Today, 20 Mar 2012, is the 725th anniversary of death of Blessed Ambrose Sansedoni, (Ambrogio Sansedone) an Italian Dominican priest, priest and peace maker. Just as there are child prodigies in music, art, maths and other skills, there are children who display extraordinary sensitivity to the things of God from an early age. Blessed Ambrose was one of these.
Blessed Ambrose was born into the Sansedoni family in 1220, one of Siena’s leading aristocratic dynasties during the Middle Ages. His father was a book illuminator. Hoping for a strong and healthy boy, his parents were dismayed at the physical deformity he was born with. From his earliest days, rejection was his lot, and a nurse was assgned to take care of him. The love that was denied him at home, he found in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in nearness to the relics of those who had loved Jesus with all their hearts. As you know little ones have very open spirits, and this little one drank in the loving presence of Jesus from babyhood. His nurse noted that being in church was the only place that the little one was peaceful. Ambrose’s sensitivity to all things holy now set for life, Jesus came and cured him so that he might fulfill the mission that God had for him.
Now his parents took an interest in him again, and found that hope could be renewed for all the plans that they had for this son prior to his birth. Ambrose meanwhile was drawn to prayer, to works of charity, to works of mercy and to the reading the Lives of the Saints. When he entered the Dominican Order at the age of 17, all of those parental dreams died again. The Order soon recognised his intellectual gifts and sent him off to Paris and then to Cologne to study. If one of his teacher’s hadn’t been St Albert the Great and his fellow students St Thomas Aquinas and the future Blessed Pope Innocent V, perhaps he would have been more widely known to Christians of our times. It wasn’t just a theological school, it was a school for saints; and Ambrose thrived, although overshadowed by these greater minds.
Study concluded, God’s mission for Ambrose began to unfold. Firstly he was sent to teach in Dominican schools – and the teacher always learns more than the students. This apprenticeship over, in 1260 he went with a Dominican team to assist the evangelisation of Hungary. Preaching gifts grew within him. Skills as an effective peace maker were noticed in Ambrose, so he began to be sent on missions of reconciliation ( eg between Pope Clement IV and King Conradin of Germany) and intercession (eg twice obtaining pardon from the Holy Father for the city-state of Sienna for its disloyalty and rebellion). Later on Ambrose was appointed as papal legate to Tuscany, a diffcult and delicate position requiring his peace making talents.
In between these special tasks Ambrose preached with great effectiveness. The Roman Martyrology speaks of his eloquence, sanctity and miracles. All of these missions were underpined by Ambrose’s prayer life – a strong one accompanied by ecstascies, visions and even levitation. Sadly no collections of his sermons remain extant, although if we are fortunate perhaps the good Lord will arrange for some to be discovered in a forgotten corner of a monastic library somewhere.
Preaching in the 13th century was an effort of the whole body, without the benefit of microphones. Great force was needed to project a human voice into a sizeable crowd. It is nort surprising, then, that one source has his death occuring while he preached, and another source has his death occuring as he prepared his homily on 20 March 1287 – around half-way through a Lenten series of sermons.
What Blessed Ambrose Sansedoni achieved with God’s grace wasn’t as tangible as a written book or treatise, only God knows how many lives were spared deaths in wartime due to his efforts as peace maker,and how many had the opportunity to repent from their evil ways and to produce masterpieces because of the times of peace which he negotiated. We thank God today for all of the good that came from Ambrose’s ‘yes’ to each and every mission God arranged for him to do.
Blessed Ambrose Sansedoni, please pray for us and for all those peace makers that God is raising up in our troubled times.
NB The Dominicans celebrate Blessed Ambrose’s feast day in October, on the anniversary of his beatification. It is not unusal for a feast day to be tranferred from the date of death in the Lenten season to a date of some significance to the Saint in Ordinary time (eg St Benedict, St Gregory the Great, Blessed John Paul the Great) because feast days are rarely celebrated in Lent.