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St. Paul chastised those whose faith was based on extraordinary signs. What is needed is the love that conquers death.
We have celebrated Christ's passion, death and resurrection. Quite often, our liturgical celebrations – if we have celebrated the whole journey of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil – have left us with a spiritual high.
Now, we are back in our everyday world. Our Easter celebrations were full of grace; the everyday world is the same as always.
One may ask, "Was Christ's resurrection a mirage? Was it just a long-ago event that was of great importance then and that guarantees us of a future resurrection, but fails to transform life today?"
The greatest evidence for the historical truth of the resurrection is Jesus' disciples. There were no witnesses to the resurrection, but we still believe. We believe because we trust the witnesses.
And what witnesses! At the Last Supper, the apostles squabble over who is the most important in Jesus' kingdom. However, the kingdom they sought died on Calvary. Jesus would not establish an earthly kingdom and no earthly honour was to be gained by having been his follower.
But after Easter and after Pentecost, the disciples display a fearless, self-sacrificing faith. When the Risen Lord met the apostles on Easter evening, he encountered a frightened group huddled in a locked room. By his presence, words and actions, Jesus led them to faith.
After his ascension to the Father, the disciples gave extraordinary witness. They brought thousands of others to believe in Christ, they performed miracles and they suffered persecution with joy. Eventually, most of the apostles were put to death for their fervent evangelizing. Yet, none renounced their faith.
That was then; this is now. While the disciples' witness anchors our belief that Christ truly rose from the dead, their experience is not ours. Can we move beyond fleeting emotional highs and an intellectual belief in the resurrection?
We can, I think, if we ponder the life of our new pope and others whose lives have been transformed by the poor. How did Jorge Bergoglio, raised in a middle-class family in Argentina, become a man in joyful solidarity with the poor? How has he built a life of welcoming those on society's margins when most would sooner turn away from those people? How can he do this without some ulterior motive?
The basic answer is grace, an in-breaking of the sacred to the ordinary. It is grace, however, that has, in some way, been sought after. It is grace that is sought by taking a step toward the poor and then another step and then another. At some point, the reality of Christ's presence in the poor takes the initiative.
Theologian Jon Sobrino quotes the late Sister Jean Delorme who worked for many years with the poor in Latin America: "My reflections are gloomy, sometimes even painful. Seeing the faces, listening to the stories, my heart cannot stop hurting. But I am not sad. . . . I find myself learning from these people what I had always hoped to be true: that love is stronger than death."
Love is stronger than death. There is a realization of the resurrection, one that has passed through suffering and one that has marked a person's life irrevocably with a grace that is not based on spiritual highs. It does not fade away.
Sobrino calls experiences such as that of Delorme, an experience of finality. It is not a witnessing to Christ's resurrection, but it nevertheless has a Christological character. It is a realization that the kingdom of heaven is found in the poor in spirit. It is a realization that God's strength is made perfect in weakness. It is a realization that the Servant of the Lord was despised and rejected by humanity, held to be of no account.
This experience endures. Although, like the disciples' encounter with the Risen Lord, it occurs at a specific moment in time, its effects continue throughout one's life. One has been touched by the love that is stronger than death and one is permanently changed.
Those who mourn are comforted. They even experience the elation of final victory, a joy that does not pass away.
St. Paul severely chastised the Corinthians for their dependence on extraordinary signs such as miracles and speaking in tongues. They had missed what was most important: Love. They were like noisy gongs or clanging cymbals. They were running away from the world, from Christ's Body, when they should be drawing nearer.
The story of Jorge Bergoglio's encounter with Christ in the poor has not yet been told, at least in English. However, we do know that he is a Jesuit, grounded in that Ignatian spirituality that seeks God's action precisely in the events of daily life.
The everyday world is not a problem that interferes with our experience of an Easter high. Ordinary life is where we encounter the Lord every bit as much as did those disciples on the road to Emmaus. The everyday world is the place of grace.
Liturgy is itself grace-filled. It also prepares us for the moment of grace in daily life, the moment in which we discover that love is stronger than death. But grace is not magic. We need to take some steps. Take a step toward the poor or the sick or the imprisoned and the encounter will begin. Easter will begin to become a year-round reality.