“Always be ready to deal with questions submitted to you with a great sense of duty and prudence,” the Pope told them, “never failing in your duty to the truth and the courage to defend the highest goods.”
Thinking about such matters, he said, naturally led him to think about “the shining figure of St. Ambrose, your heavenly patron, who was suddenly called to the episcopate, having to abandon a brilliant career as a senior civil servant.”
St. Ambrose was a promising young lawyer who quickly rose through the administrative ranks of the 4th-century Roman Empire. By his early 30s he was appointed Consular Prefect of the region of Liguria and Emilia in northern Italy, with his headquarters in Milan. His reputation for fairness was so great that he was acclaimed Bishop of Milan by the city’s population. Not being trained in theology – or even baptized – St. Ambrose initially fled but the demand for him was so strong that he quickly relented. Within a week St. Ambrose was baptized, ordained and duly consecrated bishop of Milan.
The Pope reminded the prefects that St. Ambrose used to say “the establishment of the civil power comes from God as well, so that he who exercises it is, he also is a minister of God.”
From this, said Pope Benedict, we can say that “the exercise of civil authority is so important as to have an almost ‘sacred’ character.” This means that “it must be exercised with great dignity and a lively sense of responsibility.”
This is especially true of a prefect, said the Pope, noting that they have a key role in upholding “social cohesion and civil rights,” especially of the most vulnerable in society.
The Pope finished his remarks by encouraging all those present to follow the example of St. Ambrose, “so that your work may always serve justice, peace, freedom and the common good.” If they do this, God will support their efforts, “rewarding them with abundant fruits to spread the civilisation of love.”