instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Not only isn't it miraculous... doesn't even make an interesting story.

John McGuinness on Man Bites Blog urges restraint on the rhetoric swirling over the miracle of sharing" interpretation of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In response to Rod Dreher's claim that "we are in the middle of a war for the survival of the Church. The lack of fidelity is the root cause for all our woes," John writes:
First of all, the root cause for all our woes is priests who sexually abused children. Period.
I think John misses the scope of Rod's claim, which is not about the abuse-and-coverup scandals, but about the survival of the Church. Priests who sexually abused children did not cause attendance at Sunday Mass to fall to whatever dismal fraction it was last December; they did not cause large numbers of American Catholics to be so poorly catechized, to support legal abortion, to avoid the sacrament of reconciliation, to believe that any religion is about as good as any other.

I'm not sure that Rod's claim (borrowed, perhaps, from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) that infidelity is the root cause for all our woes says all that much; it seems to me to be derivable from, "Not being holy is the cause of us not being holy." Still, being the creatures we are, we need to be reminded of such things from time to time.

John goes on to wonder at the vehemence with which the Woodstock moment interpretation of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is rejected:
What I do think is worth examining is why this interpretation is so threatening to people. What would it mean if someone could factually verify that it was in fact a miracle of sharing? Would that change what we believe in?
First, I reject the assertion that I find the sharing interpretation threatening. I do not find it threatening. I find it foolish and ignorant and self-centered and damaging, but not threatening.

The first question to ask of a Scriptural passage -- and this is Catholicism 101, going back explicitly pretty much as far back as Christians asked questions of Scriptural passages -- is, "What is the literal meaning of the passage?"

But this is not a question the sharing interpreters ask -- or, if they do ask, they don't care about the answer. They cannot possibly care, because in all five of the passages recording a miraculous feeding of a multitude, the literal meaning is unambiguously and undeniably that the entire multitude ate their fill from a very small number of loaves and fishes, and that the leftover scraps from those self-same loaves and fishes amounted to far more than the very small number they were to begin with. This is what the Gospels say. This is what the priest or deacon proclaims to the congregation -- explicitly and unequivocally -- when he reads the Gospel passages.

How, then, can someone even arrive at the thought that the "real miracle" is one of sharing? It's not in the Gospels. In fact, it explicitly contradicts what is in the Gospels. It's not in the Church Fathers. It's not anywhere in the Church down through the centuries.

Instead, it comes from men outside the Church whose foremost dogma was, "Miracles have never happened."

Now, if miracles have never happened, the exegete has a problem with the miracle of the loaves and fishes. He needs a non-miraculous explanation of how a multitude ate. Well, obviously there must have been a multitude of food, despite the stories explicitly stating that there was not a multitude of food.

But the exegete also needs an explanation of why such an uninteresting story would be recorded five times in four Gospels. He seizes on this: "It is a miracle to get people to share with each other."

The problem with this, as has been pointed out by others, is that it is not a miracle to get people to share with others. It just isn't. People help other people in need; haven't you noticed?

The claim that sharing with others is miraculous may say something true about the person making the claim, or about his opinion of the people around him, but it is demonstrably false in itself.

So, from my perspective, anyone asserting that the Gospel stories of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is really about Jesus coaxing the crowd into sharing what they had
  1. has never read the Gospels with any level of attention.
  2. bases his assertion on a dogma that contradicts the Catholic faith.
  3. is a lousy observer of human nature.
  4. reduces Jesus from the source of our life to a good example.
Given that, I think it's clear to see why I do not want to hear (or hear of) Catholics preaching this nonsense to other Catholics.