When you travel in the beautiful area of Lake Maggiore in northwestern Italy, you hear repeatedly mention of the Borromeo family. In fact, just offshore at the town of Stresa, there are three little islands called the Borromini Isles, which still belong to that family, of which Saint Charles Borromeo was undoubtedly the outstanding member. Down the lake a bit is the village of Arona where Saint Charles was born, and where a huge statue of him has been erected by the proud citizens there. Saint Charles, whom we honor this Friday, was somewhat typical of that which was worst about that period of church history, but also that which was best. Worst: he was the nephew of Pope Pius IV, and therefore was made archbishop of the great city of Milan at the age of twenty-two. Thus he was involved in the nepotism which plagued the Church in those days. Best: he became an ideal bishop and is now a canonized saint. In the metropolis of Milan, pilgrims and tourists can visit the magnificent cathedral, one the world’s most splendid buildings, in whose crypt Saint Charles Borromeo is buried. They can browse or shop in the elegant Galleria, visit La Scala, the most prestigious opera house in the world; see what is left of the marvelous painting of the Last Supper by DaVinci, visit the tomb of Saint Ambrose, who received Saint Augustine into the Church in the year 387, when Augustine was 57 and Ambrose was 47. The city of Milan was the site of Augustine’s famous struggle with his faith, which he recounts so movingly in his Confessions. More than eleven centuries later, Saint Charles Borromeo, at the age of 22, became chief shepherd of that historical and beautiful city.
As the church year draws to a close, we see that the last Sunday of that church year, the Solemnity of Christ the King, will fall this year on November 20. And the first day of the new church year, the first Sunday of Advent, will be on November 27. Therefore, our thoughts tend to dwell on the subjects of human mortality, death, judgment, and the afterlife. We have already celebrated All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and now we continue to make these themes the subject of our prayer. And just this morning, I received the sad (for us, not for her) news that a dear friend died last night in the Houston area. One of her aunts married my uncle and godfather. Another of her aunts was one of my mother’s closest friends; the two of them were born and raised in the little Bayou Teche town of Jeanerette, they were born three days apart and used to call each other “3-day”! The lady who died last night was a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother. Her death is a great loss to her family; this morning I offered Mass for her repose and for those who grieve her loss.