cafeteria catholics

Several months ago, I was asked by U.S. Catholic to write an opinion piece on “cafeteria Catholics” and the need for a new style of conversation in the church. Is it OK to be a cafeteria Catholic? was published on line this week.

Writing in defense of cafeteria Catholics landed me in hot water in the past. Basically, on one side of the argument we have passionate traditionalists that equate Catholic faithfulness with unswerving belief and and obedience to each and every teaching of the Church. On the other are those of us who sincerely love our faith and love our church, but struggle with some of her teachings. So, the issue of cafeteria Catholicism becomes yet another divisive debate along the old trad-lib ideological lines.

I’m hoping that the article and attached survey will be a spring-board for dialogue…

choose life

“I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” Deut. 30: 19-20.

When I was a young university student, our faith sharing community had a long discussion on morality. How do we discern what is right and wrong? We all knew the basic black and white rules and commandments. But what about all those situations in the fuzzy, grey in between? What do we do when the answers aren’t clear? We debated long and hard, with the passion of youthful adults, and came up with the following guide-line… When in doubt, choose the path that is most life-giving. Choose life!

Of all the discussions we had in those early years, this one has remained with both hubby and me. It continues to be at the base of many of our decisions, and a piece of wisdom we’ve tried to pass on to our children. In difficult situations or relationships, we often ask the question; is this situation (or relationship) life-giving or an energy sucker? Life-giving does not mean without challenge, for challenges provide experiences for growth. Also, we can’t just do things that please us, or hang with folks who make us happy all the time. But, if it’s one energy sucking experience after another than we need to re-evaluate our choices. We need to choose life.

I confess to also using this approach when it comes to faith issues and beliefs. Many well-intentioned Catholics will accuse me of being a “cafeteria Catholic”; picking and choosing what I want to believe in. Let’s just say that the over-loaded, groaning buffet table offered by the Church is sometimes too much for me to handle. Trying to take it all in gives me a nasty case of indigestion! I need to focus on that which is pleasant to the palate and leaves me nourished and satisfied. I need to politely refuse that which leaves me angry, frustrated, saddened, and drained of life-giving energy.

There are those who say that if you can’t handle the whole meal deal offered by the Church, then you should dine somewhere else. This is the height of in-hospitality. Would you ask a friend to leave the table just because they don’t like one of the dishes you have offered? Would you leave a table where you are being nourished just because your favorite dessert wasn’t served, or wasn’t served to your perfect standard?

So, what about those issues that we struggle with? A very dear priest friend, whom we’ve known since those early university days, used to tell us to put those issues on the back-burner. Re-visit them as time goes by, but don’t let them drain you of the life-giving energy at the core of our faith. He patiently explained the teachings of the Church to us, but never used vigorous debate to convince us. He encouraged us to question and dialogue without judgment. And, he nudged us to nurture our spiritual lives so that we could listen to the voice of God deep within.

There is so much that is life-giving in our Catholic faith. In this season of Lent, I’m going to try and focus on that which gives me much needed energy, and put aside that which gets my knickers in a twist. I’m going to have a Happy Lent!

(Note: the CHOOSE LIFE logo on the famous Wham T-shirt worn by George Michael above, was promoting an anti-drug and anti-suicide message in the 80’s. It is also used by the pro-life movement. A great logo. A great message.)