Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ambrose, who lived in the 4th century and is considered to be one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of that time. He was born to an intellectual and Christian family, who raised him up in the ways of the faith. He was educated in Rome, where he studied law, literature, and rhetoric. He was appointed to a governorship by the Italian Prefect, after serving as lawyer in the court of the Prefect’s predecessor. Following the death of the Arian bishop of Milan in 370 Ambrose, in his role as governor, went out to help mitigate any conflict between the Catholics & the Arians. During his introductory speech, he was interrupted with a cry of “Ambrose, Bishop!” thus electing him by acclamation as Bishop of Milan. Though hesitant at first, he finally assented and was made Bishop of Milan. By all accounts, Ambrose took to his new duties as bishop with commitment and vigor. He spent several hours each day in prayer and he led a simple and austere lifestyle. Along with administering baptism, penance, discipline of clergy, and civil judicial duties, Ambrose also supervised the charities of the church and defended those who were oppressed. He also had a great influence on another great saint of the Church, Augustine of Hippo. Traditionally, Ambrose is credited with promoting “antiphonal chant,” as well as with composing “Veni redemptor gentium,” an Advent hymn. Ambrose was one of the four original doctors of the Church and is the patron saint of Milan
In our reading from the Old Testament for today from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear the Lord calling the people of Israel to trust in Him, to look to Him as their source of strength and help in time of trouble. The Israelites were feeling downtrodden, thinking that God no longer protected them, that He no longer cared for them: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” (Isaiah 40:27). The felt that the Lord had abandoned them in their struggles, in their misfortune. Then Isaiah gives us some of the most beautiful words of hope in the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:28-31):
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”
In our increasingly secular world today, we may not encounter formal heretics like the Arians of Ambrose’s time, but we do encounter many who do not believe in God and do not find joy for their lives. They often criticize believers and say that our hope is in vain. They believe that true freedom and truth is found in individualism, in atheism and humanism. In our workplace, in our homes, in the store, in our own friends and family are those who feel as though they are alone, dejected, and downtrodden. But our message, our hope, our joy, my friends, is that, “The Lord is an everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth…He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” Let us be strengthened by these words and pass them on to all in our world who need them. Let us proclaim the truth of the Gospel in Jesus Christ, as did St. Ambrose to the people that he served.
St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church, pray for us.