St. Charles Borromeo and Billiards
In Treasury of Catechism Stories by Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik, SVD, we read a very inspiring story of St. Charles Borromeo:
“Engaged in a game of billiards one day with two clerics, Charles Borromeo was asked by one of the priests, ‘What would you do, Your Eminence, if you were told that in five minutes you would drop dead? Would you get on your knees and pray, or would you run off to confession?’ The saint smiled and answered, "I would quietly continue this game of billiards. I began it with the intention of offering it all up to God’s honour. And if my action is for God, why should I stop even if that action happens to be recreation?"
This story can teach us many things in the spiritual life, especially concerning our daily duty and the sacredness of doing all for God. We may not feel in the moment that we are doing great things for God’s glory, but if we offer everything to Him as an act of love and adoration, our everyday tasks will become sanctified. This is why so many of the saints recommended, that as soon as we wake up in the morning we should fall on our knees and offer up our day to God.
St. Anselm of Canterbury once said: “Awake, my soul, awake! Show thy spirit, arouse thy senses, shake off the sluggishness of that deadly heaviness that is upon thee, begin to take care for thy salvation. Let the idleness of vain imaginations be put to flight, let go of sloth, hold fast to diligence. Be instant in holy meditations, cleave to the good things which are of God: leaving that which is temporal, give heed to that which is eternal. Now in this godly employment of thy mind, to what canst thou turn thy thoughts more wholesomely and profitably, than to the sweet contemplations of thy Creator’s immeasurable benefits toward thee?”
Because we are human, it can be very difficult to stay focused on the presence of God throughout the day. If we forget Him at its very beginning, the rest of our day will be a struggle as we try to focus on God once more. But, if we direct our attention to God straight away, He will give us the graces necessary to purify our day and become more perfect as the day goes on. St. Charles Borromeo did just this. He sanctified every action, whether it be prayer, work, or relaxation, and used everything as a step to Heaven. So also should we not fear the end of our lives, but live the Catholic Truth faithfully in order to perfect our souls and give glory to our heavenly Father.
Another lesson we can draw from this story is the attitude that St. Charles had about death. Many traditional Catholics are convinced that they are far too sinful to have such a calm disposition towards death, yet if we look at the saints and how they treated the topic of death, it should be thought of with hope and peace!
St. Basil the Great gives us an example of this kind of confidence, “As the Lord thought good, so it came to pass. Let us adopt those marvelous words. At the hands of the righteous Judge, they who show like good deeds shall receive a like reward… he whom we love is not hidden in the ground; he is received into Heaven. Let us wait a little while, and we shall be once more with him. The time of our separation is not long, for in this life we are all like travelers on a journey, hastening on to the same shelter. While one has reached his rest another arrives, another hurries on but one and the same end awaits them all.”
Because St. Basil lived according to the Catholic Faith, he did not fear the idea of death, but looked forward to the day when he would rest and be perfectly happy for all eternity. So too should we live, persevering in the grace of God, and meriting Paradise after a good and holy life. God will provide us with everything necessary for spiritual perfection; we must cooperate by putting away the distractions of the world and opening our hearts to Divine grace. What are the pleasures of this earth compared to the glory of Heaven? We were never made for this world, but a world of continuous bliss with God. Death should be a gateway to this bliss, and hell should never be an option.
Finally, St. Charles shows us the importance of having good entertainment. Prayer and work are very important, it is true, but again – since we are humans – we need time to relax in order to do our work well. It may seem more meritorious to pray all day, but what are hours of prayer if we become over-tired and our minds drift elsewhere? Is it not better for our souls to pray to God, work for God, and rest for God wholeheartedly? There is great humility in accepting our weaknesses and giving ourselves time to put down our crosses, for a breather. God expects this of us, since He knows we are limited and live in a struggling world. If we truly live as Catholics, all things will give glory to God – including a billiards game – and we will get the relaxation we need to recuperate and continue working out our salvation.
Let us, then, always have confidence in God and make the most of life in His presence; because the Catholic Faith is meant to improve our lives, rather than be a burden to us. The world tells us that religion keeps us from fun and excitement, when in reality, it is the pathway to eternal bliss in Heaven.