St Charles Borromeo

Archbishop of Milan and Cardinal (entered heaven this day in 1584)

Dear Chuck,

Be humble: you have been gifted with extraordinary intellectual and social talents and opportunities.  Accept it, and make good use of them. The Church is hoping you will. But watch out for the trap that so many like you have fallen into: the illusion of self-sufficiency.  Super talented people tend to be able to achieve relative success on their own; they don’t have to depend on other people. This feeds their pride, which little by little makes them forget that they do indeed depend on God, and owe him allegiance and obedience.  That causes problems. To dodge that pitfall, I suggest you follow a subtle and wise habit that today’s saint formed early on. But to respect its worth, you need to know about today’s saint.

St Charles is one of those giants of the Church.  Born and raised in the area around Milan, he came from a wealthy and noble family, in an age when nobility and wealth made their presence known.  He spent his early years getting the best Renaissance education a man could get, and when his uncle became Pope Paul IV, he moved to Rome and became a member of the Papal court, being named a “Cardinal-Deacon.”  That meant that the Pope heaped responsibilities upon him, but he was not yet ordained to the priesthood. And so, by the time he was 23 years old, his to-do list contained duties related to the following “non-academic commitments,” to use your term: Papal Legate of Bologna, Romagna, and the March of Ancona, and Papal Protector of Portugal, the Netherlands, the Catholic cantons of Switzerland, and the orders of St Francis, the Carmelites, the Knights of Malta, and others.  Additionally, he was given charge over the archdiocese of Milan (though the Pope forbade him from leaving Rome to tend to it personally), he had to govern his family affairs (no small task for Italian nobility), he patronized learning and the arts in Rome, and he kept up a healthy schedule of recreational and social activities (which was expected of every worthy Cardinal-Deacon). That’s how he spent his early twenties. Have you cause to complain, my dear nephew, in light of such an example?  Rather, I would say you ought to learn from him how to do more in less time, and do it better. His “secret” was hardly secret. It consisted of planning ahead, never rushing, practicing willful concentration on the task at hand (“do what you’re doing” as the old Latin saying goes: “age quod agis”), and just plain working hard. Through it all, he kept his prayer life first: going to confession and celebrating Mass early every morning before taking on the tasks of the day.

These simple habits served him well for the rest of his life, enabling him to infuse new vigor into the entire Catholic Church through his tireless efforts to conclude the Council of Trent and subsequently reform (in accordance with the Council’s indications) the Archdiocese of Milan (and the surrounding areas) from the clergy on down – a reform which has served as a model for conscientious pastors ever since.  It was never easy (he survived at least two attempted assassinations), but it filled him with energy, and filled the world with the light of Christ in an especially dark moment of Christendom’s trek.

So what was his secret habit that would serve you so well?  Even though he was so gifted in so many ways, he ALWAYS kept around him a coterie of trustworthy, virtuous, and holy advisers.  He wouldn’t follow their advice to a tee, but he would regularly consult them, and he entrusted them to help him balance out his own weak points and keep his vision clear.  Thus, he never imploded into diabolical self-sufficiency. It’s a good idea. If I were you, I’d start doing it myself – without delay.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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