Remarks of Most Rev. Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops at the States Dinner of the 131st Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus in San Antonio, Texas, August 6, 2013
Your Eminences and Excellencies, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Dorian, Brother Knights, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to have this opportunity to address once again some brief remarks on the occasion of this States Dinner.
The relationship between the Knights of Columbus and the Bishops of Canada is strong, and I and my brother Bishops from Canada who join me on this day are pleased to underline that good rapport by our presence here during the Supreme Convention.
Allow me to share with you a story. Recently I attended the episcopal ordination of the new Bishop of Churchill-Hudson Bay, Most Reverend Anthony Krotki. It took place in the Canadian far north, in the hamlet of Rankin Inlet, in the territory of Nunavut. As part of the celebrations 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, truly present in the Eucharistic species. 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? I suggest two things. First, 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, we invite those accustomed to this empty diet to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Psalm 34:8) and in Christ to find true nourishment and real life.
Second, we need to pay close attention to our own daily diet, to avoid giving in to the constant temptation to nibble at the “junk food” that surrounds us. The Holy Father, from his first homily as our Chief Shepherd, called us to model our lives on the custos, on Saint Joseph, by protecting the gifts God has given to us. Foundational among those gifts is that of our identity as disciples. We protect that gift by living it with integrity, which demands a careful attention to our choice of nourishment. May the Lord help each of us to choose as our food only Him and the truth he reveals, and to avoid all else. Apart from Christ, nothing can satisfy.
God bless you all.