men. He himself visited the most remote corners of his diocese, traveling in mountainous regions amid the greatest dangers, which he regarded as nothing unusual, and unworthy of mention.

Inflexible in maintaining discipline, to his flock he was a most tender father. He would sit by the roadside to teach a poor man the Pater and Ave.

During the great plague which broke out in Milan, which he had foretold as a chastisement for the disorders of the Carnival, he refused to leave, asking those who remonstrated with him if it were not more perfect to remain with one’s flock than to abandon them in need, and adding that a bishop is obliged to choose what is most perfect.

He was ever at the side of the sick and dying. He stripped his palace of literally everything to aid those who had lost their support in their fathers and spouses, even giving away his straw mattress. As he lived, so he died, having governed his church for twenty-four years and eight months. To the heroic sanctity of this faithful copy of the Good Shepherd, many miracles came to testify, through his relics and his intercession. In 1610 he was canonized by Pope Paul V.

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Yesterday, Abbe Daniel Berniquez and I headed east again to visit the four parishes being directed by Abbe Luc Ricard, who lives in Plantagenet (part of the Municipality of Alfred-Planatagenet also known as La Nation for the river that flows through its territory.

As we will not return to Ottawa until Sunday, these parishes will be featured in next week's Photo Round-Up.

Tomorrow, we will catch up on recent happenings pictures from the Knights of Columbus Memorial Mass and luncheon following at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on Saturday as well as the Parish Visit to Sainte-Anne-de-Prescott on Sunday.

Here are some other paragraphs on the spirituality of the Bishop's Pastoral Visitation of his people:

The Procedure for a Parish Pastoral Visit

In making a pastoral visit, the Bishop should seek to accomplish the following, if time and local circumstances permit:

a) to celebrate Mass and preach the Word of God;

b) to confer the sacrament of confirmation with due solemnity, within Mass if possible;

c) to meet the pastor and the other clerics who assist in the parish;

d) to have meetings with the pastoral council or, if one does not exist, with the faithful who collaborate in diverse apostolates (clerics, religious and members of societies of apostolic life and the laity) and with associations of the faithful;

e) to have a meeting with the parish finance council;

f) to have a meeting with children, youth and young adults who are receiving catechetical instruction;

g) to visit the school and other Catholic institutions dependent on the parish;

h) to visit some of the sick in the parish, insofar as it is possible.

The Bishop may also choose to be present among the faithful in other ways, considering local custom and apostolic opportunities: for example, with young people at cultural or sporting events, or in the company of workers and in conversation with them.

During a pastoral visit, the Bishop should be sure to examine the administration and maintenance of the parish, including places of worship, liturgical vessels and appointments, parish registers and other goods.

Nevertheless, some aspects of this task may be left to the Vicars forane or other suitable clerics (683) just before or after the visit, so that the Bishop can concentrate on personal meetings during the visit itself, as befits a true Shepherd (684).

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Tomorrow (November 5) is the First Thursday of the month of November and as such is a day designated for the Plenary Indulgence granted in the Year of the Priest.

Thursdays have long been associated with both the Holy Eucharist and the Sacred Priesthood (the Last Supper was on Holy Thursday, on which we celebrate Christ's institution of the Mass and the Priesthood and his giving of the Mandatum [the divine command to love one another].


The Vatican is offering a plenary indulgence for all faithful on the occasion of the Year for Priests, marking the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, also knows as the Curé de Ars (June 19, 2009-June 10, 2010).

For priests, the plenary indulgence can be gained by praying lauds or vespers before the Blessed Sacrament exposed to public adoration or in the tabernacle. They must also "offer themselves with a ready and generous heart for the celebration of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance."

The plenary indulgence, which under current norms must be accompanied by sacramental confession, the Eucharist and praying for the intentions of the Pope, can also by applied to deceased priests.

Priests are granted a partial indulgence, also applicable to deceased priests, every time they "devotedly recite the prayers duly approved to lead a saintly life and to carry out the duties entrusted to them."

For the faithful, a plenary indulgence can be obtained on the opening and closing days of the Year for Priests, on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean-Marie Vianney, on the first Thursday of the month, or on any other day established by the ordinaries of particular places for the good of the faithful.

To obtain the indulgence the faithful must attend Mass in an oratory or Church and offer prayers to "Jesus Christ, supreme and eternal Priest, for the priests of the Church, or perform any good work to sanctify and mould them to his heart."

The conditions for the faithful for earning a plenary indulgence are to have gone to confession and prayed for the intentions of the Pope.

The elderly, the sick, and all those who for any legitimate reason are unable to leave their homes may obtain the plenary indulgence if, with the intention of observing the usual three conditions as soon as they can, "on the days concerned, they pray for the sanctification of priests and offer their sickness and suffering to God through Mary, Queen of the Apostles."


  1. It would be helpful if the substance of such indulgences could be explained, for the edification of the faithful. It was under this rubric where the pre-Reformational Church had gone so off the rails, and many a new Catholic from the Protestant fold would have hoped that however reformed, this practice would have died a quiet death. In appearance, at least, if this is not "salvation" (or rather, alleviation of suffering) by "works," rather than through grace..... "Blessed are the poor in spirit." "And he who is first, will be last." Do we worship for rewards?

  2. We worship in full awareness of our sin and the temporal punishment we are due even though our sins are forgiven.

    This is not alleviation of suffering by works, but through the Lord's Divine Mercy. I'm sure there were also many new Catholics from the Protestant fold who wished the truth of Purgatory would also have "died a quiet death".

  3. Undoubtedly, Anonymous #2, except that if one had reservations about indulgences, the same would not necessarily apply to the Church's teaching on Purgatory. One is constantly amazed by many people's inability (or is it wilful refusal?) to recognize not only the reasonableness but the sheer logic of Purgatorial cleansing.

  4. But I do have a supplementary question, Anonymous #2: With respect to the Papal announcement (above) where it pertains to indulgences for priests, are those actions, by and large, not things they should or would be doing in any case? The requirement is certainly not demanding. Whereas one could understand that special inducements may have to be offered to the laity.