Wednesday, 7 December 2022 : 2nd 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, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, we are called to remember the loving care of God, our Lord and Creator, the One Who has always provided for each one of us and protected us from harm’s way, and how He has always looked out for those who are downtrodden and troubled. He did not forget those whom He has called and chosen to be His own, and He gathered all of them from among the nations, and gave them renewed strength and hope, encouragement and assurance that He, their Lord and God, will be with them, and will guide and protect them through the hardships and challenges of the world. That is why we have to put our faith and trust in Him, and not be easily swayed by worldly temptations and distractions all around us.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, God has shown His people His power and might, reminding them of everything that He had done for all those times that they had journeyed with Him, and rebuking those who had not placed their faith in Him, but instead entrusting themselves to wicked pagan idols and gods. God told them all through His prophet Isaiah of everything that He had done, and how He had raised them up, giving them hope and strength although they had fallen and been downtrodden, cast down and brought low, humbled and suffered as a result of their own actions, their own lack of faith in Him and wayward attitudes. They had not been faithful and true to the path that God had shown them, and yet, God still loved them nonetheless.

Back then, the people to whom Isaiah ministered to, the people of the southern kingdom of Judah, had experienced many years of tribulations and hardships, witnessing the downfall and destructions of their northern neighbours, the kingdom of Israel, who were their own fellow brothers and sisters, conquered and exiled by the Assyrians who crushed them and their cities, humbled and humiliated them, because they refused to place themselves in the hands of the Lord, and their wickedness, evils and persecutions of the Lord’s prophets and messengers eventually caught up to them, and the same, although to a lesser degree had happened to the people of Judah as well. The people of God there had not been completely faithful to God, and had from time to time, fell again and again into the path of sin.

They often rebelled and disobeyed God, refusing to listen to Him or obey His Law and commandments, and as such, they suffered the just consequences of their actions. They chose to put themselves under the yoke of the devil and the idols, preferring to enjoy the corrupt fruits of worldly desires, power and glory, succumbing to those temptations of their pride, ego and greed, and not listening to God and His truth. God reminds us all therefore, just as we heard in our Gospel passage today, that He loves us all and calls upon us to return to Him, and to get out of all of that yoke of the world, and embrace Him and His path instead, with the well-known words, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He reminds us all that while His path is not going to be easy, but in the end, compared to the path of worldliness, sin and evil, His path is going to be good and leads us to happiness, while the so-called more enjoyable path of the world, will lead us to nothing but regret and eternal suffering.

As Christians, each and every one of us must realise that God has shown us His love all these while, and He never gave up on us even when we have often been difficult and stubborn in refusing to embrace His love, kindness, compassion and mercy. He has always ever been patient in loving us and in reaching out to us, as a loving Father and Shepherd, calling out to us His beloved children and sheep who have been lost and separated from Him. Yet, we also must realise that unless we make the effort to welcome Him into our lives and open our hearts and minds to let Him enter into our existence and lives, then we are likely going to remain separated from Him and like many of us realised too late, that we may end up being forever sundered and separated from Him, for those who are eventually judged to be unworthy of God.

Today, let us all therefore be inspired by the great examples shown to us by one great saint whose feast we celebrate this day, namely that of St. Ambrose of Milan, the well-known Bishop of Milan and one of the most influential Church leaders of his time, through his piety and good works, his courageous and fearless efforts in leading the people of God to the right path, not afraid of oppositions and hardships, and his many contributions being recognised later on as one of the four original Doctors of the Church, together with St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Basil the Great or St. Jerome, which highlighted just how great an impact that St. Ambrose of Milan had in the Church and the Christian community, not just in his See of Milan but also throughout the whole entire Christendom.

St. Ambrose was born into a Christian family, a rather influential and powerful family, and he was brought up with good education, preparing him for a life of service in the Roman administration, becoming a government official and finally being appointed as the regional governor of the regions of Liguria and Emilia in what is now present day northern parts of Italy, with the headquarters in Milan. Back then, there was bitter divisions within the Church in Milan as those who believed in the falsehoods of the Arian heresy, popularised by the famous preacher Arius, were in conflict with those who believed in the true teachings of the Church, the true and orthodox Christian faith. At that time, the death of the Arian bishop of Milan led to heated debate and conflict in the election of his successor, as each parties desired to elect their own candidates.

St. Ambrose had to step in to settle the issue, and after protracted and heated struggle to elect the new Bishop of Milan, the assembled faithful were inspired by the Holy Spirit to elect St. Ambrose himself, despite not being a clergyman, to be the new Bishop of Milan. He was also acceptable to those who sided with the heretical teachings of Arius. St. Ambrose embraced God’s call and became a most dedicated servant of His in his duty and ministry as the Bishop of Milan, in building up the Church and the Christian community. He helped to steer the Church out of the influence and the falsehoods of the Arian heresy mentioned earlier, and fearlessly faced the opposition from the powerful supporters of the Arians, which included the Roman nobles and distinguished personas, that included the Emperor and his family.

St. Ambrose patiently endured the challenges and was persistent in his efforts to reform the Church, proclaiming God’s truth among His people. When later on the faithful and orthodox Emperor Theodosius the Great became the ruler of all the Roman Empire, he did not stop himself from opposing the Emperor himself in a very well-known occasion as St. Ambrose excommunicated the Emperor for having been complicit in his role in the massacre of the people and the innocent population of the great city of Thessalonica. That led to the Emperor himself humbling himself before God and the people, as he put aside his Imperial cloak and garments, wearing the garments of a penitent, and repented from his sins, and welcomed back into the Church by St. Ambrose himself. There were also many other contributions that this holy man of God had done, in his many writings and works, and in helping the aforementioned St. Augustine of Hippo, another original Doctor of the Church, in finding his way towards God.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard the inspiring examples and dedications showed by St. Ambrose of Milan, and also of God’s love, compassion and mercy for all of us His people, and how many of those people had let Him down and betrayed Him for worldly temptations, let us all ask ourselves then, whether we have been truly faithful to God in our daily living and works. Have we spent our days and lives in faithful ways as our faith has called us to do? Or have we instead preferred to follow the whims of our worldly desires and the myriad of the temptations surrounding us? Let us all discern our path carefully, brothers and sisters, and be more faithful from now on, especially during this time of blessed Advent, when we are constantly being reminded of what we are supposed to do as Christians to welcome the Lord into our lives.

May God be with us all, especially as we continue to journey through this season of Advent, that we may be ever closer to Him, and that we may find our path towards Him, and be ever more attuned to His will, His Law and commandments. May God bless us all in our every good deeds and endeavours, all for His greater glory. Amen.

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