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The 16th-century reforming Archbishop of Milan, remembered today, November 4.

The first point to draw to your attention is this book:

Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) should have been part of the problem. As nephew of a Medici Pope who made him a Cardinal at 22 years of age, Borromeo could have become just another corrupt Renaissance Bishop. Instead he became the driving force of reform within the Catholic Church in the wake of the Council of Trent following the Protestant Reformation and the primary reason Trent’s dramatic reforms were successful. His remarkable accomplishments in Milan as Archbishop became the model of reform for the rest of Western Europe. Change is never easy, but St. Charles’ approach – deeply biblical, personal, practical and centered on Christ – offers a road map of reform, even for today. Now for the first time in over 400 years a significant selection of his works appears in the English language.

I started reading it last night – I think in a time in which we’re constantly being told that the Church needs to reform and change and be attentive to the times (which is mostly always true, anyway) – this astonishing story merits far more attention than it gets.

The Church in Milan during this period was unbelievably lax and corrupt – and St. Charles Borromeo turned it around.

How he did that should be of at least mild interest to those super-hot about evangelization and such these days.

First, the text of Pius X’s encyclical on reform and St. Charles – Editae Saepe

Here’s Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on the 400th anniversary of the canonization.  Very interesting insights on reform, something that we hear much about these days.  First, it begins with humility.

The time in which Charles Borromeo lived was very delicate for Christianity. In it the Archbishop of Milan gave a splendid example of what it means to work for the reform of the Church. There were many disorders to sanction, many errors to correct and many structures to renew; yet St Charles strove for a profound reform of the Church, starting with his own life. It was in himself, in fact, that the young Borromeo promoted the first and most radical work of renewal. His career had begun promisingly in accordance with the canons of that time: for the younger son of the noble family Borromeo, a future of prosperity and success lay in store, an ecclesiastical life full of honours but without any ministerial responsibilities; he also had the possibility of assuming the direction of the family after the unexpected death of his brother Federico.

Yet Charles Borromeo, illumined by Grace, was attentive to the call with which the Lord was attracting him and desiring him to dedicate the whole of himself to the service of his people. Thus he was capable of making a clear and heroic detachment from the lifestyle characterised by his worldly dignity and dedication without reserve to the service of God and of the Church. In times that were darkened by numerous trials for the Christian community, with divisions and confusions of doctrine, with the clouding of the purity of the faith and of morals and with the bad example of various sacred ministries, Charles Borromeo neither limited himself to deploring or condemning nor merely to hoping that others would change, but rather set about reforming his own life which, after he had abandoned wealth and ease, he filled with prayer, penance and loving dedication to his people. St Charles lived heroically the evangelical virtues of poverty, humility and chastity, in a continuous process of ascetic purification and Christian perfection.

And then it spreads…

The extraordinary reform that St Charles carried out in the structures of the Church in total fidelity to the mandate of the Council of Trent was also born from his holy life, ever more closely conformed to Christ. His work in guiding the People of God, as a meticulous legislator and a brilliant organizer was marvellous. All this, however, found strength and fruitfulness in his personal commitment to penance and holiness. Indeed this is the Church’s primary and most urgent need in every epoch: that each and every one of her members should be converted to God. Nor does the ecclesial community lack trials and suffering in our day and it shows that it stands in need of purification and reform. May St Charles’ example always spur us to start from a serious commitment of personal and community conversion to transform hearts, believing with steadfast certainty in the power of prayer and penance. I encourage sacred ministers, priests and deacons in particular to make their life a courageous journey of holiness, not to fear being drunk with that trusting love for Christ that made Bishop Charles ready to forget himself and to leave everything. Dear brothers in the ministry, may the Ambrogian Church always find in you a clear faith and a sober and pure life that can renew the apostolic zeal which St Ambrose, St Charles and many of your holy Pastors possessed!

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Charity:

St Charles, moreover, was recognized as a true and loving father of the poor. Love impelled him to empty his home and to give away his possessions in order to provide for the needy, to support the hungry, to clothe and relieve the sick. He set up institutions that aimed to provide social assistance and to rescue people in need; but his charity for the poor and the suffering shone out in an extraordinary way during the plague of 1576 when the holy Archbishop chose to stay in the midst of his people to encourage them, serve them and defend them with the weapons of prayer, penance and love.

Furthermore it was charity that spurred Borromeo to become an authentic and enterprising educator: for his people with schools of Christian doctrine; for the clergy with the establishment of seminaries; for children and young people with special initiatives for them and by encouraging the foundation of religious congregations and confraternities dedicated to the formation of children and young people.

