Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Something from Ambrose (regarding penitence and pride)

          Here is something from Ambrose, bishop of Milan (c. 340 - April 4, 397), regarding the one who seeks repentance.  What strikes me more than anything is the zeal Ambrose describes regarding the penitent who desires the forgiveness of sins and the participation of Holy Communion.  Ambrose describes one who will groan, yearn, and beg with tears to receive God's mercy.  There is no greater longing that he has than to be forgiven and reconciled both to Christ and to his fellow believers.

          I don't know if this was portrayed as the ideal or if Ambrose actually encountered people who were this zealous for absolution.  At the very least, he seems to portray the denial of the sacrament to some as fairly normal.  The desire is for the penitent to show a sincere repentance, but it is equally interesting to see one who is not too proud to humble himself as lowly as possible (in tears!) to receive absolution from the pastor.

          From my experience, people want less and lesss to approach the Lord as sinners.  They see the Church as the place that should cater to them.  They expect, even demand, that they should be received without question.  They insist upon their rights both for forgiveness and the Lord's Supper.  Guests who show up only moments before the service begins (and often think that telling me their names is enough to be received at our altar) are highly insulted that they might have to wait even one week until we can have a discussion about their confession of the Christian faith.  Even if they will be back and their own altar the following week, they are offended that they are encouraged to patiently wait until they return to their own church and pastor.

          On the one hand, I appreciate people who trust in Jesus, take him at his word, and are confident of their salvation based on Jesus' own promises.  On the other hand, the pride is appalling when people tell the pastor that he has no business hearing their confession or examining their faith--which is only concern for their soul's eternal well-being.  If a pastor is not to do these things, then why even have a pastor?  The shepherd is regarded as superfluous, and the sheep, apparently, are to tend themselves.  Such people usually never show up again.  Their pride has been wounded.  They will not be humble, but will let the pastor know how arrogant he is.  I do not pretend to know what is in their hearts.  If fact, that is what I hope to examine and learn.  They, however, have no problem judging mine.

          Anyway, that is enough of my rant.  Ambrose is better reading anyway.  He urges sinners to come to the Lord's Church in all humility, seeking only mercy, and seeking it fervently.  He even urges the whole congregation to have the same fervent longing for the forgiveness of the penitent who has come to them so that they, having all received the same mercy, may all be one communion.

          "If, then, any one, having committed hidden sins, shall nevertheless diligently do penance, how shall he receive those rewards if not restored to the communion of the Church?  I am willing, indeed, that the guilty man should hope for pardon, should seek it with tears and groans, should seek it with the aid of the tears of all the people, should implore forgiveness; and if communion be postponed two or three times, that he should believe that his entreaties have not been urgent enough, that he must increase his tears, must come again even in greater trouble, clasp the feet of the faithful with his arms, kiss them, wash them with tears, and not let them go, so that the Lord Jesus may say of him too: His sins which are many are forgiven, for he loved much. Luke 7:47"  ("Concerning Repentance," Selections from Book 1, chapter 16, paragraph 90)

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