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Bishop of Milan (northern Italy) and Doctor of the Church (entered heaven on April 4th – Holy Saturday – in 397)
I am sorry to hear that this semester has been so lonely. No need to go blaming yourself, though. Life passes through hills and valleys; it’s a natural thing, and this valley just happens to be particularly deep and full of shadows. You have your uncle’s prayers to count on. But you also have another source of hope and stability: the Church. The Church will never abandon you, even if now and then certain members of the Church prove unfaithful. Only the Church received Christ’s divine guarantee to weather every storm, so if you stay close within her bosom, you will never be separated from the source of life and light, no matter how dark the sky and loud the howling winds. Today’s saint learned that lesson well.
Ambrose was brought up professedly a Christian (though he wasn’t baptized until much later) and received his education in Rome’s best schools. Consequently, his natural talents enabled him to begin climbing the ladder of socio-political prestige at quite a young age. He combined acumen and eloquence, organization and personal magnetism, such that he was made governor of northern Italy (one of the highest offices in the Empire at the time) before he was forty. It was then, while residing in the western imperial city of Milan, that he found his vocation.
The episcopal see in Milan had for two decades been occupied by an Arian (the Arian heresy denied Christ’s divinity and was extremely widespread). When the heretical bishop died, the discussion about whether an Arian or a Catholic would succeed him swelled into violent uproar. During an assembly held to resolve the conflict, Ambrose stepped in to address the seething crowds, hoping to forestall too outrageous a disorder. While he was speaking, someone yelled, “Ambrose for bishop!” The entire throng erupted in enthusiastic agreement, and the other bishops eagerly ratified the choice. Ambrose was shocked (he was not even baptized at this point), and tried to escape from the city. When that failed, he went into hiding. They found him. He was baptized and a week later made bishop.
From then on he became an anchor and a beacon for the entire Church of the western empire, boldly gathering the Arians back into Christ’s one flock, and brilliantly parrying attempts by secular powers to manipulate the Church for political ends. He single-handedly upset a shrewd plan to restore pagan worship in Rome, and successfully called the Emperor Theodosius to public penance after he had committed a heinous and unjust massacre of innocent citizens. He was such a positive influence in the lives of rulers and citizens throughout the empire that as he lay dying (he was about 57) the Guardian of the Emperor’s household remarked, “The day that this man dies, destruction hangs over Italy.” Indeed, just a few years later the barbarians ransacked the Eternal City. But Ambrose had already laid a foundation for a Christian society that would weather the storm, a foundation that had personally served him well throughout his busy and dangerous life.
And that foundation can serve you well too. Take these words of Ambrose to heart, think of them often, and they should help guide you through this difficult time: “Hold fast to the rudder of faith, that you may not be shaken by the heavy storms of this world. The sea, indeed, is vast and deep, but do not fear, for ‘He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waves’. Rightly, then, the Church of the Lord amid all the seas of the world stands immovable, built, as it were, upon the apostolic rock. On that solid foundation it endures the force of the raging billows. The waves pour over it, but it is not shaken. Although this world’s elements often dash against it only to be thrown back with a mighty roar, still it offers a secure harbor of safety to receive the distressed. It is tossed on the sea, but rides the floods…”
Your devoted uncle,