St. Ambrose suggests that gentleness and mercy are required to welcome stray sheep back into the fold.
Sometimes Catholics “fall away” from the Church for various reasons, and many remain detached from the Church for the rest of their lives.
This can be disheartening for Catholics still within the Church. They want to encourage those who have left to return to the Church, but don’t know how.
For St. Ambrose, a central key in welcoming Catholics back into the Church is maintaining a spirit of gentleness and mercy.
He explains this method in his letter Concerning Repentance.
If the highest end of virtue is that which aims at the advancement of most, gentleness is the most lovely of all, which does not hurt even those whom it condemns, and usually renders those whom it condemns worthy of absolution. Moreover, it is the only virtue which has led to the increase of the Church which the Lord sought at the price of His own Blood, imitating the loving kindness of heaven, and aiming at the redemption of all, seeks this end with a gentleness which the ears of men can endure, in presence of which their hearts do not sink, nor their spirits quail.
Do not frighten others away
Furthermore, if we want to bring others back to the Church, we must do so by preaching the truth with compassion, not with “harsh and proud opinions.”
Therefore had the Lord Jesus compassion upon us in order to call us to Himself, not frighten us away. He came in meekness, He came in humility, and so He said: “Come unto Me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28). So, then, the Lord Jesus refreshes, and does not shut out nor cast off, and fitly chose such disciples as should be interpreters of the Lord’s will, as should gather together and not drive away the people of God. Whence it is clear that they are not to be counted among the disciples of Christ, who think that harsh and proud opinions should be followed rather than such as are gentle and meek.
This does not mean Catholics need to water down the truth, or change the truth in order to be more accommodating and welcoming.
What St. Ambrose is writing about is having a spirit of compassion and gentleness when talking to others about the Catholic faith, showing them the beauty of Catholicism.
He believed that “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.“
Preaching the truth with compassion, showing others the freedom and peace possible in the sacrament of confession, will attract more than a harsh rebuke.