Image: Sunrise over the Taiga Forest near Tsiigehtchic
Long before I ever moved to the Arctic my Dad drove here one summer by car up the beautiful, but rugged, Dempster Highway. Even though the sun was shining for 24 hours the ferries crossing the rivers shut down for a few hours every night so the pilots could get their rest. When my father pulled up to the ferry landing, early in the morning, everything was still and quiet and there was no sign of anyone around. Settling in to wait, and no sooner than he had turned off the engine of his car, a rough old pickup came out from a side road.
The cab of the truck was filled with a few young men who, despite looking like they had been up all night, seemed to be in great spirits. Spotting the waiting car and seeing my nervous looking father behind the wheel they idled over, rolled down their window and said, “want to come for breakfast, we’ve got some fresh fish”. My dad, not wanting to be rude but not sure what he was getting into offered a polite refusal. “I think I better wait here in case the ferry starts.” They had a good laugh and then let my dad know, “ferry’s not going anywhere till we’ve eaten, we’re the crew, might as well come and have a bite.”
I was reminded of this story by the utter simplicity with which Jesus approaches his disciples in today’s Gospel and tries to dissuade their fears at his appearance. The stories had been going around about Jesus rising from the dead. Some had seen him, most had just heard rumours. Suddenly Jesus appears before them and, of course, they are absolutely bewildered. “They thought they were seeing a ghost”. How does Jesus put them at ease and help them to understand. He invites them to touch his wounds to make sure he is flesh and blood and then the most natural thing of all he says, “Let’s have something to eat”. No need to be nervous, Jesus assures them, it’s just me.
This is the kind of approach Pope Francis encourages us to use when we evangelize. In speaking to the Brazilian Bishops at a meeting in 2013 he said,
“At times we lose people because they don’t understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people,” “For ordinary people the mystery enters through the heart.”
Many people today are wary of the Church; it makes them nervous for whatever the reasons. We might not understand their hesitation but we will never attract people with the Good News unless we begin to take their concerns seriously and find a way to address those concerns that make the Gospel approachable. Some fear this means a dumbing down of our theology, making it Catholic Lite. But simplicity is not the same as simplistic, nor is being approachable to be mistaken for lacking foundation.
Jesus settled down to a good breakfast with his disciples but that was not the end of the encounter. Once they had gotten over their fear and were at peace in the presence of the risen Christ, Jesus began to share with his disciples the depths and riches of the tradition in a way that they were now able to receive.