Thursday, First Week of Advent
Memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
St. Ambrose is notable in church history. His influence is felt to today. When we say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” we quote him. The context was his discussion of liturgical and devotional practices, which were quite varied in his time.
Reading without moving one’s lips was also first recorded in history, by St. Augustine in his Confessions, as something Ambrose did. At the time and for centuries following, people read out loud even when alone.
Like any good bishop, Ambrose sought to uphold and teach the faith in the face of heresy and apathy. He wrote influential works. He baptized people, including St. Augustine in Milan.
But we remember St. Ambrose primarily because he has “saint” in front of his name. A saint is someone whom the Church has recognized as having outstanding virtue and faith. Someone worthy of emulation. There have been plenty of bishops who have not been so honored. There have been other great teachers who have not been so honored. St. Ambrose is part of an elite group. Currently, there are only 36 Doctors of the Church. All of them saints.
It is unlikely any of us will ever be listed among the Doctors of the Church. We, statistically speaking, will also never be declared saints by the Church. However, we are given a clear path to sainthood by our Lord.
To be a doctor, you must be brilliant. To be a bishop, you have to fulfill certain requirements. To be a saint, all you have to do is follow Jesus’ advice in the Gospel reading.
To slightly paraphrase our Lord, “If you want to enter the Kingdom of heaven, do the will of my Father in heaven.”
We don’t act without faith. We have to believe that our Father has a will for us and that it is worth doing. Then we must act on it. Then, and only then, can we expect to be granted admittance into God’s presence.
As we look at the lives of the saints throughout history, we see that same pattern. Faith leading to action, leading to approval by God. From Abraham to Ambrose to Aquinas and beyond, there is no exception to this pattern. They all were given different challenges and different tasks. But by having the faith to act, they prevailed and were acclaimed as saints.
But how do I know the will of God? That is a good question and there are two answers, because God has a general will for all of us as well as a specific will for each of us as individuals. If we don’t obey the general, we don’t stand much chance of figuring out the specific.
God’s general will is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” If we seriously pursue that, his specific will has a way of becoming evident.