Church history is full of people who inspire us in so many ways. There are many lessons to be taken from how people became the saints that they are for us today. So many of the pathways were not typical!
While I am not trying to be irreverent, I do like to underscore some a type of misunderstanding that is easy to have. I will often joke that Jesus did not rise from the dead, stride into a soaring Gothic cathedral, don a fiddleback chasuble and begin to celebrate a solemn High Mass in Latin. I am not saying this to be funny, but to remind myself and others that Catholic history brings context.
Which brings me to today’s saint – Saint Ambrose. Now Saint Ambrose, who after all, was responsible for the conversion of St. Augustine, would hardly fit our contemporary notions of selecting a bishop.
This was very, very early in our Catholic history – the fourth century. Ambrose was just another unbaptized catechumen – think RCIA, but not exactly! The bishop of Milan died and great strife broke out over the selection of a new bishop. There was all kinds of violence and disagreement. In those days bishops were selected a wee bit differently than they are today as there was no real Vatican or Curia to do that work.
In any event, in a sort of “occupy the cathedral” moment, people were all fired up about why or why not a certain person should be bishop. Ambrose, our unbaptized catechumen gets up to call for calm. The “honey-tongued bishop” as he became to be known, made an impression and people called for him to be bishop… so that is what happened.
Yes, an unbaptized catechumen was suddenly baptized and confirmed (the sacraments of installation had not yet been separated at that time) and installed as bishop of Milan on this day in 374. And look what followed!
Ambrose united his See and he was a major force in fighting the heresy of Arianism, a movement which was “Christian” in nature but questioned the divinity of Jesus the person. Another important point – going back to my remarks about Jesus and the cathedral; we must remember that our faith was in real formation then and is in many ways, still in formation now. We have the Truth in Christ, but truth is revealed all the time. This is not heresy, but good theology for a pilgrim people like us.
God is so unlikely. Here we are in Advent, preparing for a virgin to give birth to God in human form. Tomorrow we celebrate our parish feast of the Immaculate Conception. Jesus was born in obscure poverty and is the King of the Universe. Unlikely is always the way God, isn’t it?
St. Ambrose won many hearts and minds, both from Arianism as well as paganism, which ran rampant at that time. I pray for his intercession in these times which may seem to insecure and ungodly in so many ways. If Ambrose could triumph in the name of Christ, so can we.
And may we be reminded to look beyond the things that divide us and find God in all the most unexpected and unlikely places.
St. Ambrose – unlikely hero for Christ! Pray for us!