Thoughts on St. Ambrose

One thing about the new translation of the Mass prayers that I noticed between yesterday and today is how the "proper" prayers for saints like Nicholas (yesterday) and Ambrose (today) identify the saint first as "Bishop": "O God, who made the Bishop Saint Ambrose a teacher..." Their vocation in the Church becomes part of their name.

Ambrose is one of those saints whose vocation story itself did not fit the usual model. He was the governor of the Roman province centered at Milan; just a civic leader. In terms of his relationship with the Church, he was a catechumen: a student preparing for Baptism. In other words, the least likely candidate for the office of local bishop. But the community was so divided by the Arian heresy (that Jesus is the highest of God's creatures, but not "consubstantial with the Father"), that when the old bishop died, chaos ensued. The governor had to intervene and call for calm and cooperation. And then the fateful voice rang out: "Ambrose for Bishop!" Within a week, he had received four sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Orders) and was consecrated Bishop.

This could have been the death knell for Christianity in Milan. Instead, it was its rebirth. Why? Because Ambrose was such an outstanding human being whose natural gifts met every need? Funny, but until this new translation of the Missal, that's just how I tended to see things. This morning, though, the newly translated entrance antiphon from the "Common of Pastors" set me straight: "In the midst of the Church he opened his mouth (thus far, the natural gifts of the man), and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding..."
Ambrose was a gifted man, but it was the Lord who filled him with the incredible wisdom that made him one of the greatest of the Church Fathers. (He's one of the four Latin Fathers represented at the "Altar of the Chair" in St. Peter's Basilica.) 

Ambrose didn't just passively accept the role of Bishop and attempt to carry it out faithfully. He took that office as his vocation and let it take over his l ife. His vocation redefined his life. Ambrose became entirely a man of the Church, devoting his prodigious intellectual and organizational and artistic gifts to the study and contemplation of Scripture, so that he could "translate" the Bible into solid and digestible teachings, into authentic liturgy and rich song. (The Church's favorite Advent hymn is not so much "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" as it is "Veni Redemptor Gentium" ("Savior of the Nations, Come"--you'll find it i n your parish hymnal): attributed to St. Ambrose.

That voice in the streets of Milan, "Ambrose for Bishop!" set the coures of his entire life, and impacted the Church until the end of time because of Ambrose's influence on his even more outstanding convert, Augustine.

And I suspect that each and every Christian who fully lives his or her vocation is meant to have the same level of influence on the Church!

by Sr. Anne Joan Flanagan, FSP
This article first appeared on NunBlog