Rooted in love of the Lord:

However it is impossible to understand the charity of St Charles Borromeo without knowing his relationship of passionate love with the Lord Jesus. He contemplated this love in the holy mysteries of the Eucharist and of the Cross, venerated in very close union with the mystery of the Church. The Eucharist and the Crucified One immersed St Charles in Christ’s love and this transfigured and kindled fervour in his entire life, filled his nights spent in prayer, motivated his every action, inspired the solemn Liturgies he celebrated with the people and touched his heart so deeply that he was often moved to tears.

His contemplative gaze at the holy Mystery of the Altar and at the Crucified one stirred within him feelings of compassion for the miseries of humankind and kindled in his heart the apostolic yearning to proclaim the Gospel to all. On the other hand we know well that there is no mission in the Church which does not stem from “abiding” in the love of the Lord Jesus, made present within us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Let us learn from this great Mystery! Let us make the Eucharist the true centre of our communities and allow ourselves to be educated and moulded by this abyss of love! Every apostolic and charitable deed will draw strength and fruitfulness from this source!

Can this speak to young people?  All this old stuff, deep in history?  Of course…

The splendid figure of St Charles suggests to me a final reflection which I address to young people in particular. The history of this great Bishop was in fact totally determined by some courageous “yeses”, spoken when he was still very young. When he was only 24 years old he decided to give up being head of the family to respond generously to the Lord’s call; the following year he accepted priestly and episcopal Ordination. At the age of 27 he took possession of the Ambrogian Diocese and gave himself entirely to pastoral ministry. In the years of his youth St Charles realized that holiness was possible and that the conversion of his life could overcome every bad habit. Thus he made his whole youth a gift of love to Christ and to the Church, becoming an all-time giant of holiness.

Dear young people, let yourselves be renewed by this appeal that I have very much at heart: God wants you to be holy, for he knows you in your depths and loves you with a love that exceeds all human understanding. God knows what is in your hearts and is waiting to see the marvellous gift he has planted within you blossom and bear fruit. Like St Charles, you too can make your youth an offering to Christ and to your brethren. Like him you can decide, in this season of life, “to put your stakes” on God and on the Gospel. Dear young people, you are not only the hope of the Church; you are already part of her present! And if you dare to believe in holiness you will be the greatest treasure of your Ambrogian Church which is founded on Saints.

The whole thing. 


We went to Milan back in 2011 – I have no complaints about any of our travels, but I have to say, that was a great trip.  Partly because it was The Fare Deal of the Century, which always helps. Not kidding when I tell you that our airfare from NYC to Milan was $250 apiece. That has never happened since and will never happen again, I’m sure.

At the time, people were like, You’re taking your kids to Europe for Spring Break? How extravagant! And I was like, I pretty much guarantee that I am spending less on this trip than you are with your week at Disney or Universal. 

But anyway, in Milan, we did see St. Charles Borromeo’s relics in his duomo. No photos of that, but I here’s the roof.

And this post is about our daytrip to Stresa on Lago Maggiore, which was the site of the Borromeo family estates and, even now, the Borromean Islands in the lake – they were not “open” for the season when we were there (in March), but it was a great day, nonetheless. 

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Get your travel bug on: The family of Bearing Blog is in Europe at the moment, and the mom is doing a fabulous job blogging it, and just as fabulous a job of feeding her large family while on vacation. I always have such big plans and high hopes for cooking interesting things with new, fascinating ingredients when I’m in a new place, but somehow…takeout always beckons. (Although in my own defense…the takeout can be pretty good….) 

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Most entertaining part of my Thursday was, as I was waiting for piano to be over, standing in a hallway of a college classroom building and watching as successive groups of students approach a door and learn that their scheduled exam had been moved to next week.

Much leaping, skipping, and, since this is a Baptist school, praising of Jesus!

 

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I remember a time when the notion of applying to Duke Divinity School would have been akin to applying to Harvard.

Here’s the subject header of an advertising email I received yesterday:

Duke Divinity School: Apply Using Discount Code DukeCT

???

 

 

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Worth a read: “The Borromeo Option”

Despite his importance, Charles Borromeo is little known and appreciated within the English-speaking world, primarily because few of his works have been translated. This lacuna has now been filled with the publication of Charles Borromeo: Selected Orations, Homilies and Writings. J.R. Cihak and A. Santogrossi have furnished us with a superb edition and translation of some of Charles’s most significant texts.

