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  • Writer's pictureMike Creavey

"Practice What You Preach" by St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop (1538-1584)

As the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Saint Charles Borromeo distinguished himself as a man of heroic virtue and dedication to Christ. When most of the civil and religious leaders fled a devastating plague that broke out in that city in 1576, St. Charles charged into the fray and spent himself ensuring that his flock was cared for in both bodily health needs and the deeper needs of the soul. For those of us who, in recent years, have been profoundly broken hearted by widespread failures of many of our own religious and civil leaders to do their duty, we can all look to St. Charles Borromeo as a true paragon of authentic discipleship - one that we would all be wise to follow!

2nd Reading from the Office of Readings for November 4th (Borromeo's memorial):

From a sermon given during the last synod he attended, by Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis 1599, 1177-1178)

Practice what you 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.

Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.

My brothers, you must realize that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: I will pray, and then I will understand. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on how the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean so that all that you do becomes a work of love.

This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.


Let us pray.


keep in your people the spirit

which filled Charles Borromeo.

Let your Church be continually renewed

and show the image of Christ to the world

by being conformed to his likeness,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

God, for ever and ever.


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