I’ve noticed a trend bubbling around the Catholic blogosphere, particularly in the more progressive, Catholyc publications. I’ve seen it in several places – nuanced and a bit covert. Until now. It’s this notion that we’re all cafeteria Catholics to one degree or another.
I reject that premise, totally and without compromise.
Here’s the most recent example, culled from that paragon of progressive prattle, the National Catholic Distorter, in a piece written by Isabella Moyer, on June 6, titled Catholics Need to Rethink Their Strategy:
First of all, let’s admit that we are all “cafeteria Catholics” to some degree. The groaning buffet table that is our universal church is too much for any of us to take in at once or to fully understand and accept with the same level of commitment and passion. We must stop judging each other by what we can fully accept with an open heart and what we continue to struggle to understand or believe.
I’m going to take this apart sentence by sentence, because there’s quite a bit wrong with nearly every word here, quite possibly including the words “and” and “the”.
First of all, let’s admit that we are all “cafeteria Catholics” to some degree.
No, I won’t admit that. I know plenty of people who are faithful to all of Church doctrine, and suffer sacrifices in ordering their lives as such. They neither willingly nor knowingly reject any part of Church doctrine or dogma. And if they discover that their conscience or lifestyle is opposed to Church teaching, they take the painful and narrow routes to conform their lives. They don’t rationalize sinful behavior and hide behind the cowardly excuse of “following one’s conscience”.
Her statement can be taken two ways. Either she doesn’t understand what “cafeteria Catholic” really means, or she’s misrepresenting what a “cafeteria Catholic” is, and is attempting to change the definition – kinda in the same way pro-gay marriage folks want to change the definition of marriage, or how Catholycs would like to change the definition of “sin”. Normally I give people the benefit of the doubt, but not in this case. I’m going with purposeful misrepresentation, because it gives her and those who think like her cover.
What is a “cafeteria Catholic”? It’s a Catholic who selectively accepts some of the Church’s doctrines while rejecting other portions – alluding to the buffet line concept, where a person has the freedom to take only what they find palatable and appealing. It’s a Catholic who believes that Church doctrines can be picked over, and after having done so, can still proclaim that they’re “devout” and “faithful”, even going so far as saying that the Church is wrong and needs to change. Don’t like having to go to Mass every Sunday? No biggie. Don’t agree that an annulment is required before being married after a divorce? No problem. And so on.
By attempting to redefine the term, she is trying to make the case that since we’re all “cafeteria Catholics” to some degree, we ought to stop defining people like herself by that term. It’s the old “the pot calling the kettle black” thing. But it only works if the definition gets changed. Changed to what? Let’s move on and find out.
The groaning buffet table that is our universal church is too much for any of us to take in at once or to fully understand and accept with the same level of commitment and passion.
I’m sorry, but “groaning buffet table” conjures up an ugly image: there’s just too much “stuff” and the table’s going to collapse. A better image would be “overflowing” or perhaps “richly adorned” – because the Church is the beautiful Bride of Christ, full of grace, with abundant gifts for her children – not some overstuffed, obese, misshapen figure in need of liposuction and a gastric band. And who’s attracted to something that is groaning, anyway?
It’s not our “universal church”. It’s Christ’s Church, for Christ’s sake. We are members of the body, not owners of the body. We are not part of the Church Triumphant in Heaven, nor of the Church Suffering in Purgatory, yet both are full and equal parts of the Universal Church. We’re privileged members of the Church Militant, adopted by the shedding of our Savior’s blood. It’s not our right to be part of the Church – it’s our privilege, unearned and undeserved by anything we have done. And with that privilege comes the expectation to be faithful and obedient, lest we jeopardize our membership, whether here or in the hereafter.
Yes, what the Church offers us is too much to take in at once. That’s why faith is a journey. Nor do we fully understand everything at one time – in fact, we are asked to believe prior to being able to understand. Not only that, but many things will never be understood this side of eternity. So implying that full understanding of everything is possible or demanded is a strawman – the Church does not expect us to fully understand. She proposes, not imposes. We have the incredible freedom to explore why these things are true, and not worry if they are true. That is a pretty wonderful gift, if you think about it.
And yes, not everyone accepts Church teaching at the same level of passion or commitment. But that’s not really the point when it comes to “cafeteria Catholics”. It’s a small distinction, but it’s very important. You see, “cafeteria Catholics” display absolute rejection of some aspects of Church teaching, not varying degrees of acceptance or commitment. Thus, that’s why they want to have the definition changed. Because then every single Catholic would be included, and bring faithful Catholics down to their level.
We must stop judging each other by what we can fully accept with an open heart and what we continue to struggle to understand or believe.
This is a strawman argument. No one’s being judged based on what they struggle with, or either fully or partially accept. “Cafeteria Catholics” are judged based on what they claim to believe and what they proudly reject. They’re judged by their words, not the state of their souls. It’s a huge difference. If someone is struggling with a particular doctrine, or has difficulty accepting some teaching with an open heart – for goodness sake, everyone’s been there at some point in their faith journey! Many of us are there still. We’re continually tempted and challenged. We fall into sin and then beg God for forgiveness. Life experiences and circumstances can bring countless difficulties and questions. But the point is to always have faith and believe – to never doubt, because once the doubts start, that’s when the rationalizations begin, and next thing you know – you’re a “cafeteria Catholic”. “Cafeteria Catholics” don’t struggle to “fully accept with an open heart” – they’ve already closed their hearts to particular doctrines, and have been given up to their sin.
One more point, and it’s an essential and critical one. “Cafeteria Catholics” rarely differentiate between doctrinal and non-doctrinal issues. They tend to lump them together, giving them equal importance – which goes beyond what the Church does! Pretty ironic, isn’t it? It makes them more Catholic than the Pope! When a disagreement arises over the death penalty, for instance, where they’re opposed to it and a faithful Catholic might be in support of it, they will argue that such a person is being a “cafeteria Catholic”. But such a claim is incorrect. As Pope Benedict wrote in 2004:
“Not all … issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not … with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”
In their mind, then, the Pope is also a “cafeteria Catholic”. How wack is that?
This differentiation is important. Definitions serve a purpose, and having the right definition is crucial. Those of us who accept Church doctrine, and believe it to be true – not because the Church says so, but because such Truths have been revealed by God and thus taught by the Church – while at the same time, exercising our intelligence, wisdom and free will to discuss and even disagree on prudential issues – that’s not the definition of a “cafeteria Catholic”. It never has been. That’s the description of a faithful Catholic. We may struggle with some of the doctrines. We might have difficulty living up to those teachings. We may even rail against our good and gracious God for what appears to be injustice and unfairness, because of these doctrines. But we never doubt their Truth. We don’t say “the hell with it!” and reject them because they don’t fit our lifestyle. We don’t become so proud so as to think they don’t apply to us. We try to say “not my will, God, but yours be done” every day. We fail at times, and we know we fail, and we try again. We strive to conform our consciences to better accept the doctrines, to better understand them, and to better live them out.
And we don’t accept the claim that we’re all “cafeteria Catholics”. I certainly don’t. Because if there is no difference, then someone is being lied to, and the martyrs have been made the greatest of all the world’s fools.