Thoughts for November 4 (St Charles Borromeo) from Fr Willie Doyle

Jesus suffering 8

All my life my study has been to avoid suffering as much as possible, to make my life a comfortable one How unlike my Jesus I have been, who sought to suffer on every occasion for me, for me. I should be glad when pain comes and welcome it, because it makes me more like Jesus.

During His Passion our Lord was bound and dragged from place to place. I have hourly opportunities of imitating Him by going cheerfully to the duty of the moment — recreation when I want to be quiet, a walk when I would rather stay in my room, some unpleasant duty I did not expect, a call of charity which means great inconvenience for myself.

My denial of Jesus has been baser than that of Peter, for I have refused to listen to His voice calling me back for fifteen years. But Jesus has won my heart in this retreat by His patient look of love. God grant my repentance may in some degree be like St. Peter’s. I could indeed weep bitterly for the wasted sinful past in the Society, the time I have squandered, the little good done, and the awful amount of harm by my bad example in every house in which I have been. What might I not have done for Jesus! What a saint I might have been now! Dear Jesus, You forgave St. Peter, forgive me also for I will serve You now.

At the community Mass this morning I again felt an over-powering desire to become a saint. It came suddenly filling my soul with consolation. Surely God has an object in inspiring me so often with this desire and has great graces for me if I will only cooperate with Him.

Reflecting on this inspiration afterwards, I saw more clearly that the chief thing God wants from me at present is an extraordinary and exquisite perfection in every little thing I do, even the odd Hail Marys of the day; that each day there must be some improvement in the fervour, the purity of intention, the exactness with which I do things, that in this will chiefly lie my sanctification as it sanctified St. John Berchmans. I see here a vast field for work and an endless service of mortification. To keep faithfully to this resolve will require heroism, so that day after day I may not flag in the fervour of my service of the good God.

The fruit of the Third Week, says Fr. Petit, is great compassion and increase of fortitude. To suffer with Jesus, to long for sufferings, must be my aim and prayer.

Since my “Promise” I have been doing ten acts of self-denial — why not try to make it thirty a day? I have so much to atone for, so much time wasted in the past, so little of life left. Ceaseless war on your comfort, no rest now, eternity is long enough.

COMMENT: With these thoughts, Fr Doyle began the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises during his long retreat in 1907.

 There is something here in these piercing thoughts that is of immediate relevance to every one of us no matter who we are. God wants us to perform our duties well, no matter what they are. We are all part of the body of Christ and we all have a specific task entrusted to us. The health of a body depends on the health of each organ, each cell, doing what it is meant to do. Even if our task is very small and humble (in reality, almost everyone’s task is ultimately small and humble) it is still of immense value to the Church and in particular to the souls that God has placed on our path in life. Perhaps there are people who, through God’s providence, will only ever be able encounter Christ through us and through the performance of our duty. Much may depend upon our faithfulness. Indeed, we have only to look at the Church in the English speaking world, and very especially in Ireland, to see the damage wrought by those who were not faithful in their specific duty to protect children from those who would damage them.

May we all learn this lesson in our own lives!

Today is also the feast of St Charles Borromeo, the great 16th century reformer. St Charles was a hard and tough man with a great zeal for the reform of the Church. But St Charles knew that reform always starts with ourselves – we cannot give what we do not have. The death of his brother in the prime of his life had a strong impact upon him, and as a young cardinal in his 20’s he caused something of a stir in the Roman Curia with his personal austerity and single minded pursuit of holiness. In all of this he was utterly devoted to his duties in life, which were indeed very significant for a young man – he was Papal Secretary of State in his early and mid twenties, and had a decisive role in overseeing the Council of Trent and publishing its decrees. He was also involved in all aspects of papal diplomacy.  All of this involved a massive amount of work – thousands of important, handwritten letters over the space of a few years. On his return to Milan as archbishop he was utterly dedicated to his duties as bishop, and regularly visited the outlying parts of his diocese which had not seen a bishop in many generations. But he was not only an austere reformer – he also exhibited heroic charity and courage in tending to the sick and dying during an outbreak of plague which ravaged Milan for over an entire year during 1576/1577. He went days and nights without food and sleep as he sought out the dying and by the end of the plague he had emptied the bishop’s palace of all its valuables in order to provide food for the poor. He even took down all of the wall hangings and curtains and had them made into clothes to help his flock. Like all saints, he was balanced, combining action with contemplation and fiery zeal with gentleness and compassion.

May St Charles intercede for us in our imitation of Christ as we cheerfully go to the duty of the present moment, and may he pray for our personal reform and for the reform of the Church at every level. 

St Charles Borromeo
St Charles Borromeo
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