December 6, 2016

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor

St. Ambrose

December 7th, is the memorial of Saint Ambrose, (c. 338 - 397) the 4th-century bishop and theologian, one of the four original doctors of the Church, famous for baptizing Saint Augustine. Originally a lawyer and provincial governor, Ambrose was named bishop of Milan by popular acclamation while still an unbaptized catechumen. He wrote extensively on Sacred Scripture and the Fathers, defended the rights of the Church against secular encroachment and opposed heretics. He composed numerous sermons, letters and hymns, (most notably the Te Deum) promoted sacred chant, and took interest in the Liturgy. He introduced into the West the practice of Lectio Divina. St. Augustine called him, "a faithful teacher of the Church, and even at the risk of his life a most strenuous defender of Catholic truth." Through his efforts, Ambrose secured the rights of Christians to worship.

Ambrose was born to a wealthy Christian family (his father was the Pretorian Prefect of Gaul) in what is now Trier, Germany. After his father's death, he went to Rome where he was appointed consul with residence at Milan (the position his father had held). When the bishop of Milan died, a conflict arose between the Catholics and the heretical Arians about who should be his successor. Ambrose was called upon to mediate the dispute. During the assembly, a child cried out, "Ambrose, bishop", and immediately both sides took up the chant in unison. In this way, Ambrose was appointed bishop of Milan by unanimous consent.

At first, Ambrose refused to accept, but soon consented to the will of God. Within a week, he was baptized, ordained and consecrated bishop. He divested himself of his worldly property, giving his possessions to the Church and the indigent, adopted an ascetic lifestyle centered on self-denial and prayer, and diligently studied to prepare for the arduous task ahead. Apart from his episcopal duties, he spent much time in study and devotion. He preached every Sunday, and at certain times daily. His work catechizing and preaching was blessed with great success. The following excerpt on prayer from Ambrose’s treatise on Cain and Abel highlights praying with and for the whole body of Christ:
Offer to God a sacrifice of praise and pay your vows to the Most High. To praise God is both to make your vow and to fulfill it. That is why the Samaritan in the story is placed above his companions: with nine other lepers he was cured of his leprosy by the command of the Lord, but he alone came back to Christ, praised the greatness of God and gave thanks. Jesus said of him: There was none of these who returned and thanked God, except this foreigner. And he said to him: Rise up and go on your way, for your faith has made you whole.
As bishop, Ambrose dedicated much of his life to fighting the Arian heresy that had caused apostasy among clerics and the laity alike. His dealings with the imperial court of Rome epitomized Ambrose's courage and fidelity to the faith. Once, he confronted Maximus, the murderer of the Emperor Gratian. When Maximus refused to do penance, Ambrose excommunicated him. Later, he denied Emperor Theodosius entrance into church for his massacre of the citizens of Thessalonica. It was on this occasion that Theodosius made allusion to King David as a murderer and adulterer, and Ambrose replied, "You have followed him in sin, now follow him in repentance." Theodosius accepted the penance imposed.

Saint Ambrose, died peacefully on Holy Saturday April 4, 397. Ambrose's body may still be viewed in the church of Saint Ambrogio in Milan, where it has been continuously venerated. His feast day is December 7, the day he was ordained bishop. He is the patron of learning, Milan, Italy, schoolchildren and students. Lord, you made Saint Ambrose an outstanding teacher of the Catholic faith and gave him the courage of an apostle. Raise up in your Church more leaders after your own heart, to guide us with courage and wisdom to seek your will.

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