Today is the feast day of Saint Ambrose, bishop of Milan in the 4th century AD.
Ambrose was born in Trier (present day Germany) about 340 AD. He went to Rome to study Literature and Law. He was appointed Governor of Liguria, with headquarters in Milan. Ambrose was interested in Christianity, but he was not a baptized Christian.
In 374 there was a serious conflict between the Catholics and the Arians in Milan about the appointment of a new bishop. Each group wanted one of their own to be appointed, and there was a near riot. Ambrose, as Governor, went to see if he could help them resolve their differences peacefully. As he spoke to the crowd, someone called out, “Ambrose, Bishop”. The call was taken up by others, and soon the whole crowd was calling out for Ambrose as bishop. Ambrose refused, but a few days later he agreed, was baptized, and was ordained bishop of Milan on December 7th.
He was a true pastor of his people, and defended them and the true Faith by his words and deeds. As bishop of Milan he met Augustine of Hippo, who was a student in Milan at the time. Ambrose helped Augustine in his efforts to reform his life, and then baptized him when he decided to become a Catholic. Augustine went on to become bishop of Hippo, in Africa.
Ambrose, with Augustine, Jerome, and Pope Gregory I, are the four Fathers (outstanding teachers) of the Latin (Western) Church. Ambrose died in Milan in 397 AD.
Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas, whose gifts to the poor made him the model for our modern day Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas was bishop of Myra (located in present-day Turkey) around 300 AD. He was imprisoned during the persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletian (303-305 A.D.) but released when Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 A.D.
I worked for one of St. Nicholas’ successors, when I was secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila from 1955-1958. The Apostolic Nuncio was Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi, titular bishop of Myra, where St. Nicholas once was bishop
When he finished his term in the Philippines, Archbishop Vagnozzi was appointed Apostolic Delegate to the United States, and after that he returned to Rome, where he was made Cardinal, and put in charge of L’Istituto delle Opere di Religione.
L’Istituto delle Opere di Religione (Institute of the Works of Religion) is popularly known as the Vatican Bank. It may function as a bank, but it is different. The ATM’s are in Latin, priests enter by a special door, and there is a life-size picture of the current Pope hanging on the wall.
Yesterday I learned of the passing of Father Leo Clifford. I knew him only through television, listening to him almost every day reflecting on a variety of topics ranging from loneliness and joy to lost opportunities.
He always wore his Franciscan habit as he delivered his reflection, standing or sitting against a background of a well-groomed garden, or a lakeshore, or a peaceful countryside. His manner of speaking communicated a sense of peace, of a person at peace with himself, at peace with the world, and at peace with God.
Each reflection lasted four or five minutes. The quality varied from one day to the next, but my recollection is that every reflection was a real gem, and offered inspiration or consolation as needed.
Father Clifford spoke from the heart. It was a heart filled with faith in God and love for his listeners and viewers. Hardly a day passed but he referred to God’s love for each human person. He always referred to that love as so tolerant, so unconditional, and so unquestioning as to be almost unbelievable.
He spoke in many ways as the Master spoke. He always had some story from daily life, or some incident from his own experience which pictured the idea he was trying to communicate. He was easy to understand. He was not a conceptual theologian, but like the Lord himself he was a theologian of imagery.
Father Clifford lived as a true son of Saint Francis, with 65 years of priesthood in the Order of Friars Minor. I feel we have suffered a great loss with his passing, but I am grateful that I came to know him, and to learn from him through the wonder of television.
Even though Father Clifford has passed from us, his legacy remains, not just in our memory but also available to us in electronic form. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology we still have it in our power to be entertained, guided and inspired by the faith, wit and wisdom of this gentle man of God.