St Anthony of Padua’s powerful and public preaching came unwittingly after he was encouraged forward to speak without preparation after the ordination of Dominican and Franciscans in 1222. As they gathered for a meal afterwards, the provincial suggested that one of the friars give a short sermon. Everyone respectfully declined. So they turned to Anthony who was was asked to give “just some thing simple.” They presumed he had no education. And so he began, simple and artless at first, until the fire within him became obvious. His knowledge and eloquence shone through, yes, but it was his holiness which impressed his listeners. In the years to come, as his preaching developed, he “preferred to present the grandeur of Christianity in positive ways. It was no good to prove people wrong. St Anthony wanted to win them to the right.”
Some people think that Christianity is built upon condemnation or judgement, armed with a list of rules of what’s right and wrong, claiming ownership over people’s lives. Perhaps they have had a bad and personal experience with the church in the past which has given them this opinion. The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus in the depths of the night take us back to the heart of the gospel, and to the heart of God. Jesus came into the world not to condemn the world but because God loves the world.
It is God’s desire that none should be lost and so, when Christ takes to the cross and when he is raised from the dead, we are given a sign of God’s love, its cost and its power to save. We can sometimes lose sense of our calling as Christians, and it goes without saying that we make mistakes and get things wrong at times. In all that we do and say, we must remember that it is love that brought Jesus into the world, and it is love for God and love for others which should influence us, through and through – not being too quick to tell people when they are wrong but trying to show them what we believe to be right.
Lord God, you loved the world so much that you sent your only Son. Help us to accept that love, and to share your love with all whom we meet. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.