In front of more than 30,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI held his weekly general audience today. The Church Father he turned his attention to for his catechesis was St. Ambrose of Milan.
Benedict said that Ambrose's example should teach everyone that living out the faith cannot be a role that they play like a clown, but rather that their faith and life should be one seamless witness.
The Holy Father demonstrated that St. Ambrose achieved this union by meditating on the Scriptures, a method that he learned from Origen. Benedict explained that it was Ambrose 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."
The bishop saint made certain that those who wished to become Christians "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 absence of words, he spoke still with the testimony of his life."