Ambrose: Catechesis Inseparable from Life Witness

During the general audience, Benedict XVI continued his series of catecheses dedicated to Fathers of the Church, turning his attention to the figure of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan. The audience, held in St. Peter's Square, was attended by more than 30,000 people.

It was from Origen that Ambrose (ca. 340-397), considered to be one of the four greatest Doctors of the Church, learnt to know and comment the Bible. It was Ambrose, the Pope explained, who "brought meditation upon the Scriptures into the Latin world, introducing the practice of lectio divina to the West." This practice "guided all his own preaching and writing which flow, in fact, from his listening to the Word of God."

With him catechumens "learnt first the art of correct living" in order "to be prepared for the great Mysteries of Christ." His preaching was founded on "the reading of Sacred Scripture" with the aim of "living in conformity with divine Revelation.

"It is evident," the Pope added, "that the preacher's personal witness and the exemplary nature of the Christian community influence the effectiveness of preaching. From this point of view, one decisive factor is life context, the reality of how the Word is lived."

Benedict XVI recalled the fact that St. Augustine in his Confessions recounts how his own conversion was not due "chiefly to the beautiful homilies" of Ambrose, whom he knew in Milan, but above all "to the witness of the bishop and of his Milanese Church, who sang and prayed together like one single body." Augustine also tells of his surprise at seeing how Ambrose, when he was alone, would read the Scriptures without moving his lips, because at that time reading was considered as something to be proclaimed out loud in order to facilitate its comprehension.

It is "in such reading, … when the heart seeks to achieve an understanding of the Word of God, that we catch a glimpse of Ambrosian catechesis," said the Holy Father. "Scripture intimately assimilated suggests what must be announced to convert people's hearts. Thus catechesis is inseparable from life witness."

"Who educates in the faith," he continued, "cannot run to the risk of appearing like a clown who plays a role, rather he must be like the beloved disciple who rested his head on the Master's heart and there learnt how to think, speak and act."

St. Ambrose died on Good Friday, his arms open in the form of the cross. "Thus," the Pope concluded, "he expressed his mystical participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord. This was his final catechesis. In the silence of words, he spoke still with the testimony of his life."

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