I’m probably showing my age here when I admit that I was almost thirty when the first Harry Potter book was published. In the midst of reading this delightfully quirky, magical children’s adventure, I do remember one nagging question at the back of my mind — and even more so with the 2001 movie. As the children sat down to their first magical Hogwarts feast, I found myself wondering, “Where is all this food coming from?” The question was not a cynical dismissal of the magical whimsy of the story, but rather a writer’s curiosity about how magic works in this fictional universe. Are there rules and guidelines underlying it, or can these wizards create extravagant meals out of thin air whenever they want to?
Rowling sort of plays it both ways through the arc of the series. The children get to be awed by the wondrous world of magic where anything is possible. But as they grow and study and learn, the curtain is pulled back. Questions are raised of social classes, injustice, and exploitation within the Wizarding World. It would seem that even magic has a messy reality behind it — something cannot be created from nothing, and it often happens that some must suffer for the good fortune of others.
But God shows us, first through Elisha and then through Jesus, that this was not His intent. “For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat, and there shall be some left over.'” And in each case, it begins with a simple act of generosity — of one person offering up what he has for the good of all. When we recognize that all we have is from God and we offer it back to Him, we can be sure that it will not go to waste.
The Acts of the Apostles tells us that, in the earliest Christian communities, “There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.” Like the man from Baal-shalishah or the young boy with some loaves and fish, understand something we often forget. We fallen, imperfect humans can be stingy with our gifts. We have a way of overrating our own needs while disregarding others’ needs. But God’s generosity knows no bounds.
Our Catholic Tradition, from the prophets of the Old Testament to the modern Popes, tells us that God intends the wealth of His Creation to be shared by all. Saint Gregory the Great sums it up well: “For if everyone receiving what is sufficient for his own necessity would leave what remains to the needy, there would be no rich or poor.” It’s a vision of the world as God intended it, before the Fall and as we can expect Heavenly Paradise to be.
In the Harry Potter series, Hermione took on the quixotic cause of workers’ rights for the house elves who prepared their extravagant Hogwarts feasts. And while the issue proved more complex and difficult than she had anticipated, that impulse toward justice is a mark of holiness, of seeking that perfection of God’s will. As the soon-to-be-Saint Oscar Romero once said, “Paradise will never be found here on earth, yet I want this earth to reflect the Paradise toward which we journey.”