Tag Archives: Philip Neri

St. Charles Borromeo (1538-84)

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Charles Borromeo was born into a rich powerful northern Italian family in 1538. His uncle was Pope Pius IV. Nepotism was customary at the papal court then, so having the pope as your uncle was a sure way to get ahead. A shy studious young man of 23, with a speech impediment, Charles was called to Rome and made a deacon, then cardinal, becoming the pope’s trusted advisor and Secretary of State.

His brother died unexpectedly In the winter of 1562 and Charles, grieving, made a retreat, following the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. His father and mother died also,  and as their remaining heir Charles was urged by his family, including the pope, to marry and have children. Instead he chose to become a priest.

The Council of Trent was concluding its work for church reform and Charles embraced the council’s call for reform; he left Rome and became bishop of Milan.

As bishop of that key city, Charles Borromeo became a key figure in the renewal of the Catholic Church shaken by the Protestant Reformation. In an era of absentee bishops, he stayed in his diocese, bringing about reform. He helped draft the Catechism of the Council of Trent. He founded a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine for catechizing his people. He started a printing press to make the Word of God known to his people. He created seminaries for training priests.

He wasn’t afraid to deal with inertia in his church or to confront the challenge to his authority from secular rulers or diocesan groups. In 1569 a friar from one religious community irked by his call for reform fired a shot that grazed his vestments while he was celebrating Mass. He was a man of meetings, a hard worker, constantly calling people together in diocesan synods and groups.

He endeared himself to his people by his work among the plague-stricken, when a plague gripped Milan in 157.  Borromeo stayed in the city while most authorities fled. He mobilized  people to minister to the sick and dying and set up hospitals for their care.

He was only 46 when he died, worn out trying to bring the gospel to his people;  he showed other bishops and dioceses how to renew the church. Some historians say he lacked an appreciation of the role of the laity in the ministry of the church, but most  see saints like Charles Borromeo, Philip Neri and Francis de Sales as more important for the Catholic renewal after the Reformation than the popes and general councils of the time.

We hope and pray for church leaders and saints like them today.

Father Theodore Foley, a holy superior general of my community, the Passionists, was reading the life of Charles Borromeo, when he died in 1974. He was inspired by his selfless leadership.

Wikipedia  has an article on Charles Boromeo.

St. Philip Neri, (1515-1595)

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Philip Neri, whose feast is May 26th, helped rejuvenate the Catholic church in the city of Rome following the Protestant reformation in the 16th century. He’s an important example of the way reform takes place in the church.

Philip came to Rome as a young man, became a priest, and fell in love with the city’s history, its churches and holy places. He roamed the catacombs of St. Sebastian where early Christians were buried and was a regular guide for pilgrims searching for their roots. He promoted pilgrimages to the great churches of St.Peter’s, St.Paul outside the Walls, St. Lawrence, St. Sebastian, Holy Cross, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major, which are still the major pilgrim churches of the city.

Philip was also a familiar figure on the Roman streets where he engaged ordinary people, especially the young, with cheerfulness and simple conversation. People listened to him and he listened to them. He made people aware of the beauty and joy of an ancient faith.

Philip inspired saints like Ignatius Loyola, Charles Borromeo and Pius V.

In his day Protestants were turning to history to back up their claims against the Catholic Church. At the same time Philip encouraged Catholic scholars and historians like Caesar Baronius to look into the history of their church with fairness and accuracy.  Baronius said of him: “I love the man especially because he wants the truth and doesn’t permit falsehood of any kind.” He supported Galileo: “The bible teaches the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”

In promoting an honest study of church history and archeology Philip was influential in helping the Catholic Church examine its traditions and roots. At a time when fierce controversy between Protestants and Catholics was the norm, Philip brought gentleness, cheerfulness and friendship and a search for truth to Christian reform. He believed reform would best come about by showing the beauty of faith in art, music and tradition.  He was an unassuming man. A biographer said “ his aim was to do much without appearing to do anything.”

He died in Rome on May 26, 1595, at eighty years of age.

The great Christian scholar John Henry Newman, attracted to Philip Neri,  entered the religious society he founded, the Oratorians.

Here’s one of his prayers I like: ” Let me get through today, and I won’t worry about tomorrow.”

God our Father, you are continually raising to the glory of holiness  those who serve you faithfully.In your love, hear our prayer:  let the Holy Spirit inflame us with that fire with which, in so admirable a way,  he took possession of Saint Philip’s heart.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,  who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,  one God, for ever and ever.Amen.