A Glorious Finale

March 11 2014 | by

IN MY LOCAL church, we are trying to motivate our people for evangelisation with the catch-phrase Confidence in God’s Story. In this month of April we are all thinking about the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord, the events which form the climax of ‘God’s story’. But I sometimes think that, familiar as we are with these climactic events (and also the Christmas events which lead into them), we are like readers turning to the last chapter of an Agatha Christie novel, where Hercule Poirot unmasks the villain. We discover ‘whodunit’, without being entirely sure of what he has done.

St. Anthony, in his Sunday Sermons, tries to cover the entirety of God’s story. His astonishing knowledge of the Bible enables him to do so. In the very first sermon, for Septuagesima, nine weeks before Easter, he writes about the creation of the world, in which God as it were sets the stage for the great drama that will be played out under His direction. Then, in the weeks that follow, he traces the story through the patriarchs. After Pentecost, he takes up the Old Testament again with the history of David and the kings, the Temple and the prophets.

In parallel to all of this, he is telling the story of Jesus Christ, who (in the analogy I am employing) is the dramatist Himself taking the leading role in His own play. Week by week, Anthony shows how the two great halves of the drama, the Old Testament and the New, echo and re-echo one another. Neither can be properly understood without the other.


God’s script


Thanks be to God, most faithful Christians know the story of Jesus, and through the sacraments and their personal devotion draw near to Him. But it is hard to draw others to Christ if we cannot situate Him in the whole great story which begins with creation and will lead into God’s re-creation of the world. That is why St. Anthony, in his preaching, drew on the whole Bible in order to get his message across.

When God set His stage, He chose human beings to be the leading players. All too soon, instead of following His script, they started to improvise their own story, and what a mess they made of it! God then (as it were) wrote in the story of Israel, calling Abraham and promising to make his descendants a light to the nations. Rescuing Israel from slavery and establishing them in their own land, He dwelt among them in tabernacle and Temple. Alas, Israel too wandered off-script, and was sent into exile. God’s glory left the Temple, which was destroyed. That which was rebuilt was not the equal of the old. Israel longed and dreamed for God’s return, the re-establishment of His Kingdom, and His Presence among them.


Furtive mission


When God did return, it was in order to restore not just Israel, but all humanity and all creation. When God did return, it was not in the way anyone expected. He entered His world secretly, born of a poor country girl, brought up in an obscure village, then going out to announce that the Kingdom was at hand, and (by implication) the King Himself. He healed, He banished the demons, He warned that salvation would not come through violence, through inflicting suffering, but through enduring it. He asked for a conversion of the heart. In the end, He accepted an ignominious death, and only then triumphantly passed through it to glorious and undying life. He opened the way for all.




This is the story the Bible tells, and of course it is an on-going story, and we ourselves are part of it. It is not only God’s story, it is our story. When St. Anthony went about preaching, one of the first things he wished to bring about in his hearers was what he called “compunction”. This is what we might call “the prick of conscience,” the realisation that the story of Jesus concerns us personally. It was for me, because of my sins and failures, that Jesus suffered and died. Anthony wanted his hearers to make the connection, to take his words to heart, here and now. Whether he was talking to the rich and powerful, to the ostensibly religious, or just to ordinary men and women, he wanted the Gospel to make a difference, to pull them up short, to cause them to change their whole thinking and way of life. This was the message of John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord.

In all his preaching, Anthony aimed at a moral and spiritual conversion of his audience, he was not simply giving information for their minds. He spoke of the glorious rewards of eternal life in order to motivate people to seek them. He reminded them of the examples of the saints, to encourage them to do likewise. He did all this because, on fire with love for our Lord, he shared Our Lord’s desire for the salvation of all.


Confidence in God


Pope Francis has recently written of ‘the joy of the Gospel’ in his Apostolic Exhortation Evengelii Gaudium. It is Good News, news to make us glad. At Christmas, the angel brought the shepherds “tidings of great joy”. Christians all too often seem to lack this joy, to be dispirited and demoralised. We need to regain the enthusiasm of Anthony, of Francis and of all the saints for sharing with others a message that should have transformed our own lives. As we approach Easter, we should immerse ourselves in this message: God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. Jesus is God-With-Us, taking part in His own story in order to bring it to its proper conclusion.

The word ‘confidence’ is related to ‘fides’ (faith); it is based not on any human motive, but on the faithfulness of God, who is true to His word, true to His promises. The story the Scriptures tell is, in part, the story of God’s faithfulness in the face of human unfaithfulness. It is the story of God’s determination not to be thwarted by human failure, but to bring creation to the glorious ending that He planned. When, one day, we see the story as a whole, we shall understand that the overcoming of opposition and failure has made for a better story. “They lived happily ever after,” is a more satisfying ending when (as the story unfolded) we sometimes wondered if they ever would. Confidence in God’s story means trusting Our Lord to bring the whole creation to a glorious finale.


Updated on October 06 2016