Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor – Readings

Commentary on Ephesians 3:8-12; Psalm 89; John 10:11-16

The Gospel reading from John is, appropriately, Jesus’ description of himself as the “good shepherd”. In the verses which follow, he gives the qualities of a good shepherd. The first of these is that the good shepherd does not hesitate to give his life for his sheep, as indeed Jesus himself would do.

He compares the good shepherd to someone who is hired to look after someone else’s sheep. The moment danger appears, for instance, the sight of a wolf, and the hired man runs away abandoning the sheep to be seized and scattered by the wolf. The reason is that the hired man is only doing it for the money; he has no personal interest in the sheep.

The good shepherd is very different, however. First of all, although to others they all look alike, he knows each individual sheep and the sheep know their shepherd also. Jesus knows and his known by his sheep just he knows his Father and his Father knows him.

But Jesus goes further. He is not satisfied just with the flock he already has. There are other sheep which do not belong to his fold and he wants them to hear and recognise and follow his voice. Then, there will finally be just one Shepherd and one flock. This Jesus saying in other words that he is The Way. In him, through him and with him lie Truth and Goodness.

Ambrose certainly was just such an outstanding shepherd. At the request of the people of Milan, he gave up a prominent political career to be at the service of his people as their bishop. He left his family, gave away his property (except what was needed for his immediately family), adopted a simple lifestyle and devoted all his energies to the spiritual and material well-being of his flock, especially those in need. He even extended his pastoral concerns to the highest people in the land and did not fail to bring them in line with the requirements of the Gospel.

He also worked hard to bring unity to a Church torn apart by the heresy of Arianism, a heresy which affect the very leaders of the Church. He clearly had the prayer of Jesus in mind that “there be one flock and one shepherd”.

We pray today for good bishops and priests, who are good shepherds and pastors and also that one day:

…there will be one flock, one shepherd.

The First Reading from the Letter to the Ephesians has Paul speaking of his mission to the Gentiles, those outside the Jewish faith. He speaks of the gift God has given him to minister to the people:

…to bring to the gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things…

This gift was shared by Ambrose, who was called from the world of secular administration to serve the Church and its mission.

The real nature of that message and especially the real nature of Jesus Christ in his relationship with the Father was a prime priority for Ambrose as he dealt with the beliefs of the Arians. In the spreading and sharing of that message, he is ready to meet any challenge. Again, Ambrose was indeed a good shepherd.

Let us, too, on the one hand constantly deepen our understanding of the central message of the Christian message and, on the other, incarnate it fully into our way of living and relating with others.

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