Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It's Wednesday So The Pope Is Talking to Us Again- Great Talk on St Ambrose

Thanks again to the Ratzinger Forum for the great pic and translation of the the Pope's Audience he gave today.. I am going to put all the Angelus and Audiences under one category soon. One could supplement a high school history Class or CCD with these great talks. Today is no exception.

Here is a translation of the Holy Father's catechesis at the General Audience in St. Peter's Square today.

Dear brothers and sisters: Saint Ambrose, bishop, about whom I shall talk to you today, died in Milan in the nighttime between April 3-4 of 397. It was the dawn of Holy Saturday. The day before, around 5 p.m., he started to pray, as he lay in bed, with his arms open as if on the Cross. That is how he took part in the solemn Paschal Triduum, in the death and resurrection of our Lord. "We could see him moving his lips," said Paulinus, the faithful deacon who wrote the Life of Ambrose, at the invitation of Augustine, "but his voice could not be heard."

Suddenly, the situation turned for the worse. Honoratus, bishop of Vercelli, who was around to assist Ambrose and was sleeping in the floor above, was awakened by a voice which repeated in his ear: "Get up, quick! Ambrose is dying..." Honoratus descended in haste, Paulinus continues, "and offered the saint the Body of the Lord. After he had taken the Host and swallowed, Ambrose gave his last breath, carrying with him the last Viaticum. Thus, his soul, strengthened by virtue of that food, now enjoys the company of angels." (Vita 47).

On that Good Friday of 397, the open arms of the dying Ambrose expressed his mystical participation in the death and resurrection of our Lord. This was his last catechesis: despite the silence of words, he still spoke with the testimony of his own life. Ambrose was not old when he died. He was not even 60, having been born around 340 in Trier, where his father was prefect of the Gauls. The family was Christian. At the death of the father, his mother brought him to Rome when he was just a boy and prepared him for a civil career, assuring him of a solid rhetorical and juridical education.

Around 370, he was sent to govern the provinces of the Emilia and Liguria regions, with his seat in Milan. It was there where the struggle between orthodox Christians and Arians was in full ferment, especially after the death of the Arian bishop Aussentius. Ambrose intervened to pacify the faithful of both factions, and his authority was such that, although he was just a catechumen, he was acclaimed by the people as Bishop of Milan. Up to that time, Ambrose had been the highest magistrate of the Roman empire in northern Italy. Very prepared culturally, but deficient in his knowledge of Scriptures, the new Bishop applied himself to study with alacrity. He learned to know and comment on the Bible from the works of Origen, the undisputed master of the Alexandrian school.

In this way, Ambrose transferred to the Latin environment the practice of meditating on Scriptures originated by Origen, and started in the West the practice of the lectio divina. The method of the lectio came to guide all of his own preaching and writings, which flowed precisely from prayerful listening to the Word of God. A famous opening from one of the Ambrosian catecheses shows eminently how the holy bishop applied the Old Testament to Christian living: "When we read the stories of the Patriarchs and the maxims from Proverbs, we are able to draw a moral lesson every day," the Bishop told catechumens and neophytes, "so that, educated and trained by these, you may accustom yourself to enter into the way of the Fathers and follow the path of obedience to divine precepts" (I misteri, 1,1).

In other words, neophytes and catechumens, in the opinion of the bishop, after having learned the art of living right, would then be able to consider themselves prepared for the great mysteries of Christ. Thus, Ambrose's preaching - which represents the fundamental nucleus of his enormous literary output - derived from his reading of the sacred books ('Patriarchs', meaning the historical books of the Bible, and "Proverbs", meaning the books of Wisdom) to live in conformity with divine Revelation. It is evident that the personal testimony of the preacher and the exemplary level of the Christian community condition the efficacy of any preaching.

From this point of view, a passage in St. Augustine's Confessions is significant. He had come to Milan as a professor of rhetoric - he was a skeptic, not a Christian. But what moved the heart of the young African rhetoricist, who was skeptical and desperate, was not above all the beautiful homilies of Ambrose, although he appreciated these well enough. Rather, what moved him more was the witness borne by the Bishop and his Milanese church, praying and singing together solidly like one body - a Church capable of resisting the arrogant power of the emperor and his mother, who in early 386, had tried to requisition a Church building for Arian ceremonies. "In the building that was to be requisitioned," Augustine wrote, "the devout people of Milan stayed put, ready to die with their own bishop."

