December 7, 2021
by Edward Morse
Creighton University's School of Law
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Lectionary: 182

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 96:1-2, 3 and 10ac, 11-12, 13
Matthew 18:12-14

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St. Ambrose from Vatican's Saint of the day

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Today is the memorial of Saint Ambrose, who served the Church courageously and well.  Ambrose started out as a scholar in Greek, literature, and rhetoric.  While he was a young governor, Ambrose used his rhetorical skills to exhort the people of Milan to conduct themselves peaceably during a time of turmoil following the death of their bishop.  The competing factions settled their differences on the spot by trying to press Ambrose into service as the deceased bishop’s successor!  Ambrose found himself unworthy – he was raised in the faith but was not yet baptized.  He resisted this call for some time, but he ultimately embraced this responsibility. He put his mind to studying theology under the tutelage of a wise and learned priest and eventually was baptized and ordained.

Once Ambrose was in, he was all in.  He renounced his worldly ties to fulfill his vocation to spread the gospel and defend the faith, living out our Lord’s command in Matthew 28:19-20 to make disciples and to teach them to observe all our Lord’s commands.  Ambrose cared deeply about his flock, which included the emperor. Among other courageous deeds, Ambrose once stopped the emperor who was on his way to church.  The emperor’s soldiers had committed a massacre, and Ambrose admonished him to go home, repent, and do penance. Repentance did indeed follow, bearing fruit of good deeds and gratitude for this care. Ambrose also played a role in the conversion of Saint Augustine, further demonstrating the holy influence of his teaching and example.  Thanks be to God for the gift of this Saint. 

Today’s readings begin with the familiar passage in which Isaiah is called to speak a message of comfort, preparation, and hope.  The glad tidings heralded to the people were summarized in part in this short passage: 

“All flesh is grass,
        and all their glory like the flower of the field.
    The grass withers, the flower wilts,
        when the breath of the LORD blows upon it.
        So then, the people is the grass.
    Though the grass withers and the flower wilts,
        the word of our God stands forever.”

Is it comforting to know that the prophet equates the people and their glory with grass that withers and fades?  Only if you know the Lord who is coming.  There is great comfort in knowing that enduring truth exposes and defeats the lies, injustice, and unrighteousness in the world, but only if you know that the Lord who brings this truth also brings mercy to those who fear him.  This is not such good news if you prefer to pursue your own way and your own glory.  In this advent season, let us prepare the way through repentance so that truth and mercy will find its way into our hearts.   

Today’s gospel reinforces the tender mercy of our Lord and his care for our souls in the parable of the lost sheep.  What might have started out as a pleasant adventure for the sheep became profoundly uncomfortable when that sheep became lost and alone. As much as we like a little adventure and even some peace and quiet, it is hazardous to stray too far from the flock, where the Good Shepherd’s rod and staff are at the ready to send a message to the predators that are about.  When we stray, he comes to find us and save us.  After all, we belong to him!  But will we welcome his coming?  In this Advent season, let us draw close to the Shepherd.  Let us also find gratitude for the other bleating sheep.  And let us welcome home the lost sheep whose good company we have been missing.  Thanks be to God.

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