Sunday, July 25, 2021

Soggy Fish Sandwiches?


(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 25, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Kings 4: 42-44; Psalm 145: 10-18; Ephesians 4: 1-6; John 6: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2021]


The late Fr. Benedict Groeschel used to refer to it—disdainfully—as “the soggy fish sandwich theory.”  This, he said, is the way some modern Scripture scholars try to explain away the miracle story we just heard from John 6: the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.  Since these professors do not believe that miracles are possible, they theorize that many of the people who came to hear Jesus that day already had bread and fish with them! And once they saw the disciples passing out the five loaves and the two fish that they had been given (in other words, once they saw the disciples sharing their food in this way), they decided to do the same thing.  And so the miracle was NOT that the loaves and fishes literally multiplied; the miracle was that the people who had bread and fish SHARED with the people who didn’t have any!  Everyone then ate to their heart’s content—and, amazingly, they still had some soggy fish sandwiches left over.  Fr. Groeschel usually ended his reflection on this subject by saying, “It makes me sick.”  Needless to say, he did not buy into the soggy fish sandwich theory!

The problem here is that even though these Scripture scholars claim to be believers, they have a preconceived prejudice against the supernatural.  In other words, if they can’t explain it in purely human terms, then (according to them) it could not have possibly happened.  And there are many people in the world today who have this attitude.  All of them, by the way, could take a lesson from one of the greatest scientists who ever lived—Albert Einstein.  One day many years ago Einstein was visited by a young priest from New York named Charles McTague.  They sat down in his office, and Einstein proceeded to tell Fr. McTague that he wanted to talk to him about (of all things) the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Eucharist.  It seems that Einstein was fascinated by the idea of a substance that you can’t see; a substance that has no shape or size or color.  (“A substance with no accidents,” as we say in theology.)  As many of us know, the Church teaches that at the consecration of the Mass the substance of the bread and wine becomes the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, even though the accidents (in other words, the physical qualities) of the bread and wine remain.  Finally, at the end of the conversation, Einstein said to the priest, “Please send me any books in German that you can find that tell me about the Holy Eucharist.”  And that’s what Fr. McTague did.

Now what I find most interesting about this story is the fact that Einstein was open to the possibility of the supernatural.  He didn’t say, “My mind is the measure of all things, and if I can’t explain something using my scientific categories, then it doesn’t exist.”  His attitude was, “Maybe there’s something to it.  Maybe it’s true.  And if that’s the case, then I need to be open to this truth, even it’s beyond the categories of physical science.”

Perhaps Einstein would not have been surprised by the story that a parishioner once told me about an experience he had in Okinawa back in the 1940s, during the Second World War.  The parishioner said, “Two of my friends and I were walking on the beach in Okinawa one Sunday morning, and we came across a small, flat-bottomed boat; so we decided to take it for a ride.  Well, we had only been out for about five minutes, when a big storm hit.  We tried to paddle back to the shore but we couldn’t make it.  We thought for sure that we were going to die.  My friends were crying, but I was praying!  I prayed the Act of Contrition, the Our Father, and the Hail Mary.  We were tossed around in that storm for several hours.  Finally, at one point, I looked up, and I saw this large blue light near the boat.  My friends didn’t see it, but I did.  I had a strong sense that it was the Blessed Mother watching over us.  Then, all of a sudden, a boat appeared behind the light, and we were rescued. 

“Afterward, I spoke to the captain of the ship.  I said, ‘How did you find us in that horrible storm?’  The captain said, ‘Well, I spotted a strange, blue light off in the distance.  I decided to follow that light, and I ended up at your boat.’”

Was it the Blessed Mother?  Could it possibly have been the Blessed Mother?  Could it possibly have been a supernatural event?  If we believe in the “soggy fish sandwich theory” of the gospel story we just heard, then we will say, “No way; it’s impossible; it was just a stroke of good luck; it was just a coincidence.”  Personally, given the fact that I hate soggy fish sandwiches, I am of a different opinion.  I hope and pray that you are too.