Thought for the Day – 10 September – The Memorial of St Ambrose Edward Barlow OSB (1585-1641) Martyr
Ambrose ministered to the Catholic population in an area between Manchester and Liverpool.
We are fortunate in that the primary sources give us substantial detail about the manner in which Ambrose carried out his work. Richard Challoner (who wrote Memoirs of Missionary Priests) wrote:-
“such was the fervour of his zeal, that he thought the day lost in which he had not done some notable thing for the salvation of souls…. Night and day he employed in seeking after the lost sheep and correcting sinners…. He found so much pleasure in this inward conversation with God… as much as worldlings would be when going to a feast.
He was always afraid of honours and preferments and had a horror of vainglory, which he used to call the worm or moth of virtues and which he never failed to correct in, others. He industriously avoided feasts and assemblies and all meetings for merrymaking, as liable to dangers of excess, idle talk and detraction…..He chose to live in a private country house, where the poor, to whom he had chiefly devoted his labours, might have, at all times, free access to him. He would never have a servant, till forced to it by sickness, never used a horse but made his pastoral visits on foot….He allowed himself no manner of play or pastime and avoided all superfluous talk and conversation, more especially, with those of the fair sex. His diet was chiefly whitmeats and garden stuff…. He drank only small beer and that very sparingly and always abstained from wine. He was never idle but was always either praying, studying, preaching, administering the sacraments or painting pictures of Christ or His blessed mother….He feared no dangers, when God’s honour and the salvation of souls called him forth…passed, even at noonday through the midst of his enemies, without apprehension….Yet he was very severe in rebuking sin, so that obstinate and impertinent sinners were afraid of coming near him.”
On the eve of principal festivals, Christmas, Easter and Whitsuntide, Catholics would gather from a wide area. The night was spent in prayer and hearing confessions. On the following day, all were fed, the richer members and Ambrose serving the rest and then they had their meal from the leavings. “Their cheare was boil’d beefe and pottage, minched pies, goose and groates and to every man a gray coate at parting.”
About six months before his arrest in 1641, Ambrose suffered a stroke which affected the use of one side of his body. A Jesuit priest was sent to help him and may have provided some assistance to him while he was in prison.
Ambrose laboured in south Lancashire between 1617 and 1641. It appears that he was arrested and imprisoned on at least four occasions. He ministered to St Edmund Arrowsmith SJ (1585 – 1628) Martyr, in 1628 while the latter was awaiting trial and subsequent execution in Lancaster Prison. He was said to be as well known in the area in which he served. Probably local support enabled him to continue in his role for so long. He had a premonition of what his fate would be since it is reported that St Edmund Arrowsmith appeared to him in a dream and said that he too would become a martyr.