Cihak’s introduction provides a short, but splendid, biography of Charles, and a guide to the historical, ecclesial, and pastoral setting for his writings. There follow four sections, which highlight various aspects of Charles’s work.

The first presents orations that Charles gave at his provincial councils. Here he articulates the need for reform and the nature of the reform. Charles notes that the true bishop “is frequently at prayer and in contemplation of heavenly things.” He is “regularly present in the episcopal residence, and likewise totally dedicated and given over to his episcopal duties.” He is “a true father and pastor of the poor, widows and orphans, a patron of the holy places and assiduous in promoting holy observances.”

There is, however, “another bishop.” He “is remiss or negligent in all of these things, or what is worse, does the opposite.” For Charles, his fellow bishops and priests are to be men of the Gospel who love the Church and the people they serve. Above all, they are to be holy shepherds after the manner their supreme Shepherd – Jesus Himself.

Thus, Charles displays both his love for his fellow bishops and priests as well as the need to challenge them if the Church and people of God are to grow in holiness.

 

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From the UK Catholic Herald, “Stop Teaching Our Children Lazy Anti-Catholic Myths:”

Saying that medieval peasants were “extremely superstitious” is one thing; it’s easy to sneer at abstractions. But if you read medieval records of sick people visiting holy shrines, those involved emerge not as stereotypes but as real human beings: men and women from all classes of society, seeking aid in the extremes of pain and suffering, with stories of self-sacrifice and deep personal faith. From a modern viewpoint, some of their beliefs might seem alien, but their fears and hopes are not. These people and their beliefs deserve respect, and at least an attempt at understanding. All this was a sanctification of the everyday, a vision of a world charged with power and meaning – and for medieval scholars, none of it was incompatible with science or learning.

No one would pretend that the medieval period was perfect or that the medieval Church did not have some serious flaws. What’s needed today is a more balanced view, appreciating that the Middle Ages was as complex as any other period in history, and avoiding judgmental, emotive language like “stagnation” and “superstition”. There’s no excuse for it any more.

It has never been easier to access information about the medieval past, especially when a few minutes on Google will lead you to accessible websites written by experts on medieval science and religion, not only debunking myths but also providing more accurate information.

It’s past time for educators and journalists to move beyond the lazy stereotypes about the Middle Ages. The truth is far more interesting.

 

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Homeschooling? Going well, with a couple of interruptions this week. Schools were cancelled here on Monday, and my older son had a delayed opening on Tuesday. The public schools were also closed on Tuesday (it had been a proactive decision handed down Sunday night when no one knew if Irma would impact us – it didn’t much), so the science center homeschool class was cancelled, and then the homeschooler had two teeth extracted on Wednesday….so…scattered.

But we did discover this set of fun videos – they are pitched a little younger, but the fact that they’re British evens that out so that they’re quite entertaining to watch for any age:

The Magic of Making:

 

 

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Book talk!

As I noted earlier in the week, my old booklet on St. Nicholas has been brought back into print. Get ready for Christmas – especially if you’re a parish or school coordinator of such things!

Celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows with a (still) free download of my book, Mary and the Christian Life.

Get a cheap e-book on Mary Magdalene here – Mary Magdalene: Truth, Legends and Lies.

As I mentioned last week, The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories is available.It looks like it’s finally shipping from Amazon in a timely manner…

 But you can also certainly order it from Loyola, request it from your local bookstore, or, if you like, from me – I have limited quantities available. Go here for that.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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The Conversion of St. Augustine. Fra Angelico

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a great student of St. Augustine, and devoted several General Audience talks to him. As in….five. 

January 9, 2008

January 16

January 30

February 20

February 27

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From the last GA:

The African rhetorician reached this fundamental step in his long journey thanks to his passion for man and for the truth, a passion that led him to seek God, the great and inaccessible One. Faith in Christ made him understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us. In this sense, faith in Christ brought Augustine’s long search on the journey to truth to completion. Only a God who made himself “tangible”, one of us, was finally a God to whom he could pray, for whom and with whom he could live. This is the way to take with courage and at the same time with humility, open to a permanent purification which each of us always needs. But with the Easter Vigil of 387, as we have said, Augustine’s journey was not finished. He returned to Africa and founded a small monastery where he retreated with a few friends to dedicate himself to the contemplative life and study. This was his life’s dream. Now he was called to live totally for the truth, with the truth, in friendship with Christ who is truth: a beautiful dream that lasted three years, until he was, against his will, ordained a priest at Hippo and destined to serve the faithful, continuing, yes, to live with Christ and for Christ, but at the service of all. This was very difficult for him, but he understood from the beginning that only by living for others, and not simply for his private contemplation, could he really live with Christ and for Christ.

