04 November 2013

Saint Charles, Pope Francis, and anchoring the heart

Since Holy Mother Church celebrates today the life of Saint Charles Borromeo, this afternoon I paid a visit to the Church of Saint Ambrose and of Saint Charles Borromeo, both great reforming Bishops of the city of Milan, Saint Ambrose in the 4th century and Saint Charles in the 16th century.

Within the church, in the aspse, is housed the heart of Saint Charles Borromeo:

Praying before many of the relics of the saints on their feastdays is one of the many blessings of living and studying in Rome.

When he preached during the final synod he attended, Saint Ambrose urged his priests to practice what they preach:
I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily.  One priest may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should.  He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives.  Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships.  Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God.  But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass?  How did he prepare?  What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?
Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship?  Listen, and I will tell you.  If a tiny spark of God's love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out.  Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold.  In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can.  Stay quiet with God.  Do not spend your time in useless chatter.
If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well.  Be sure that you first preach by the way you live.  If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.
We do not have to look very far to see the truth of his words. Likewise, his words not only apply to priests, but they also apply to the laity.

As I prayed before the heart of the saintly Bishop from which the above words flowed, I recalled the words His Holiness Pope Francis preached at the cemetery of Verano on All Souls' Day:
As the sun starts to set today, each one of us can think of the sunset of our own lives. And if we look forward with joy to being welcomed by the Lord, this is a Christian thought, that brings peace to us. Today is a day of joy, but it is a serene and tranquil joy, the joy of peace. Let us think of the sunsets of the many brothers and sisters who have preceded us, and let us think of our own sunset, when it arrives. And let us think of our hearts, and ask ourselves, "Where is my heart anchored?" If it is not anchored well, let us anchor it there, on that shore, in the knowledge that hope never disappoints, because the Lord Jesus never disappoints.
Certainly we can say that the heart of Saint Charles was anchored on that far shore, in heaven.  When he died at the age of 46, his final words were, "See, Lord, I am coming, I am coming soon."

Some time ago I blogged about the draw that sunsets have for me, particularly sunsets seemingly into the water.

In this month of November as we pray for our beloved dead, let us ask Saint Charles to teach us to anchor our hearts in heaven, to always long for our heavenly home, and to prepare eagerly for the moment when we, too, will go soon to the Lord.

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