How I love to read the homilies of Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, at the Office of Matins, in the silent hours before daybreak. Today, Pope Benedict XVI is in Milan. This morning he spoke of Saint Ambrose of the other holy shepherds who have illustrated the Church of Milan through the ages. Here is part of the lesson from Saint Ambrose that was read yesterday morning at Matins. It is a commentary on Luke 5:17-26. The comments in italics are my own.
First of all, as I have said before,
every sick man ought to ask for prayers to be offered
for his recovery,
so that, by means of these prayers,
the weakened frame of our mortal life
and the limping steps of our bodily movements
may be made whole again
by the healing power of the celestial Word.
Weakened frame and limping steps: is there anyone who, at least at certain hours and in certain seasons of life, does not recognize himself in this description? Saint Ambrose says that the sick man ought to ask for prayers to be offered for his recovery. This simple statement confesses the Church’s age-old belief that in answer to prayer it pleases God to restore wholeness to the shattered.
Therefore, there should be men who are able to help the sick in mind,
so that when the soul is depressed
by the torpor of bodily weakness
these men can rouse it again to higher things.
Here, Saint Ambrose recognizes that, within the Church, there is, in fact, a vocation to help the sick in mind.
By their aid the sick man can easily be brought and laid before Jesus,
and be found worthy of the Lord’s glance.
For the Lord does look upon those that are lowly;
for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.
And when He saw their faith, He said unto them,
Man thy sins are forgiven thee.
It is a great and powerful thing to bring the sick before the gaze of the Lord Jesus, either in person or by representing them before His Eucharistic Face.
Great is the Lord, who for the merits of some, forgives others,
who tries some, and forgives the trespasses of others.
Why should not your fellow-Christian, O man,
have influence with you,
if he has the right to intercede and obtain mercy from God?
Through prayer, mere men can have influence on God. The humble man, then, will allow himself to be influenced for the good by those whom God Himself deigns to hear.
O thou who condemnest,
learn to forgive;
thou who art sick, to pray!
If the gravity of thy sins makes thee afraid
lest they should not be forgiven thee,
betake thyself to the Church.
She will pray on thy behalf,
and God will pardon, as He looks on her,
what He might deny thee.
The condemning man must learn to forgive. The sick man must learn to pray. All must entrust themselves to the efficacious prayer of the Church, for she is a merciful mother pleading for us, through Christ, in the presence of the Father of mercies and God of all consolation.
Saint Ambrose, Book Five, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke