Today is the feast of St. Ambrose, who seemed to bring out both the worst and the best in people.
If you are interested in learning more about this titanic figure of the 4th century, who helped God to convert St. Augustine and faced down heretics and Emperors, one the better books about him is Ambrose by Boniface Ramsey. [UK HERE]
I AM ALWAYS IN YOUR MIDST
For December 7, 1940, Feast of St. Ambrose:
Ambrose (kneeling in his room before the opened Holy Scriptures):
Now the last one is gone. I thank you, O Lord,
For this quiet hour in the night.
You know how much I like to serve your flock;
I want to be a good shepherd to your lambs,
That’s why this door is open day and night,
And anyone can enter unannounced.
Oh, how much suffering and bitter need is brought in here
The burden becomes almost too great for this father’s heart.
But you, my God, you surely know our weakness
And at the right time remove the yoke from our shoulders.
You give me rest, and from this book,
The holy book, you speak to me
And pour new strength into my soul.
(He opens it, makes a great sign of the cross, and begins to read silently.) [For more on the “silent reading” do click.]
Augustine (appears in the door and remains standing, hesitant):
He is alone I could go to him
And let him know the struggles of my heart.
But he is speaking with his God,
Seeking rest and refreshment in the Scriptures
After a long day’s work and care.
Oh no, I’ll not disturb him.
I’ll kneel down a little here;
Then I’ll surely take something of his peace with me.
Ambrose (looks up):
What was that? Didn’t I hear a rustling at the door?
(He gets up.)
Come closer, friend, you who come at night.
In the dark I cannot see who you are.
(He goes to the door with the lamp.)
Is it possible? Augustine? Peace be with you!
You dear, infrequent guest, please do come in.
(He takes him by the hand, leads him in, shows him a seat, and sits down facing him.)
Oh, how your goodness shames me, holy man!
I really have not earned such a welcome.
Don’t you remember how happily I greeted you
When you stood here before me for the first time?
You, the star of oratory
That stirred Carthage to amazement,
That did not even find its match in Rome,
I was happy to see
Within the confines of my Milan.
Oh, if you had only seen into my heart!
I wasn’t worthy to be seen by you.
I saw you often when I spoke to the people.
Your burning eye hung on my lips.
Your mouth overflowed with heavenly wisdom.
But I was not interested in wisdom.
I did not come for wisdom.
I only heard how you put together the words;
Only an orator’s magic power attracted me.
That, what you spoke Christ’s holy doctrine
I wasn’t eager to know, it seemed like vanity to me,
Already refuted by my teachers long ago.
But while I listened to the words alone,
I was drawn I hardly noticed it into the meaning.
One word of Scripture oft repeated
Deeply affected me and gave me much to think about:
“The letter deadens,” you said, “The spirit gives life.”
When the Manichæans laughed over the Word of Christ,
Was not this because those fools
Only understood what they were reading literally,
While the spirit remained sealed to them?
But the Holy Spirit’s ray fell on you.
Thank him who freed you from error’s chains,
And thank her, too, who interceded for you.
O Augustine, thank God for your mother.
She is your angel before the eternal throne;
Her commerce is in heaven, and her petitions
Fall, like steady drops, heavily into the bowl
Yes, I surely know what would I have become without her?
Oh, how many hot tears did I cost her,
I, her unfaithful son, who really don’t deserve it!
Therefore, she now weeps sweet tears of joy,
And she is richly rewarded for all her suffering.
She already wept tears of joy when she perceived
That I had escaped the Manichæan net.
I was still deep in night, tormented by doubts.
But she assured me optimistically
That the day of peace was now no longer far away.
While still alive, she was to see me entirely safe.
The Lord himself probably gave her certainty.
Her firm faith did not mislead her.
But I still had a long way to go.
My teaching post had become unbearable for me.
The frivolous game of the orator’s art rankled me.
I sought truth, and I no longer desired to waste
The spirit of my youth in colorful pretense.
From Milan I fled into isolation.
My spirit brooded in unrest.
I waited here for you how much I wanted
With God’s help to guide you to the harbor!
Oh, how often I stood here on this threshold!
You did not see. There came crowds of people
Who sought help from the good shepherd.
I looked on for a little while and then silently went away.
At times I also came upon you alone, like today,
Immersed in the study of your beloved books.
Then I did not risk shortening your meager rest.
I knelt here a little near you
And discreetly slipped away. Today, too,
It would have happened thus if you had not discovered me.
Thank my angel who led my eye to you.
But tell me now what brought you here.
I already wrote you that God’s ray lit on me.
Before my eyes stood all the misery of my life.
It choked me, clamped my chest,
I could no longer breathe at home
And fled out into the open.
In the garden I sought a quiet place,
Fled into the presence of the faithful friend himself.
Finally, a stream of tears burst forth.
Then from a neighbor’s house there urged itself on me
A child’s voice singing clearly.
I heard the words, “Take and read.”
Again and again it rang in my ears
As children endlessly repeat.
But to me it comes from another world:
It is the call of the Lord! I leap up
And rush to Alypius who is still sitting and thinking.
The book lies beside him where I was reading it.
I open it. There stands for me the instruction;
I found it clear in the Apostle’s word:
“Give up feasting and carousing at last,
Arise from the bed of soft sensory lust.
Renounce all the contention of frivolous ambition.
Look instead at Jesus Christ, the Lord.”
Then the night receded, and day began
I took to the road in the presence of the Lord,
My friend Alypius hand in hand with me.
Thank God, who had mercy on you!
How wonderful are your ways, Lord!
I wrote to you and asked for your advice.
You recommended to me a good teacher.
In the prophecy of Isaiah I found
The servant of God, the lamb, that suffered for us.
And things grew brighter and brighter in my eyes.
We did not rush, yet let us now speak to you
In longing and in humility:
Lead us to the baptismal font and wash us clean.
Oh, bless you, my beloved son!
There is no one whom I have led with greater joy
To the holy bath that gives new life.
Come soon and bring me your faithful friend.
There is yet a third person whom we are leading to you:
Adeodatus, my beloved child.
No doubt a child of sin through my fault;
But now the child of grace through God’s goodness.
He is a youth, almost still a boy in years,
But with more wisdom than his father.
He brings the Lord an undefiled heart,
And it is pure hearts who see God.
So soon a thrice-blessed day will beam for us.
O Augustine, don’t look back into the dark anymore.
Before me now radiant lies your path.
The light that God ignited in your heart,
Will shine brightly into the farthest times,
The whole church will be filled with it.
And countless hearts will be inflamed
By the love consuming your great heart.
Oh look with me up to the throne
Of the thrice Holy One!
Don’t you hear the choir of holy spirits?
They sing their holy songs of praise
Full of thanks in inexpressibly great joy,
Because the lost son has found his way to the Father.
(Both stand listening; then Ambrose intones:)
Augustine (sings the second half-verse, then alternately together with the invisible choirs.)