Saint Charles Borromeo – Readings

Commentary on Romans 12:3-13; Psalm 88; John 10:11-16

The Gospel reading from John is, appropriately, Jesus’ description of himself as the “good Shepherd”. In the verses which follow, he gives the qualities of a good shepherd. The first of these is that the good shepherd does not hesitate to give his life for his sheep, as indeed Jesus himself would do.

He compares the good shepherd to someone who is hired to look after someone else’s sheep. The moment danger appears, for instance, the sight of a wolf, the hired man runs away abandoning the sheep to be seized and scattered by the wolf. The reason is that the hired man is only doing it for the money; he has no personal interest in the sheep.

However, the good shepherd is very different. First of all, although to others they all look alike, he knows each individual sheep and the sheep know their shepherd also. Jesus knows and his known by his sheep just as he knows his Father and his Father knows him.

But Jesus goes further. He is not satisfied just with the flock he already has. There are other sheep which do not belong to his fold, and he wants them to hear and recognise and follow his voice. Then, there will finally be just one Shepherd and one flock. This is Jesus saying in other words that he is The Way. In him, through him and with him lie Truth and Goodness.

Charles Borromeo was an outstanding shepherd. He could have spent the rest of his life in the luxury of the papal court while ‘hired men’ were given the responsibility of his diocese of Milan, using it resources to line their pockets. But he returned to the diocese for which he had been consecrated bishop and, living a simple lifestyle, and devoted all his energies to the spiritual and material well-being of his flock, especially those in need.

He also was responsible for setting up centres where dedicated priests would be trained in the pastoral skills they needed to serve God’s people and which became models followed by the Church all over the world.

We pray today for good bishops and priests who are good shepherds and pastors, and also that one day there will be just one Shepherd and one Flock.

The First Reading from the Letter to the Romans discusses the Church as one Body with many Members. Paul begins by warning each one in the community not to think of themselves more highly than others. This, of course, was a major problem of the Church in the time of Charles Borromeo. It was a time of patronage and benefices, when some of the senior clergy rubbed shoulders with aristocracy, loaded themselves with grandiose titles and lived in ostentatious luxury, all while surrounded by poverty and hardship.

Paul emphasises that every person in the community is a member of a single body. Each one has his own special role to play in the overall well-being of the community. No member can live just for itself. Each member exists for the good of all the others. It is a relationship of love and service, irrespective of what role is allotted to us:

We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

As archbishop of Milan, Charles worked hard to change existing practices. His was not a position of privilege giving him access to wealth and luxury. On the contrary, his responsibility was to be totally at the service of his flock. He first of all adopted a materially simply lifestyle, giving away much of his wealth to the needy. In times of hunger and disease, he was down there personally giving a helping hand to those who were suffering.

His behaviour is just as relevant today as it was then and it should speak loudly to all persons in positions of power and authority.

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