Apologetics Off Track

With commentaries like this, it’s no wonder some conservative Catholics are “confused” about Pope Francis and what he’s saying.

To begin with, I have no particular beef with Jimmy Akin. He’s one of the top apologists in Catholicism, and I know he has lots of followers for his talks, books, and articles.

If some Catholics are fussing over the so-called “miracle of sharing,” I have to confess that over the years I’ve found the objectors equally tedious. In forty years, I recall two homilies where people were amazed to find in their pockets they had brought the needed food after all. The blog posts I’ve read complaining about them number between one and two dozen. Maybe it’s time to give both memes a rest.

Question: eleven points to explain what Pope Francis might be saying about the multiplication of loaves and fishes–was this all necessary? In responding to question four, Mr Akin writes:

This means we’ll get even more data on his views on the miracle in the future, but it also means we have quite a bit of data now.

Data? We approach our assessment of a preacher through the use of data? This method seems rather steeped in rational, scientific, and analytical thinking. Is this the posture we bring to the Scriptures? To our encounter with Jesus? Granted, Mr Akin may be addressing that small slice of conservative Catholicism that seems skeptical of the pope. Mr Akin has a doubt, too:

Is (Pope Francis teaching) this awkwardly? Yes. He said it in a way that if you take the single sentence out of its context, you could come to a different conclusion. He could have said it more clearly.

I suppose if Pope Francis were more attentive to the modern sound bite method of communication, he might take greater pains to ensure all his sentences were themselves communicating a single bullet of a message. I have a suspicion this is not a priority. The Gospel message has an important context: the lived existence of the believer. Are we parsing the words of a preacher, or of Jesus himself, in order to avoid something? Or even to find something that’s more of a distraction than an aid to our faith?

Mr Akin’s conclusion … after eleven points:

In any event, it seems clear that Pope Francis does regard the multiplication of loaves as a real historical event (not an instructive fiction) that involved a miracle of multiplication that occurred when the Apostles (not the crowd) began to share the five loaves and two fish.

A few asides:

  • An event can be real but not historical. In the modern context, history is something that can be analyzed and verified–like the people who try to sift the Gospels for the “actual” words of Jesus. Events that impact our faith–the miracles, the Last Supper, the Passion and Resurrection–are real. But by a modern definition, they are not historical. My love for my wife is real. But it isn’t historical either. It doesn’t mean they didn’t happen or that they do not exist. It means they can’t be confined by human analysis, science, and rational verification.
  • I understand that Mr Akin is trying to put the kibosh on the idea that people pulled fish and bread out of their suddenly-remembered brown bags, but three of the four Gospel passages on the multiplications involve “disciples,” (in John, Matthew, and Mark) not Apostles. (The Twelve are mentioned in Luke.) Focusing on apostles instead of disciples introduces a level of clericalism that seems off-center from what the Lord intends. This is why the multiplication of food is not an historical event: nobody knows what happened. And even more stunning: it’s more important that it did happen and that it still happens today. Really. though, of course, not historically.
  • The invitation to join a Secret Information Club seems theologically creepy to me. I’m sure Mr Akin isn’t intending to introduce a whiff of gnosticism into Catholic apologetics. And getting on his email list is a marketing touch to draw interested people, even potential consumers, into the mix.

Wrapping up: there seems to be a lot of twisting about to get a handle on Pope Francis. Maybe some of us Catholics are going about it in the wrong way. Maybe the point is to encounter Jesus without filters, be they from Jimmy Akin or Pope Francis. Maybe a better approach is to take eleven things–or even just one thing–from the Gospel passage of the multiplication. Rather than parse five talks by one man over nine months. Maybe a better idea is to live the day as if God dropped a totally unexpected grace of generosity on us. And pass it on.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Scripture and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Apologetics Off Track

  1. I agree with the posters that Jimmy Akin is starting to lose credibility because his posts look like so much damage control. And I agree about the “Secret Information Club” idea.

    It just makes National Catholic Register look rather desperate.

    I like your solution, every day is a grace.

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