On behalf of Archbishop Coakley, I continue to be grateful to all of our parishioners who have made a sacrificial pledge to the One Church, Many Disciples archdiocesan capital campaign and/or who are praying for the success of this campaign. Wrapping up the active phase in this the pilot phase means our parish is concluding the effort, but many more parishes will begin their active phase, continuing until all parishes have participated. We certainly want to pray for continued success in other parishes. Thank you one and all for your generous gifts!
While there are still some minor projects to complete, our new education building is finished! We are presently working on furnishings for the new building and in the future we will have a grand opening celebration, likely after we finish Lent. If you have walked around the new building you may have noticed its name: St. Ambrose Center. I considered several options and listened to the advice of our dedicated parish staff and other parish leaders before I chose the patronage of St. Ambrose for the building. Ambrose was born probably in about the year 340 AD in what is present-day Germany. He was the Bishop of Milan from 374-397. He died on April 4, 397. He is one of the main Doctors of the Western Church. Among other things, he is the Patron Saint of Milan, Italy, of bee keepers, of candle makers, of learning, of school children, and of students. Ambrose was highly intelligent and a gifted speaker. He followed his father’s footsteps in working in the government of the Roman Empire. In 372 he became Prefect, or Governor, of Milan. His feast day is December 7, the day he was ordained a bishop. I want to highlight a few reasons why I believe the choice of St. Ambrose is important and why it tells a story to us about being a disciple of Jesus.
There is a legend from Ambrose’s infancy that a swarm of bees landed on his face while he was resting in his cradle. It is said that the bees departed without giving one sting and instead left only a drop of honey on his face. This prompted Ambrose’s father to take it as a sign that Ambrose would be a gifted speaker. This part of Ambrose’s story teaches us about stewardship; we are to put our God-given gifts to use for giving God glory, for building His Kingdom in our midst, and for serving others. Ambrose used his skill at oration in confronting the heretics of his time (Arians who denied the divinity of Jesus) and in writing many learned theological treatises, which still guide the theological reflection of the Church.
Ambrose became the Governor of Milan in 372. He was very skilled at worldly affairs and helped to keep peace in his province. This can show us that we are not to keep the Gospel hidden or private within church walls. Rather, we receive the Good News and are called to engage with our secular world in order to bring to it the Light of the World and the Prince of Peace: Jesus Christ. When he became the Bishop of Milan he was not afraid to confront civil authority with the rights of the Church. He publicly condemned immoral behavior and even excommunicated powerful civic authorities who would not repent of serious sin. Once, when the Emperor Theodosius murdered some 700 people in Thessalonica, Ambrose refused him entrance into a church and refused him the Holy Eucharist, telling him instead to repent first, which the Emperor did. This episode can also be viewed as an example of an important pro-life stance. We likewise must be courageous in our dealings with the world and its powerful figures and we must speak the truth of Christ to them.
Conversion of Augustine
Augustine, the son of our parish patroness, St. Monica, led a very sinful life and was distant from God. He didn’t think Christian preachers were very good at their preaching... until he met Ambrose. Augustine was impressed with Ambrose and began meeting with him and asking questions. Ambrose was patient and in time Augustine decided he wanted to learn about Christianity and be baptized. Ambrose instructed Augustine (similar to how converts today often receive instruction through a gathering like RCIA) and baptized him in about the year 387. St. Monica viewed Ambrose as a type of angel who lifted her son out of his sinful lifestyle. Clearly, there is a close bond between our parish patroness and St. Ambrose given that she had prayed for about three decades before this “angel of God” did his work in converting Augustine.
Relational Ministry & Doctrinal Formation
When it comes to conversion we sometimes think only of the process and the work of learning, catechetical or doctrinal formation, the actual study of the faith. But the truth is the first proclamation of the Gospel happens well before doctrinal formation takes place. In our time the Church is seeking to recapture a more vibrant sense of the need to evangelize, to proclaim the Gospel. By befriending others, by becoming part of their lives, and by being willing to share our faith with them we earn the right to be heard by them when it comes to speaking to them about Jesus and sharing the Gospel. This work is referred to as relational ministry, a friendship that paves the way to hear the Gospel. One potent reason the choice of Ambrose fits well with our parish is that we should recall that St. Monica deserves much credit for her efforts to love her son, even in his sinful life, to sacrifice for him, to share her faith with him, to pray for his conversion, and to shed tears as she begged God for intervention. The relational ministry accomplished by St. Monica, paved the way for Augustine to receive grace, and paved the way for the work St. Ambrose would do. Our new building provides dedicated space for faith formation for all ages and St. Ambrose is a great patron for the type of learning that will take place within the center. However, each of us is called to share the Gospel and so we should recall St. Monica, our parish patroness, and the work of relational ministry that can be a significant part of God’s movement in another soul.
One area of careful attention in our parish is the emphasis we give to the Sacred Liturgy. The Sacred Liturgy is a font of the Church’s power because it is an encounter with the living Christ. The Sacred Liturgy is also the summit toward which all of the Church’s action is directed because it is critical that we first have a rightly ordered relationship with God (cf. Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 10). God is owed worship and so the Sacred Liturgy is critical to the life of the Christian. St. Ambrose took great care of the Sacred Liturgy in his time. He is said to have authored beautiful hymns, like the Te Deum. One of the liturgical rites of the Western Church is named after him, the Ambrosian Rite, which differs in part from the Roman Rite to which we are most accustomed. Because of some of the different customs and rites within the one Church, some advice that Ambrose gave to Augustine on the matter, has been translated (loosely) into the well-known phrase: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
I could share many other reasons for the choice of St. Ambrose, but I imagine you can see that his choice is fitting from a thematic perspective given his connection to St. Monica and St. Augustine. It is also fitting because of the type of work that will go on within the walls of our new formation center. What a blessing the St. Ambrose Center will be to the life of our parish!
Sincerely in Christ,