Thus, renouncing a life solely of meditation, Augustine learned, often with difficulty, to make the fruit of his intelligence available to others. He learned to communicate his faith to simple people and thus learned to live for them in what became his hometown, tirelessly carrying out a generous and onerous activity which he describes in one of his most beautiful sermons: “To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone – it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort” (Sermon, 339, 4). But he took this weight upon himself, understanding that it was exactly in this way that he could be closer to Christ. To understand that one reaches others with simplicity and humility was his true second conversion.

But there is a last step to Augustine’s journey, a third conversion, that brought him every day of his life to ask God for pardon. Initially, he thought that once he was baptized, in the life of communion with Christ, in the sacraments, in the Eucharistic celebration, he would attain the life proposed in the Sermon on the Mount: the perfection bestowed by Baptism and reconfirmed in the Eucharist. During the last part of his life he understood that what he had concluded at the beginning about the Sermon on the Mount – that is, now that we are Christians, we live this ideal permanently – was mistaken. Only Christ himself truly and completely accomplishes the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be washed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him. We need permanent conversion. Until the end we need this humility that recognizes that we are sinners journeying along, until the Lord gives us his hand definitively and introduces us into eternal life. It was in this final attitude of humility, lived day after day, that Augustine died.

This attitude of profound humility before the only Lord Jesus led him also to experience an intellectual humility. Augustine, in fact, who is one of the great figures in the history of thought, in the last years of his life wanted to submit all his numerous works to a clear, critical examination. This was the origin of the Retractationum (“Revision”), which placed his truly great theological thought within the humble and holy faith that he simply refers to by the name Catholic, that is, of the Church. He wrote in this truly original book: “I understood that only One is truly perfect, and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized in only One – in Jesus Christ himself. The whole Church, instead – all of us, including the Apostles -, must pray everyday: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (De Sermone Domini in Monte, I, 19, 1-3).

Augustine converted to Christ who is truth and love, followed him throughout his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God. This is why I wanted to ideally conclude my Pilgrimage to Pavia by consigning to the Church and to the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first Encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est. I owe much, in fact, especially in the first part, to Augustine’s thought. Even today, as in his time, humanity needs to know and above all to live this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the restlessness of the human heart; a heart inhabited by hope, still perhaps obscure and unconscious in many of our contemporaries but which already today opens us Christians to the future, so much so that St Paul wrote that “in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8: 24). I wished to devote my second Encyclical to hope, Spe Salvi, and it is also largely indebted to Augustine and his encounter with God.

In a beautiful passage, St Augustine defines prayer as the expression of desire and affirms that God responds by moving our hearts toward him. On our part we must purify our desires and our hopes to welcome the sweetness of God (cf. In I Ioannis 4, 6). Indeed, only this opening of ourselves to others saves us. Let us pray, therefore, that we can follow the example of this great convert every day of our lives, and in every moment of our life encounter the Lord Jesus, the only One who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true life.

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If you read the excerpt above, you will not a reference to a “pilgrimage to Pavia.”  Pavia is the small city in northern Italy where you will find the tomb of St. Augustine.  Benedict made his pilgrimage in April of 2007, and the shrine has a full – very full account at this page, which includes links to information about the saint’s impact on Ratzinger and his importance in the latter’s work. 

(And on a truly more minor note – St. Augustine is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints under “Saints are People Who Help us Understand God”)

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We have been to both Milan and Pavia, and I’ll be talking about those trips with…….

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As I’ve mentioned before, Diana tries to structure her daily shows around the saint and feasts of that particular week.  So this week, I had a lot to say about our family travel to Milan (where St. Augustine was baptized)

Under the Milan duomo, the site of the baptistry where Ambrose baptized Milan. The subway walkways are right outside the door.

Pavia (where he is buried)

The church where Augustine’s tomb is located. How his remains arrived here from North Africa and then Sardinia is related here. 

…and…St. Augustine, Florida!  St. Augustine is so named because the Spanish landed on August 28, 1565. St. Augustine, like most of Florida, is fun for families, but my main piece of advice was…if you can swing it…avoid it during the summer. I have a high tolerance for heat -in fact, I prefer it and would be fine moving to the tropics today (I think) but there is something about the town of St. Augustine that produces a rather intense, reduce-you-to-a-puddle effect. Every photo I have of any of us in St. Augustine is marked by burning hot red cheeks and sweaty hair sticking up all over the place.

