ROME — Faith is neither an ideology nor a philosophical system, Pope Francis said on Wednesday, but based on the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The pope was speaking about the testimony of St. Paul during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square.
Francis said that “Paul was not an altar boy, he was a persecutor of the Church,” which is why his testimony about the Risen Christ is so dramatic.
“Speaking to his fellow Christians, Paul starts from a conclusive fact, that is not the outcome of a wise man’s reflection, but a fact, a simple fact that intervened in the life of some people,” the pope said, saying this fact was that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again.
“By announcing this event, which is the core of faith, Paul insists above all on the last element of the Paschal mystery, that is the fact that Jesus is risen,” Francis said, adding if Jesus’ story had ended with his death, it “would not be able to generate our faith.”
“He was a hero. No! He died, but He rose again,” the pope said.
“Because faith is born from the resurrection. To accept that Christ is dead, that He died crucified, is not an act of faith, it is a historical fact.”
The pontiff said Paul was very clear about the historicity of what happened Easter morning: He lists the people to whom the risen Jesus appeared, including Peter, the apostles, and the “five hundred brothers,” and James.
“The last on the list – as the least worthy of all – was Paul himself. He describes himself as ‘one untimely born’,” the pope said.
Francis said Paul uses this expression because his personal history was so dramatic, beginning as an active persecutor of the Church.
“He felt he was a successful man, with a very clear idea of what life was, with his duties,” the pope explained, “but in this perfect picture – everything was perfect in Paul, he knew everything – in this perfect picture of life, one day something entirely unpredictable happened: The encounter with the Risen Christ, on the road to Damascus, where there was not only a man who fell to the ground – There was a person seized by an event that would have overturned the meaning of his life.”
The pope said this is the beauty of Christianity: “It is not so much our search for God – a search that is, in truth, very hesitant – but rather God’s search for us.
“Jesus has taken us, He has seized us, He has won us over and will not leave us any more,” Francis said, “Christianity is grace, it is a surprise, and it therefore presupposes a heart capable of wonder.”
The pope said Christianity can’t be understood by “a closed heart, a rationalistic heart … incapable of wonder,” because “Christianity is grace, and grace can only be perceived, and it is mostly found in the wonder of the encounter.”
Francis said that despite being sinners, “on Easter morning, we can do as those people mentioned in the Gospel do: We can go to Christ’s tomb, see the great upturned stone and think that God is building for me, for all of us, an unexpected future.
“To go to our tomb: We all have a little of us inside. To go there, and see how God is capable of rising up from there,” the pope continued, “here is happiness, here there is joy, life, where everyone thought there was only sadness, loss and darkness. God raises His most beautiful flowers in the midst of the most arid stones.”
The pontiff said being a Christian does not mean “starting out from death, but from God’s love for us, that defeated our bitter enemy.
“God is greater than nothingness, and a lighted candle is enough to defeat the darkest of nights,” Francis said, before quoting Paul’s cry of “Where, O death, is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
“In these days of Easter, we carry this cry in our heart,” the pope concluded, “And if they ask us the reason for the smile we give and for our patient sharing, then we can answer that Jesus is still here, and continues to live in our midst, that Jesus is here, in the square, with us: risen and living.”