Image: Beluga Harvest, Paulatuk
Sr. Celeste, a Felician sister, has been a missionary in Tulita for more than 30 years. She began the Child Development Center there that is named after her. When she was applying to the government for a license to operate the center, she had to answer many questions, one of which was, “What are the children going to eat”. Sr. Celeste wrote on the form, “Country Food”. The form came back. “Children need a varied diet”, they said, “they can not eat just one type of food”. What the government agent failed to understand is that country food is not just one thing, it describes all of the bounty of the land and water that is available to the people who live off of the land.
In May, the birds return on their migration routes and the goose hunt is on. Fresh fowl is provided for the table and hopefully a few extra for the freezer for the winter months that lay not so far ahead. Fishing is a year-round pursuit and follows the cycles of the fish as they move from river to ocean and back again. Inland there is caribou on the tundra and moose farther south in the forest. On the coast, Beluga whale is a coveted resource for the annual supply of muktuk, a much-loved food for its flavor, high caloric content and excellent nutritional value. Country food provides everything that a growing child needs to be strong and healthy.
The Gospel today speaks of spiritual food. Jesus has just performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish and the people have been filling up on bread. That is, they have been amazed at the wonders that Jesus has performed and have become like groupies following the travelling road show, looking to be entertained. They have failed to appreciate the main course which awaits them, which is who Jesus really is and why he has come. But Jesus will not indulge their superficial appetites any longer.
He talks to them about food, food that will last. He wants to offer the people food for the spirit. Like country food, it is varied, it is nutritious, and it offers health and vitality. Like newcomers to the gym the day after New Years, the people ask with enthusiasm, “What must we do, how do we get what it is you are talking about?” The answer that Jesus gives them is that, they must put their faith in him and believe the Good News that he has shared with them.
It is not easy to trade in the fast food diet that the modern world offers up for us, with all its comforts and distractions, its conveniences and moral relativism. It is highly processed and easy on our palette. But like food of the same nature it will not sustain us in the long run and overindulging will make our spirits sick.
The spiritual diet of a Christian might at first seem bland, its ingredients including prayer, discipline, empathy, faith, and yes, even obedience. But this acquired taste will sustain us, make us strong, and give us fullness of life.