By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, June 3, 2013

Whale Blubber, Anyone?

It was quite the experience. One which, I confess, I did not enter into fully. Having celebrated in the northern hamlet of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, the episcopal ordination of the new Bishop of Churchill-Hudson Bay, Most Reverend Anthony Krotki, the local Inuit population offered everyone the opportunity to share in a traditional community feast. We gathered in the local arena. As I arrived, I saw a number of people putting down sheets of cardboard across the gymnasium floor. Then they proceeded to throw out on to this cardboard large pieces of raw, frozen fish and caribou, together with the heads and brains and inner organs of Lord knows what other animals. To this was added some raw, fresh whale blubber. After the blessing the local people sat on the floor and gathered up the food in their hands and used small knives to slice off pieces to eat. I saw only one non-local (a missionary priest from Poland - God bless him) get on the floor and join them. Most of us visitors (cowards, some would say), including yours truly, simply stood back and stared. Thanks be to God, there was other cooked food available. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lineup for that nourishment was very long.

Getting accustomed to a strange diet is not easy. I know my own stomach recoiled at what I saw on that arena floor. Many international travellers know the experience of encountering unfamiliar food and being unable to handle it. This is, I believe, a helpful analogy for understanding the difficulties we encounter today as Christians when we undertake the new evangelization.

When we announce the Gospel, we are proposing a "diet" to which much of our western culture has grown unaccustomed, even allergic. Our "diet" is centred on the Bread of Life, Jesus Himself, whose real presence in the Eucharistic species was celebrated yesterday by the Church on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Transformed by this food, our daily diet becomes that of obedience to truth, the embrace of the Cross and self-gift for the sake of world. For anyone more accustomed to a diet of selfishness and relativism, such a proposed diet would be impossible to swallow. The "stomach" recoils. Hence the negative and sometimes vitriolic response to the Gospel and the Church that we witness today.

What is to be done? As I watched the Inuit eat the food that I could not imagine even touching, I noticed the look of satisfaction - even joy - on their faces. Such a "witness" made me wonder if the food might be worth tasting after all. I didn't get that far, but it at least left me thinking that there must be something good about this particular diet. The most effective way we have of proposing that diet we call the Gospel is to give witness to the joy that it brings us. Our world is living largely on the junk food of individualism and self-reliance, a diet that leaves one hungry and malnourished. By our joy, may those accustomed to this empty diet be drawn to "taste and see that the Lord is good," (Psalm 34:8) and in Christ find true nourishment and real life.