Happy Feast of St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church!
In the coming weeks the Church will welcome lots of people as we celebrate Christmas. Many of those people will not be committed Christians – but some will certainly be spiritually curious. What can St. Ambrose teach us about how to welcome these souls? Listen to St. Augustine describe this Holy Bishop:
And to Milan I came, unto Ambrose the bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men, Your devout servant; whose eloquent discourse did at that time strenuously dispense unto Your people the flour of Your wheat, the gladness of Your oil, and the sober intoxication of Your wine. To him was I unknowingly led by You, that by him I might knowingly be led to You. That man of God received me like a father, and looked with a benevolent and episcopal kindliness on my change of abode. And I began to love him, not at first, indeed, as a teacher of the truth—which I entirely despaired of in Your Church,— but as a man friendly to myself. And I studiously hearkened to him preaching to the people, not with the motive I should, but, as it were, trying to discover whether his eloquence came up to the fame thereof, or flowed fuller or lower than was asserted; and I hung on his words intently, but of the matter I was but as a careless and contemptuous spectator; and I was delighted with the pleasantness of his speech, more erudite, yet less cheerful and soothing in manner, than that of Faustus. Of the matter, however, there could be no comparison; for the latter was straying amid Manichæan deceptions, while the former was teaching salvation most soundly. But salvation is far from the wicked, such as I then stood before him; and yet I was drawing nearer gradually and unconsciously.1
Friendliness, hospitality, and charity are complelling virtues which are too often neglected in our society. Before one can ever come to trust Christ, they must first receive a compelling witness of what it means to live the virtues of charity and friendship. So when you arrive at Midnight Mass this Christmas Eve and someone is sitting in your pew: Smile. Welcome them. Get to know them. Invite them to come back.
Who knows? You may be the person that God uses to “unknowingly lead them to himself.”
(1) St. Augustine, Confessions, Translated by J.G. Pilkington. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1887.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/110105.htm>. Emphasis added.
(2) Photo credit: Mathias Stom, “St. Ambrose.” https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f5/Matthias_Stom_-_St_Ambrose_-_WGA21804.jpg