Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Memorial of St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14)

Although a remarkable scholar and diplomat as bishop, St. Ambrose is equally remembered for his role in the conversion of St. Augustine. One biographer of Augustine tells the illustrative story of Ambrose going out of his way to assuage the worries of his convert.

Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, was visiting him in Milan where she noticed the people there not fasting on Saturdays in preparation for Sunday. She was so troubled by the practice that Augustine inquired of Ambrose the reason for not fasting. Ambrose told Augustine that he should do what he did himself: if he had a better reason for fasting than not, he would fast. Augustine went away thinking that Ambrose meant that he should dumbly follow authority. But that was incorrect. Ambrose followed Augustine to add that when he went to Rome, he fasted on Saturdays because that is what the people there do. Augustine remarked later that he took Ambrose’s advice “as an oracle from heaven.” Ambrose evidently meant that we should not follow prescriptions blindly but use both our heads to figure out their purpose and our discretion, when allowed, in applying them to ourselves.

Just as in Jesus’ parable the shepherd goes out of his way to find the lost sheep, the bishop Ambrose took pains to see that his people were well educated in the faith.