By the way…I loved Pavia.  One of those great mid-sized European cities, full of life and authentic, deep culture, not affected and strained. It was a thirty-minute train ride from Milan and a delightful Sunday afternoon. With chocolate.

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Earlier this week, our Cathedral hosted a beginning-of-the-school-year Mass for Catholic homeschoolers.  I knew they had done this before, years ago, but had seen nothing recently.  Back in the spring, a bunch of moms were talking while kids were racing around a local Catholic school gym, donated for our use for the afternoon, and the expressed need and desire for just a few more opportunities for fellowship and connecting sparked the idea for the Mass, and since I seem to have the fewest kids and the most free time, I offered to get it going…and it went…a spectacular success.  It was so great to see a couple hundred (or more, perhaps) parents, grandparents and kids present.  Four priests concelebrating, homeschoolers serving as servers, lectors and cantor. It’s great to be in a place where people are supportive of homeschooling, and don’t feel threatened by it.

Photo courtesy of Fr. Doug Vu. 

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Speaking of homeschooling…well, schooling, formation and education in general…here’s a resource you might be interested in:  a website for Fr. Junipero Serra, to be canonized by Pope Francis in DC in a month!

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For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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There’s a little fare war going on right now from JFK and EWR to Milan.  The fares seem to apply mostly to buying two tickets (sparked by an Emirates sale), but as of this writing, you can still get over there (if you buy 2 tix, as I said) for around 450 apiece for spring travel.

Well worth it.  In fact, I’m tempted.

We were there four years ago, inspired by a similar, even more awesome sale – our tickets from New York to Milan were (wait for it) 250 apiece.  Two hundred and fifty dollars.

So yes, if you are in the NY area and can swing it – try Milan.  It’s not as heavily touristed as other Italian cities, and is a bit more of a challenge to navigate since it is not as compact.  Nor does it have a medieval or renaissance center – in fact there’s hardly any pre-19th century architecture readily seen, mostly because Milan, as the capital of Lombardy, has been the object of invasion and conquest and various other battles since Roman times.

(The Last Supper barely survived Allied bombing in World War II)

So, some photos and blog posts from that great trip.

(This is the apartment where we stayed)

The Duomo, of course.

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From the roof of the Milan Duomo

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On the Duomo roof

First blog post:

We were there for the 150th anniversary of Italian unification

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Under the duomo – where Ambrose baptized Augustine.

The natural history museum

Day trip to Stresa, on Lago Maggiore

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A Sunday afternoon in Pavia 

…and all for probably less than some people spent for a week at Disney World….

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At Castle Sforzesco – see what happens when you buy a cheap umbrella from a street vendor?

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Gelato at Castle Sforzesco at night

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Fantastic Archimboldo exhibit. A complete surprise, and the boys loved it.

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Lake Maggiore waterfront, Stresa.

Gorgeous. Gorgeous.

It was between this and Lake Como for today.  In studying up on both, it seemed to me that there would be more to entertain my traveling companions in Stresa. I had big plans for the day – I wanted to do the Parc (previous post) and the funivia to Mattarone and take a boat out into the lake, preferably over to Santa Caterina, where there is a monastery built into a mountainside and/or Arona to see the humongous statue of St. Charles Borromeo. (Private boats and a few public were running to the Borromean Islands but the sites on them don’t officially “open” until next weekend so I didn’t put them on the list.) Well, we didn’t rise as early as I had hoped so we ended up not arriving in Stresa until 12:30. The Park took longer than I thought it would – we probably could have squeezed in the funivia but I decided it would be better for us to get back to Milan closer to seven than nine, so the Parc was all we managed of that over-ambitious plan.  It was fine. It was enough.  It is astonishingly beautiful there – I imagine it must be crazy in the summer, but today, though busy, was just right.

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I didn’t take his photo though. I probably could have – a little girl stuck her camera right through the grate and got a shot of the vested skeleton and no one stopped her. But it just didn’t feel right to me. Maybe because the boys were with me and I didn’t want to model “getting a good shot” as even Step Two (after “pray”) in “What To do in the Presence of Important Saints’ Relics.”

 

Sant’ Ambrogio Basilica

 

Can you see the weasel or ferret or whatever to the right? We were just standing there not looking at it, when a man strode up, tapped Michael on the top of the head, made faux surprised noises, said something in Italian, pointed at the creature and strode on.

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