The Faith of St Ambrose

This December 7 we celebrate the Feast of St. Ambrose, who hailed from Milan. It’s the busiest season of the year with so much focus on Christmas, but I wanted to share why St. Ambrose helps orient my own life towards the hope that Advent inspires.

After my diaconate ordination many photos were taken with family and friends, but this particular one was chosen for the cover of the Paulist newsletter.

My grandmother had always prayed for a priest in the family. A year after I began formation in 2013, I went to visit her in Colombia, and she gave me her childhood First Communion cross. I have kept it on my nightstand, and I brought it with me as I was ordained a deacon five years later. After the Mass I showed her that I still had her crucifix with me.

Her crucifix is engraved with the date of her first communion: May 12, 1938. She was born and raised in Milan, Italy, and she spent part of her childhood in the countryside while the Second World War brought heavy bombings and destruction to Milan and the industrial north of Italy. This cross had been in Italy through the war and then went to Colombia when my grandmother moved there in the 1950s.

It’s remarkable to imagine that 50 years after World War II she would have a grandson born in the United States, a country Italy had fought against early in the war, and over 75 years later she would be visiting the United States for her grandson’s diaconate ordination.

Though she first spoke Italian, the faith she lived came with her to Colombia and then was handed on to my father, who continued to practice the faith but now in English after moving to the United States. Three languages, three distinct cultures, but the same faith endures.

St. Ambrose remains an enormous figure in the religious life of Milan, and this summer I had the chance to visit his tomb when I went to see my great-aunt and uncles. The Basilica itself was nearly destroyed in the Allied bombing of Milan, but it was rebuilt. More importantly, the lived faith of the people, of which I am a fortunate beneficiary, endures. This Advent, may we all renew our hope that the love of Christ will transcend the forces of violence and lead all people into lasting peace.