Thursday, 7 December 2017 : 1st Week of Advent, Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us heard from the Scripture passages, of what it means for us to be faithful in God and to put our trust in Him, as opposed to trust in our own human strength, intelligence and abilities and ignoring His teachings. Those who does not listen to God or listened to Him and yet does nothing will be judged by their lack of faith and they will meet their deserved end.

In the Gospel passage today, the Lord Jesus spoke to the people with a parable, showing them the comparison between two people who built their houses on two different types of foundations. One built his house on a foundation of solid rock, firm and immovable, and no rain, or wind, or wave or any forces were able to dislodge or shake the house from its firm foundation. Jesus compared this with those who listened to the word of God and acted accordingly upon hearing it.

Then, He also mentioned about the one who built his house on a shaky foundation of sand, which has no strength, depth and cohesiveness. As a result, when rain, or wind, or wave, or any forces were exerted on the house, these caused the house to be destroyed and toppled over, because even though the house might be well-built, but no matter how good the house was, the foundation was weak and not firm. And the Lord compared this with those who listened to the word of God and did nothing with it.

The houses those men built represent our own respective lives, our livelihood and everything we experienced in this world. The foundations represent our faith in God, and how strong and steady that faith is. If our faith in God is not strong, then it will be shaky as the sandy foundation, which brought about calamity to the person who built the house on it. Thus, we should indeed spend the time now to reflect what it truly means for us to have a strong faith.

As the Lord mentioned in the Gospel passage today, not those who always call out ‘Lord! Lord!’ will be heard and be worthy to enter into the kingdom of heaven. To do that without a concrete expression of our faith means nothing, as our faith is not alive and existent, but dead. That is why, while we believe that we are saved through faith, it cannot be just any kind of faith, worse still, just something like, ‘Lord I believe in You’, and we are assured of eternal life and salvation.

What God requires and wants from each one of us is true and living faith, not a dead faith. And what constitutes a true and living faith? It is faith made real and concrete through our actions, words and deeds, which support our faith and all that we believe in God. If our actions and deeds are not representative of what we believe in, or worse still, contrary and in opposition to our faith, then we have scandalised ourselves in the eyes of God and men alike.

How do we, then, have a living and genuine faith in us? It is by strengthening the foundations of our faith, through which we resolve to do what the Lord has commanded us to do, which is to love. It may seem easy to be done, as we need just to show love through our actions and deeds. However, as we all know, loving someone is not as easy as what it seems. True love requires commitment from us, effort and the giving of oneself.

We are all called to love the Lord, Our God, with all of our hearts, minds, with all of our strengths and capabilities. This is the first and the most important of all of God’s teachings and commandments. Yet, many of us in our daily lives do not place God as the most important One in our lives. Instead, we tend to put Him aside, and forgot about Him, until the time when the need arise for us to seek Him, because we are in need, and we ask God to help us to get out of our predicament.

And then, we are also called to love one another, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, not just those who loved us back, but all, even our enemies, those who hated us and persecuted us. This is again, not something that can be easily done, as it is in our human nature to bear grudges and to be angry at someone else, to be unhappy with others. Are we able to do what the Lord taught us to do? To forgive our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us?

That is why we should put our trust in God, and follow His examples. There is no better example than Our Lord Jesus Himself, Who has shown His exemplary love. As St. Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Romans, Christ died for all of us, out of His love for us, while we are all still sinners. He mentioned that few of us would want to lay down our lives for a good friend, less so, an enemy or someone so wicked or unworthy that we would loath to be even near the person.

But that is exactly the very reason why we must put our trust in God. Is it better to trust in men and all worldly things which are unreliable and are doubted in their ability to provide for us? It is indeed better to trust in the Lord, Who is ever loving and have been ever trustworthy, because He is faithful to His Covenant, which He had made with us, His people. Even though we have often been unfaithful, but God is ever faithful. He cannot deny the love that He has for each one of us.

Are we able then to follow the examples of Christ? Are we able to follow the example of His love and obedience to His Father? Perhaps then, we should also heed the examples from St. Ambrose of Milan, the renowned bishop and saint, who was a very influential Church leader at his time, and one of the original four Doctors of the Church, together with his protege and pupil, St. Augustine of Hippo.

It was told that St. Ambrose was born to an influential and Christian Roman noble family, who had an excellent education and upbringing, brought up in the various educations on law, rhetoric and law. Eventually, he rose up the ranks to become the governor of the province and region surrounding the city of Milan, then the effective capital of the Roman Empire in its western provinces. As such, he was a very influential and powerful person within the Empire.

At that time, there was a conflict between the factions of the Church, between those who held on to the Orthodox faith of the Church, and those who were swayed by the false heresy of Arius, the Arians. The dispute arose in deciding who was to succeed the previous bishop of Milan, who was an Arian. The different parties could not agree on a suitable candidate, until St. Ambrose’s name was brought up, and thus he was elected as the Bishop of Milan.

Initially, St. Ambrose was reluctant to take up the office, as at that time, he was not even baptised properly yet and was not a priest less so a bishop. Yet, after he has taken up his office, he pursued a very rigorous and zealous effort to rejuvenate the faith among his flock, devoting himself to many charitable works, and cared for the poor and the less privileged people in his diocese.

St. Ambrose was also known for his staunch defence of the true and Orthodox teachings of the Church, devoting much of his time and effort throughout his episcopacy, in trying to limit the influence of the heretical Arians, who had a lot of support among the Imperial aristocracy, even from the Emperor, Valentinian II and his mother, Empress Justina. He resisted for many years the efforts of the Arians in trying to gain possession of some churches in Milan for their use.

Eventually, after years of resistance, hard work and patience, St. Ambrose managed to steer his flock carefully and lovingly through those years of difficulties and challenges. The influence of the Arians and the other heretics greatly decreased from then on, and many more people repented from their heresy and turned back to the true teachings of the Church. St. Ambrose himself once said, “I am ready to submit (to the Imperial authorities), be it to prison or even to death, but I will never betray the Lord and His Church.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we can see, St. Ambrose of Milan has devoted all of his energy and strength trying to love God and to devote himself to Him wholeheartedly. And he has also devoted his time and effort in loving his fellow brethren, those entrusted under his care as bishop, ensuring that these people did not fall into heresy and sin.

Let us all follow in his footsteps, brethren, and resolve to live our lives more attuned to the will of God, and obeying His commands, trusting in Him, building upon the solid foundation of God and not upon the uncertain foundation of worldly glories and temptations. May all of us draw closer to God, and may He bless us all each and every day, in all of our good and faithful endeavours. Amen.

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