Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Call of St. Ambrose: The Saint that God (through a child) Chose

"If the Church possesses gold, it is in order to use it for the needy, not to keep it."
-St. Ambrose

Talk about having a calling! Ambrose, a successful lawyer, respected orator, and powerful Roman governor, was 40 years old when he entered a church to settle a dispute. It was a heated debate about whether Orthodox Catholicism or Arianism (the belief that Jesus was a creature like us, not an equal with God) was correct, and fights were breaking out in the streets over which faction would elect the bishop until Ambrose's speech restored peace. But this was not your average calm, for just as the crowd was beginning to settle down, a young child cried out "Ambrose for Bishop!" Miraculously, those on both sides began to take up the chant, until the whole town was cheering for his election. Ambrose, who although sympathetic to Christianity had never been baptized, tried to squash the enthusiasm. But he soon realized that in order to keep the peace, he had no choice but to accept, and within a week his friend Valentinian the Roman Emperor had him both baptized a Christian and consecrated a Bishop.

Unfortunately for the Arians, Ambrose was not one to do things half way. He immediately broke all ties to the world, donating his extensive personal property to the poor and his estates to the Church. Learned in world affairs but ignorant of Catholic doctrine, Ambrose embarked on an ambitious course to study scripture and the Church fathers under the guidance of St. Simplician. Unlike most bishops, he allowed anyone in his flock to visit him without an appointment and became so popular that is prized pupil St. Augustine was often unable to see him because the line was too long. Ambrose was one of the first to offer daily Mass for his followers, as well as one of the first Christian pacifists, calling war "the destroyer of the human race."

Ambrose is well known for being instrumental in the conversion of my patron, St. Augustine, but this fellow Doctor of the Church (Ambrose, besides his treaties against Arianism, also wrote many homilies, poems and hymns) was busy in many other matters besides writing during his 17 years as a Christian. Ambrose settled disputes of war (selling gold Church vessels to ransom Christian captives of the invading Goths) challenged heretics and stood up to emperors. Once when Valentinian asked him to give up one of his churches to appease the Arian sector of the population, Ambrose refused, and during a Palm Sunday Mass, Ambrose and the people were barricaded inside the Cathedral. Valentinian figured the people would give up when hunger became unbearable,but Ambrose instead kept them committed by teaching them psalms and the singing of hymns, and when they celebrated the Easter Mass still filled with joy, Valentinian relented, letting his bishop's flock go free and allowing the Church to stay in Ambrose's hands.

On a later occasion, when the new emperor Theodosius slaughtered 7,000 Thessolonians (including innocent women and children) in retaliation for their killing his governor, Ambrose held Theodosius personally responsible, and not only refused to give him Communion, but ordered the Emperor to do public penance before he could be received back in the Church! Amazingly Thedosius repented and did as Ambrose prescribed. One only wonders what John Kerry and those of his ilk would do today if the same penance was asked of them!

Ambrose died on Good Friday in the year 397 and had the unique honor of being buried on Easter Sunday. As humble and hard working of a man as the Church has ever known, this great writer and Doctor of the Church is ironically the patron Saint of stone cutters, perhaps because after his conversion, he was always more at home with the blue collar believers rather than nobility. For, if anything, Ambrose's life proves that if a child asks anything of you in the Lord, you most definitely better listen!


JimAroo said...

Some unknown kid shows up and starts the cheer...Ambrose for Bishop then disappears! Years later Bishop Augustine meets a little kid on the beach who is trying to empty the sea into a hole he dug. St Augustine says.... kid, there is no way you can put the sea in that hole...and the kid says oh yeah? well I have more chance of doing this than you do of understanding the Trinity! and the kid poofs. Just who is this kid anyway???? Someone we know perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Ambrose is dear to my heart for so many reasons. For his beautiful prose, for his wonderful sermons, for his love of music (I do believe for some time that Ambrosian chant was the offical chant of the Church, before Gregorian took over? I might have made that up, though...), and of course because without him there would be no Augustine as we know him. How is Augustine your patron? Is that your baptismal or Confirmation name? Anyway, in the Augustinian communities, Ambrose is treated as an Augustinian, and so this feast is celebrated in a special way. Thanks for the post!

By the way, I had hear a story, and it's not really verifiable, but interesting nonetheless, that the Te Deum was composed by Ambrose and Augustine as they were walking on their way to Augustine's baptism. It would make sense, given both of their love for music and prose.

Tom O'Toole said...

Jim - "Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels." -Hebrews 13:2

Were the two kids angels, or were they just two good kids? Or the same angel or the same kid? Or one angel and one kid? I do not know, but I do know this: The soul is restless until in rests in thee ...