This evidence recounted in the Confessions is invaluable, because it shows that something was moving deep within Augustine, who continues thus, "Even we, though we were still spiritually lukewarm, participated in the fervor of the entire population" (Confessions 9, 7). From the life and example of Bishop Ambrose, Augustine learned to believe and to preach. We can refer to a famous sermon of the African, which deserved citation many centuries later in the Dogmatic Constitution Dei verbum of Vatican-II, which says (N. 25): "All the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become" - and here is where Augustine is cited - "'an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly...'".

Augustine learned from Ambrose this 'inward listening', this assiduity in reading Sacred Scriptures in a prayerful attitude, in order to truly receive the Word of God and assimilate it in one's heart. Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to propose to you yet another 'patristic icon' which, seen in the light of what we have previously said, effectively represents the heart of Ambrosian doctrine. In the sixth book of Confessions, Augustine recounts his meeting with Ambrose, a meeting of truly great importance for the history of the Church.

He writes textually that when he came to see the Bishop of Milan, the latter was regularly besieged by hordes of persons with problems, and for whose needs he, Ambrose, tried to provide as best he could. There was always a long line of people waiting to speak to Ambrose hoping to get comfort and hope. When Ambrose was not with these people (and these were only for short periods of time), it was only because he had to eat ['restore his body with the necessary food'] or feed his soul by reading. In this respect, Augustine expressed wonder because Ambrose read Scriptures silently, only with his eyes (cfr Confess. 6,3).

Indeed, in the early centuries of Christianity, reading Scriptures was thought of strictly in terms of being proclaimed, and reading aloud facilitated understanding even for the one who was reading it. That Ambrose could read through the pages with his eyes only indicated to Augustine not just a singular manner of reading but a familiarity with Scriptures. So, reading 'in a whisper'- where the heart is involved and achieves a knowledge of the Word of God - is the icon I referred to, in which one can see the method of Ambrosian catechesis: it is Scriptures itself, intimately assimilated, that suggests the content of what one must announce in order to achieve conversion of hearts. Thus, going by the magisterium of Ambrose and Augustine, catechesis is inseparable from the testimony of one's life.

The catechist may also avail of what I wrote in Introduction to Christianity about theologians: He who wishes to educate others in the faith cannot risk appearing like some sort of clown, who recites his lines by rote. Rather, to use an image dear to Origen, a writer who was particularly appreciated by Ambrose, he should be the like the beloved disciple, who rested his head on the Master's heart and there learned how to think, speak and act.

In the end, the true disciple is he who proclaims the Gospel in the most credible and effective way. Like the apostle John, Bishop Ambrose - who never tired of repeating 'Omnia Christus est nobis!' - Christ is totally for us - remained an authentic witness for the Lord. We will conclude our catechesis with Ambrose's own words, full of love for Jesus: "Omnia Christus est nobis! If you want to heal a wound, he is the physician; is you burn with fever, he is the fountain; if you are oppressed by iniquity, he is justice; if you need help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life...Taste, and see how good the Lord is. Blessed is the man who hopes in him" (De virginitate 16,99). Let us hope in Christ ourselves - thus, we will be blessed and live in peace.

Later, he synthesized the catechesis in English:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, In our catechesis on the teachers of the ancient Church, we now turn to Saint Ambrose of Milan. Born into a Christian family in the middle of the fourth century, Ambrose was educated in Rome and sent as governor to Milan, where, although a catechumen, he was soon acclaimed as Bishop. He set about mastering the Scriptures, guided by the writings of Origen and the practice of lectio divina, a form of prayerful meditation on the word of God. It was Ambrose who introduced this practice to the West, and it deeply permeated his life and preaching. Saint Augustine, who was converted in Milan and baptized by Ambrose, relates the profound impression which Ambrose’s engagement with the word of God left upon him. Ambrose, contrary to the custom of the time, did not read the Scriptures aloud, which Augustine interpreted as a sign of how deeply the inspired word had penetrated the holy Bishop’s mind and heart.

This image can serve as an "icon" of Ambrose as a catechist: his teaching was inseparable from his prayer and his entire life. For Ambrose, Christ was everything – Omnia Christus est nobis! – and so it must be for every catechist and indeed for every one of the Lord’s disciples.

I am happy to greet the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother who are gathered in Rome for their Twentieth General Chapter. I also cordially welcome an ecumenical pilgrimage of Catholics and Evangelical Lutherans from the United States of America. Upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims I invoke God’s abundant blessings of peace and joy.

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