07 December 2006

A SHEPHERD TO ANOTHER SHEPHERD

Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Jn 19:11-16

Only very few people do not know St. Augustine. Still only very few people who really know St. Augustine are not aware that he was once a great sinner who moved from one religion and philosophy to another, sired an illegitimate child, led a licentious life, but was converted by the prayers of his mother and the homily of a bishop. That bishop is Ambrose. Thanks to Monica, Augustine’s mother! Thanks to Ambrose, Augustine’s mentor! Thanks to God who gave Augustine a Monica and an Ambrose!

Today is the memorial of St. Ambrose who lived in the 300’s. He was a lawyer and governor of Milan, during which a ferocious conflict between Arian Christians and Trinitarian Christians existed. It was also then that the bishop of Milan died and Ambrose, governor of Milan, went to the cathedral to supervise the election. While seated in the front, Ambrose was seen by a little boy who, thinking that Ambrose is the new bishop, shouted, “Ambrose is bishop!” The assembly picked up the idea and Ambrose became bishop by acclamation. But Ambrose was not baptized yet at that time. Thus, no time was wasted and he was baptized, ordained and consecrated. He distinguished himself by his apostolic zeal, service to the poor, and effective pastoral care of the faithful. He defended the doctrine of the Church against the Arians who claim that Jesus was not God but man. But the greatest work God achieved through Ambrose was the conversion and baptism of Augustine who later became bishop of Hippo, doctor of the Church and one of the greatest saints of all times.

Augustine describes his first encounter with Ambrose. In his desolation, Augustine went inside the cathedral of Milan. Ambrose was preaching and Augustine became an easy captive of Ambrose’s eloquent homily. So held by Ambrose’s sermon, Augustine could not leave the cathedral even when the Mass was already over. Augustine stayed in his seat and started hearing in his mind the words, “Tole et lege!” (“Take and read!”). It was then that he saw a copy of Scriptures before him. He took the Holy Book and, according to him, read it from cover to cover. When he was through with his scripture reading, he, as he described it, shed copious tears. That was the beginning of his conversion. The rest we can read in Augustine’s book, “Confessions”.

Thank God for Ambrose! He was a shepherd to another shepherd, Augustine.

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