Go up onto a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!
St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in the 4th century, was a noted theologian and doctor of the church, who still influences Christianity today. He is recognized as a saint not just in the Roman Catholic Church but in the Anglican Communion, some Lutheran denominations, and the Eastern Orthodox faith. He did not fail to cry out, as today’s reading directs, that God is with all people.
The fourth century was a time of social, religious, and civil upheaval. Paganism was still the belief of the majority. The Church was struggling to listen to how the Holy Spirit might help to clarify its doctrines, unify it, and bring people to hear the Good News of salvation. Ambrose was particularly well-suited for this challenge. Born into a well-educated and pious Roman Christian family, Ambrose studied literature, law, and public speaking. He became a public servant and quickly rose to become the popular Governor of Aemilia-Liguria in northern Italy. When a heretical Bishop died in Milan, Ambrose went into the Church there to quell what he thought might become a riot between those supporting the former heretical Bishop and those wanting to elect a Bishop who held true beliefs. Instead, he found himself hearing, “Ambrose, Bishop!” This cry became a thunderous acclamation by all present. He appealed to both sides because while he believed the truth, he also showed understanding and charity toward those who held heretical beliefs. Though he was not a priest, not trained in theology, and not even baptized, he listened to the call of the Holy Spirit. Within a week, he was baptized, confirmed, and ordained. He gave his money to the poor, adopted a disciplined lifestyle, and studied theology in earnest. Soon he was named Bishop of Milan.
As Bishop, Ambrose presided at Mass regularly. He constantly preached the Good News and untiringly reasoned with those who could not understand true doctrine. At the same time, he wrote hymns to uplift the people and personally served the poor. The Emperor, however, embraced heresy and demanded that two churches in Milan be handed over for use by the heretics. Ambrose refused. When the emperor’s forces came and surrounded one of the basilicas while Ambrose was praying the Liturgy of the Hours, he told the emperor: “If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ. I will not call upon the people to help me; I will die at the foot of the altar rather than desert it.” The emperor withdrew.
Truly, St. Ambrose can teach us how to courageously defend the truth with charity for all concerned. He was unafraid to cry out to all, “Here is your God!”
St. Ambrose is today’s Ornament of Grace.
OBSERVING THE BEAUTIFUL ORNAMENTS
- Do you know anyone who, like St. Ambrose, not only gave up a former lifestyle, but totally embraced a new calling in the spirit of service?
- How can you use your education or training in some way to serve and uplift others, especially the poor, as St. Ambrose did?