Sunday, April 11, 2010

Easter 2: Sunday of DIVINE MERCY - Travel to Damascus, in Syria

Please see Update below.

Second Sunday of Easter or Sunday of DIVINE MERCY (Year "C" - April 11, 2010) "I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST, AND THE LIVING ONE" - [Texts: Acts 5:12-16 [Psalm 118]; Revelation 1:9-11a,12-13,17-19; John 20:19-31]

The character of the Second Sunday of Easter derives from the invariable selection of Jesus' two appearances to the apostles, one without and one with Thomas present, as the gospel of the day. The risen Christ shares with His apostles the mandate He received from the Father to go into the world with the message of salvation ('as the Father has sent Me, so I send you').

Breathing on them the Holy Spirit (a text that shows the link between the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit), Jesus missions His disciples to set people free ('receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained').

Thomas cannot accept the Good News about Jesus' resurrection on the basis of others' reports and says so, explicitly demanding proof of the convictions he holds, that Jesus was wounded in His hands by nails at the crucifixion and in His side by a thrust from the soldier's lance.

The risen Lord, still marked in His hands and side by the tokens of His Passion (though we should understand them as somehow transformed, too, by the reality of the resurrection), invites Thomas to touch the wounds, to surrender his doubts and become a believer.

We do not know whether Thomas touched the wounds of Jesus or not; the text does not tell us about, but only of Thomas's coming to faith. In reply to His invitation, Thomas makes the great confession of Jesus' lordship over his life, one that disciples throughout the ages have made their own, 'My Lord and my God'.

Jesus then pronounced the deep happiness of disciples who have lived since the exaltation of Christ and believe Him to be 'the Messiah, the Son of God', though they have no visible proofs to fall back on: 'blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe'.

The risen Lord's appearance on the eighth day, like Easter itself a Sunday ('the first day of the week'), helped shape Christian conviction that this day should replace the venerable sabbath (the seventh day of the week) as 'the Lord's Day'.

In the passage from the Book of Revelation, the source of the second reading throughout Eastertide this year, John tells of a mystical insight he experienced when he 'was in the spirit on the Lord's day'. It was a vision of the glorified Christ present within the church ('I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man').

This symbolic representation of Christ in glory begins with a description of His priestly ('long robe') and kingly functions ('with a golden sash across His chest').

The rest of the visionary representation, richly evocative of Old Testament images of God and the Messiah ('His head and His hair were white as white wool, white as snow [symbolizing eternal wisdom]; His eyes were like a flame of fire [omniscience]; His feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace [divine steadfastness], and His voice was like the sound of many waters [power and might]; in His right hand He held seven stars, and from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining with full force [divinity]') prepares for the seer's awe-inspired reverence ('I fell at His feet as though dead').

As the risen Jesus had comforted His frightened disciples ('Peace be with you'), so the glorified Christ offers reassurance, 'Do not be afraid'. Though John's community was undergoing suffering ('I share with you the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance'), the Son of Man makes three claims: that He is divine ('I am the first and the last, and the living one'), that He is Jesus, ('I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever') and that He is more powerful that all the church's enemies ('I have the keys of Death and of Hades').

Though the risen and exalted Jesus has returned to the Father, He has not abandoned His Church, but remains close to His followers for all time. This is the ongoing message of the resurrection.

* * * * * *

Update on blogging. On this trip I have learned of the frustrations of internet access abroad. Usually when I am going to be away, I do some advance work for the blog's entries, presuming I will be able to update, correct and add photos as appropriate (thus the series on the Stations of Light runs until this week).

For the CNEWA trip, we had received several versions of the journey, but, on arrival, the whole order and even some aspects of the earlier versions were revised. It has been a wonderful excursion. The CNEWA office was kind enough to send me an electronic version of the daily schedule, which I planned to insert into the daily entry, to replace the version that appeared here earlier today. However, it was sent in files that end in .docx, which I can open on my office computer but cannot figure out whether and how to access the data on my laptop.

In addition, on Friday, our crossing into Syria in Northern Lebanon was delayed by a series of incidents that can only be described as a comedy of errors. And the hotel in the city of Homs where we were lodged did not feature any kind of internet connection. No problem, I figured, the hotel in Damascus will do better, and it did have WiFi (which was not too good in my room but worked well in the business center). However, the internet filtering service blocked access to several blogs, including my own.

So, I have removed today's listing of the CNEWA agenda (as having been superseded) and will try to post the full revised itinerary as soon as I can (I would hope before leaving for home on Wednesday).

The internet connection here at the convent is working well, but the connection is so slow in uploading photos that the connection cuts out before it is completed. Thus, if there are photos to be posted, they will be ones I can copy from the internet, which generally tend to be smaller files and easier to manage. This is particularly regrettable considering the wonderful images from our meetings and excursions to the archaeological sites of Byblos and Crac des Chevaliers, large fortifications that have been excavated and preserved.

Suffice it to say, our bus returned from Syria truly lifted up by the legendary hospitality of this region and the warmth of the welcome we have received on all sides. We were touched, too, in a different way, by the plight of Iraqi refugees who have been well received by the Syrian government but who long to go home, to be reunited with loved ones or otherwise have their situation ameliorated. Their concern about opportunities for burial of loved ones who have died was received positively by the Melchite Patriarchate.

Carl Hetu and I were touched, too, by the effort made by the Canadian Ambassador to Syria and Jordan, Mr. Glenn Robertson, who came to visit us at the hotel last evening. We were able to express the experience of our meeting with Iraqi Christians and he ensured us of the Government of Canada's willingness to be of help; a large number of staff at the embassy devotes their time to immigration and refugee issues.

Finally, a highlight for me was to preside at the Eucharist yesterday morning at the tiny chapel commemorating Paul's escape from Damascus in a basket (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:31-33 and Acts 9:25) that let him down over the wall of the city's fortifications, which still stand.

Later, we visited the chapel in the house of St. Ananias, who baptized Paul at God's command (Acts 9:10-19; 22:12-16; cf. 26:16-18), whom local tradition holds was the first bishop of Damascus. Of course, we had to walk along the nearby Straight Street, where Ananias was sent to the house of one Judas, with whom Paul was lodging (Acts 9:11): it's still straight and a main shopping street in Old Damascus.


  1. .docx is Microsoft Word version 2007 or 2008 I think.They need to save it as an earlier version of WORD. It's rude of MicroSoft to make these versions non compatible.

  2. Your Excellency can download the free .docx viewer (Word 2007 and later) here.