The Legacy of the Gospel

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“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine,” Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi warned the evil Darth Vader moments before his death via  the crimson blade of the Sith lord. I got to admit I thought this line seemed pretty lame as the audience does not get to witness the resurrection or return of Obi-wan in his physical form. I felt a sense of disappointment as I loved this Star Wars character. Years have passed since my first binge watching of the cinematic intergalactic series. New educational experiences, life events, and spiritual moments shaped me into the person that I am currently. Re-watching Episode IV: A New Hope allowed me to view Obi-Wan’s final words in a different perspective—through the lens of hope [no pun intended]!

According to G.K. Chesterton, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead (Chapter 4 Ethics of Elfland, Orthodoxy). What the great English journalist means is that death does not disqualify a person from impacting the present. The weight of tradition should be pondered and analyzed whenever present life’s realities are discussed. I found the joy of Chesterton’s seminal work Orthodoxy in early 2017. I am convinced my discovery of Chesterton did not simply occur by random chance—Divine Providence directed this seeming coincidence. Fast-forwarding to the beginning of 2018, the words of Obi-Wan and Chesterton, fiction and fact intersected in the event of my grandfather’s death in mid-January. Having been able to process his passing a single word remains steadfast in my mind with I ponder his life—legacy.

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The dictionary defines the word legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”. Legacies pervade nearly all topics and discussions. NFL players always strive to leave a good and lasting legacy—they especially ponder this during the sunset of their careers. Politicians seek legacy that extends beyond their time in elected office. The mark of a great legacy is the ability for it to stand the test of time. Assuming this is the gold standard upon which all legacies are judged, I wager that the legacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest and most permanent of all legacies!

Matthew 28:19-20 details the great commission of Jesus to his Apostles, “Go, therefore,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,20i teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Through the force, power, inspiration, and protection of the Holy Spirit the Good News of the Gospel is able to be passed on from generation to generation without fear of distortion or corruption of Jesus’ message. The Catechism of the Catholic Church echoes this sentiment in paragraph 74,

God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”:29 that is, of Christ Jesus.30 Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:

God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.31

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Death is not a finale for people with believe in and love truth. Instead, authentic love and obedience to the truth of the Gospel leads to an encore of life—life in eternity. A prime example of an “Obi-Wan instance” is the martyrdom of St. Stephen. In the face of his impending death by stoning, confident in Divine Providence he declared, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Similar to Obi-Wan, Stephen did not seek vengeance for his murderers—rather he asked God to forgive them (Acts 7:60). The Early Church Father Tertullian famously said, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church“.  St. Stephen’s death acted as a catalyst to God performing arguably one of His greatest miracles—the conversion of Saul [great killer of Christians] to Paul [great evangelizer of Jesus Christ].

Reflecting on the death of my grandfather gave rise to several emotions: sadness, joy, sorrow, and hope. My grandfather left a legacy of a wife of 67 years, eleven children, and a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The greatest legacy he left—was continuing the legacy of the Gospel. Started by Jesus and kindled by the saints through the ages, I am confident my grandfather lived a life worthy to be called a child of God.

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Us to death: If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine [as long as we continue to hope in the Lord]!

 

3 Reasons Why St. Ambrose of Milan is Still Relevant Today!

Living in the 4th century A.D., St. Ambrose was bishop of Milan during a tumultuous era of Church history. His road to ordination was an interesting journey. After the sudden death of the current bishop of Milan in 374 A.D. and in the climate of the Arian heresy, Ambrose, an unbaptized believe in Christ, was a charismatic figure who appealed to people of all sides of the Arian debate. Baptized as a Christian in his mid-thirties, Ambrose soon after received the Sacrament of Holy Orders and shepherded the peoples of Milan of the reminder of his life. Today I wish to highlight 3 reasons why I believe St. Ambrose is still relevant to Christians in the 21st century.

1. “You catch more flies with Honey than you do with vinegar”: There exists a legend within the hagiography of Ambrose which tells of a bizarre encounter with bees. As an infant, it is purported that several bees hovered over the head of the saint as an infant. Upon flying off, in addition to leaving Ambrose unharmed honey was left behind on his head. Ambrose’s parents interpreted this an a divine sign and foretelling of his ability to eloquently speak and unite differing factions. For this reason, Ambrose became known as the patron saint of beekeepers. Bees and honey are common symbols associated with him. According to Mike Aquilina in The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, “He was unanimously elected bishop, winning the votes of both Arians and the Catholics…an intellectual, he could move the movers and shakers of Latin culture. It was he who finally persuaded the stubborn Augustine to proceed to Baptism [I will expand in this later on!] “ (p. 166). Sweetness and kindness of speech is equally important to proclaiming truth. Ambrose found a balance between charity and truth. As result he was an effective teacher and administrator of the Catholic Church.

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2. Model of the Episcopate: Along with Ambrose’s ability to teach truth in a charitable manner, he remained steadfast as a guardian of the teaching of the Catholic Church—one of the most important functions of a bishop! Because of his sweetness of speech, Ambrose built up enough rapport with the secular leaders of his time that when the time came to stand his ground his words packed clout. Ambrose graciously, but sternly, declined Emperor Valentinian’s invitation to a Church Council that bishop believed the secular leader had no authority convening. The sainted bishop stated,

And how, O Emperor, are we to settle a matter on which you have already declared your judgment, and have even promulgated laws, so that it is not open to anyone to judge otherwise?…if anything has to be discussed I have learned to discuss it in Church, as those before he did. If a conference is to be held concerning the faith, there ought to be a gathering of bishops, as was done under Constantine, the prince of august memory, who did not promulgate any laws beforehand, but left the decision to the bishops…

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3. Master of the Master: According to R. Thornton in St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching, St. Ambrose had a significant impact on arguably the most influential theologian in the history of the Catholic Church—St. Augustine of Hippo. In fact, Augustine makes a point to frequently mention the influence of Ambrose in his Confessions Book VI Chapters 1-8. “The bishop of Milan was at least the guide of the guide of the theology of the West,” stated Thornton (St. Ambrose: His Life, Times, and Teaching p. 125). To put it in modern lingo, St. Ambrose was the Qui-Gon Jinn to Augustine’s Obi-Wan Kenobi!!

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The bishop of Milan lived more than 1,600 years ago. Nevertheless, he is more relevant than ever. In the age of social media, our world needs holy men and women to demonstrate truth in a charitable way. Proclaiming truth without kindness will never convert unbelievers’ hearts. St. Ambrose is a reminder and role model for our society that charitable dialogue is possible. For me personally, I need daily reminders to wed truth with charity. Remembering St. Ambrose’s life provides me with a guide on how to interact peacefully in a secular world. Finally, the sainted bishop’s ability to network with a myriad of people is another example of how he is still applicable to our society of marketing, social media, and age of internet. The next time I notice an buzzing bee on a summer’s day I will be reminded of the sweetness of truth exemplified by Ambrose!

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