Tag Archives: St. Ambrose

Psalms say it all

I like the way psalms say it all. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!” a psalm response said recently. No need to double your efforts or think hard about something. “Rejoice in the Lord, you just!”

The earth rejoices in God, our king. Why not join it? The “many isles are glad.” Be glad with them.

The psalms have a way of stilling our souls and calling them into the quiet grace of God’s presence. Does everything depend on us? No, it doesn’t. God “melts the mountains like wax” and “guards the lives of his faithful ones.” We think we have to know everything, but only God can do that.

We take part in the liturgy, not to know more and more, but to be drawn closer to God. The scriptures, prayers and actions feed our minds and hearts, but only little by little. One of the special graces of the psalms is invite us to rest in God as a child in a mother’s arms.

Most of the psalms in our liturgy are songs of praise. “Rejoice in the Lord!” Some cry for help. They call us to simple, deep prayer. Keep your eye on them in the liturgy. They’re wonderful basic prayers.

“Although the whole of Scripture breathes God’s grace upon us, this is especially true of that delightful book, the book of the psalms.” (St. Ambrose)

4th Sunday of Advent. C. Mary’s Faith

 

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

Sometimes, the simplest details of a gospel story reveal its deepest meaning. In Luke’s Gospel this Sunday, Mary goes “in haste” to the hill country to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She has just received the angel’s message inviting her to be the mother of God’s Son, and she says “Yes.” The angel told her that her cousin Elizabeth, though past child-bearing age, also has conceived a son. “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1,39-45)

Then, Mary goes “in haste” from Nazareth to visit Elizabeth who lives in the hill country near Jerusalem. The angel’s message, first disturbs her, then fills her with joy. She hurries to see the angel’s sign and share the promise she received. What does this tell us? Is it that faith, challenging and raising questions, spurs us on and gives joy. It’s God’s word; it’s true. Believe in it and act on it.

When Mary heard the message of the angel she did not disbelieve, St. Ambrose said, commenting on this gospel, “she was not uncertain about the message, she did not doubt the sign she was given, but happy with the promise, eager to be with her cousin, she hurried on in joy and went up into the hill country.”

“We’re blessed, who hear and believe,” the saint goes on. “ Every soul that believes, both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes God’s works. Let the soul of Mary be in each one of us, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of us, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.”

We share in the mystery we hear. Believe in it, live by it, rejoice in it.

Lord, open my lips

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:

“We must always meditate on God’s wisdom, keeping it in our hearts and on our lips. Your tongue must speak justice, the law of God must be in your heart. Hence Scripture tells you: You shall speak of these commandments when you sit in your house, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down, and when you get up. Let us then speak of the Lord Jesus, for he is wisdom, he is the word, the Word indeed of God.
  It is also written: Open your lips, and let God’s word be heard. God’s word is uttered by those who repeat Christ’s teaching and meditate on his sayings. Let us always speak this word. When we speak about wisdom, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about virtue, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about justice, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about peace, we are speaking of Christ. When we speak about truth and life and redemption, we are speaking of Christ.
  Open your lips, says Scripture, and let God’s word be heard. It is for you to open, it is for him to be heard. So David said: I shall hear what the Lord says in me. The very Son of God says: Open your lips, and I will fill them. Not all can attain to the perfection of wisdom as Solomon or Daniel did, but the spirit of wisdom is poured out on all according to their capacity, that is, on all the faithful. If you believe, you have the spirit of wisdom.”

St. Ambrose

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.

Is This All There Is?

DSCN1720In 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.