Maastricht, November 2015
Dear Sisters in Belgium, Brazil, East Indonesia, Indonesia, Kenya, the Netherlands, Norway, the Philippines, Tanzania, Timor Leste, the USA and Vietnam,
This year we are still reflecting the year of Consecrated Life declared by Pope Francis. Throughout the year we are invited to focus more on the deepening of our personal and congregational calling. We are privileged enough to be given this time to reflect all over again the relationship God establishes with us. Personally recalling how we reciprocated the call by our own free will and transform it into a form of community life, lived out in chastity, poverty and obedience for the sake of God’s Kingdom. As a Congregation, we also recall and deepen the spirit of our Foundress, as ever. We took on activities that challenges and examines our fidelity to the mission entrusted to us through our ministries, our works and our presence in harmony with that of her Spirit, thus fitted to be called Sisters of Charity of St Charles Borromeo.
With these grace-filled moments, we continually give praise and thanks to God, also for the call and the graces to radically follow Him in the consecrated life. We believe the celebration is much more meaningful to us today as we have seen back and renewed our commitment further, bearing the challenge of choosing to follow the footsteps of our Foundress and inspired by the life of our patron, Saint Charles Borromeo.
This so blessed day is for us the opportune time to revisit and relive St Charles Borromeo, a man who is reserved, possessed and absorbed by God’s holiness and who opted to welcome God’s action. God chose him to carry out His mission, for the sake of His people. The saint, allowed God to work in him, emptied himself and let himself be consecrated and possessed with a mission to fulfill.
As a pastor, St Charles Borromeo “walks his talk”. During the plague and famine in his time, he did not leave his people like the civil authorities who fled. He stayed with the people and ministered to them. Like Jesus, he compassionately spoke his gracious word, healed the sick, gave bread to the hungry and offered his own life in sacrifice. He sought in different ways to be of service to those whom the Spirit sent him. He did so by his prayers, his preaching of the Gospel, his works in catechesis, reformation, education, his humble service to the poor and by being a founder of orphanages, schools and hospitals. He was open and firm to all kinds of people, rich or poor. He was a good shepherd who would always be with the sheep he attended.
As a Congregation, bearing the name of St Charles Borromeo, we commit ourselves to follow his example and to always deepen our Charism-Vision-Mission. What essential virtues so dear to St Charles Borromeo can we carry out in our time? One thing that might be worthy to reflect on is his passion for reformation. He showed zeal and capacity of ecclesiastical reform by bringing back institutions to better observance of their rules. He did it with courage and conviction as to put the church institutions to their first and foremost goal, proclaiming the presence of Christ in the world. We can reflect about it deeply. What does it say to us now, in our time, in our own Congregation? What are we lacking in our observance as religious CB sisters? How far have we wandered away from the road traveled by our beloved Jesus Christ? Do we have the courage to get up once we realize that we have gone astray? St Charles Borromeo brought many religious orders back on track, on the spirit of their institutional lives. We, too, the Congregation that bears his holy name are invited to always be true in our observance as CB sisters. Let us start from ourselves to continuously renew our commitment in the Congregation by being true to our living out of our religious vocation. The zeal of St Charles Borromeo to bring about reformation in his time is definitely an invitation for our Congregation as well to always consider the first and foremost purpose. This is the task for all of us to fulfill.
In the area of education St Charles Borromeo renewed and opened seminaries as to give better education and preparation for future priests. For better education he also founded a college for the young nobility, “where they might be brought up in the fear of God, out of the way of the corrupt influence and seductions of the world”. His strive in this education field reminds us of the similar way of Mother Elisabeth in her effort to lay a solid foundation in the heart of young children so that they can work and grow in loving God (cf. EG 51). We could say that both St Charles and Mother Elisabeth were good educators. Their vision in this field was very clear. They did not dream merely for the youth to be advanced in science and knowledge but, most importantly, that they may gain their relationship and love to God. This is a big challenge in our time. We witness the modern development in science and knowledge. The question is, does this development also bring people closer to God? This is a big challenge in our education ministry of today. Do we make the youth excel in science and knowledge only? Or are we able to bring them to get to know and love God as dreamed by St Charles Borromeo and Mother Elisabeth?
St Charles sacrificed a lot in his struggle to defend the right of the Church, to bring justice in many conflicts and most specially to protect the right of the poor to get better service from their shepherds. He was excellent in his pastoral approaches both to those in authority and to his own folks. As a good shepherd, he attended his herds with commitment and dedication. He did not run away when an epidemic attacked his diocese. He chose to be with his people to bring consolation and brought hope to those affected by this calamity. This deed of course brought about consequences and risk. He risked his own life for his effort to gain the salvation of many souls. His love to Jesus Christ crucified which he nourished in his long and deep daily prayers bore fruit abundantly. He was deeply united with the Lord. This unity made him courageous even to risk his own health and comfort. In the end he gave his own life among the people whom he loved so dearly. He died a sheep among the herds that he offered services till his last breath. How does the life of our patron saint inspire us in our daily lives as CB sisters?
Dear Sisters, the challenges of our time are no different from those in the time of St Charles Borromeo. We experience now as in his time, the lack of observance of good values both in the Church and in the society. We see that modern technology and advanced means of communication can cause divisions and degradation in moral values. Advanced development does not always go hand in hand with the development of people to have a better life. In this challenging time let us imitate the example of St Charles Borromeo in his commitment to follow Jesus. He exercised a strong ascetic life in order not to fall into temptation. He spent most of his time to serve those who were in need. He had a very deep relationship with Jesus whom he nourished with continuous prayers and ascetic exercises. Through his intimacy with Jesus he was able to follow Jesus in his station of the cross. Once he said that a candle must burn in order to give light to others. We, too, must offer ourselves fully to be of service to our neighbor. Confronted with our patron’s way of life, let us reflect upon our own lives. In this time, with the challenges we are facing, are we courageous enough to imitate his radical ways to follow Jesus?
Dear sisters with gratitude to have the great saint as our patron, we wish you all a fruitful reflection.
Let us continue praying for each other that with our enthusiasm for renewal, we may bring good news, literally and figuratively, to the people we encounter daily.