We begin to pray with words like this. St. Ambrose explains what they mean in one of his explanations of the psalms. We are not asking just for help to pray:
Tag Archives: St. Ambrose
Visits, gifts and greeting cards ( some now by email) are part of the holiday’s trials. How can you love everyone all at once? Hard to do.
But Luke’s gospel, which we read today, seems to say that visiting is part of the Christmas mystery. Mary goes into the hill country to visit her cousin Elisabeth after she hears the angel’s message. They meet, not just to trade family news and pass the time together, but to share their faith.
They’re two believers who reveal to each other the mystery hidden within them in their unborn children. And they rejoice in their common gift.
We’ll gather with others this Christmas time; most of them people of faith, believers in a mystery they do not see. At Christmas, believers meet, believers to a degree.
More than we know, we are signs to each other, like the bread and wine, sometimes hardly evident. In his commentary today on the gospel of the visitation, St. Ambrose says we are like Mary and Elizabeth; “Every soul that believes–that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.”
So visit we must.
In a letter he writes to another bishop, St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, whose feast we celebrate today, mentions the storms that inevitably beat against the church. Like a ship on a perilous voyage; the church must expect to face fierce winds and waves.
But it also should expect the gifts and protection that comes from God. Rivers of grace flow into the souls of those caught in the storm. When the waves reach their highest and winds blow the loudest, Christ sends his Spirit to give joy to the heart and wisdom to the minds of those who guide the shaken ship.
“He who reads much and understands much, receives his fill,” Ambrose tells his correspondent, who may be uncertain about his ability to weather the storm. Then, like clear water “your exhortations may charm the ears of your people. Let your sermons be full of understanding. Solomon says: ‘The weapons of understanding are the lips of the wise.’”
You don’t need somebody else to tell you what to think and what to say. Look for the wisdom given to you and speak from it.
According to St. Augustine, who knew him, Ambrose was a reflective bishop who kept pondering God’s word and applying its wisdom to the questions raised by his own world. We need reflective leaders. We need a reflective church.
In his sermons on the sacraments, which we’re reading in the Office of Readings today, St. Ambrose shows a keen appreciation of the power and weakness of signs. They signify so much, but we find them hard to accept. “Is this it?” he hears his catechumens say as they approach the waters of baptism.
Ambrose calls on stories of the Old Testament: the Israelites saved as they flee from Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea, the cloud that guides them on their way–foreshadowing the Holy Spirit, the wood that makes the bitter waters of Marah sweet–the mystery of the Cross.
“You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.” (On the mysteries)
Remember Namaan’s doubt as the Assyrian general stood before the healing waters of the Jordan, Ambrose reminds his hearers. There’s more here than you see or think.
Still, aren’t we like those whom the saint addressed? Maybe more so, for we likely look for proof from what our eyes see, schooled as we are in the ways of science and fact. We live in a world that tells us what we see is all there is.
Faith is a search for what we don’t see.