Dear Friends,

“Cafeteria Catholic “is typically a derogatory term used to describe people that don’t think or act like we do regarding how we “practice” our “faith” or what we claim to “believe” about our Catholic faith, but, quite honestly, I think all of us who in some manner of speaking identify as “Catholic” are “Cafeteria Catholics”.

It is simply impossible for any individual person to know, much less understand, all that goes into Catholic Tradition.

Catholic Tradition is highly personal not doctrinal, it begins with the personal and ends with the personal, Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh not a document or book or building or a belonging system.

There are those today who hold fast to the apologetical/catechism approach to Catholic Tradition, but the questions and the answers were selected out of a whole myriad of possibilities just like what finally ends up on your tray in a cafeteria.

Most of us who maintain an intentional relationship with the Catholic Church pick from a wide variety of possibilities as to what we decide is important to us or what we say makes us Catholic or what we claim we believe.

People dispute what is necessary in their mind to “believe” what makes them Catholic all of the time and decide for themselves what they “believe” quite often without any regard for a creed or encyclical or clergy person, and they always have just like walking through a cafeteria line.

Personal pieties abound among Catholics as do personal moral systems, personal prayer habits and popular religiosity which often have no trace in Sacred Scripture or Creed nor any catechism or council or dogma textbook.

Some of the major moral systems developed through the ages hold fast to condemning or promoting behaviors that Jesus never addressed while ignoring those moral issues that Jesus stressed over and over.

Religious leadership traditionally desires conformity and uniformity and the question/answer format of catechism and apologetics and a strict adherence to the rubrics in the Sacred Liturgy lends itself to conformity and uniformity which was the hallmark of institutional Catholicism for generations and institutional Catholicism is the basis of cafeteria Catholicism beyond any shadow of doubt, in my mind, because it tries to simplify what cannot be simplified.

Roman Catholicism assumed a role in society beginning with the decaying Roman Empire that was far more cultural than spiritual, far more focused on the maintenance of societal and cultural structures than authentic evangelization with the Gospel imperative to love your

neighbor as yourself, far more focused on the persons of the clerical rank than the poor folks on the margins of society, far more interested in the wellbeing of popes and prelates and their benefactors than the women and children, the orphans and widows.

A lot of what Jesus Christ taught and what his suffering, death, and resurrection meant got lost while institutional Catholicism was busy building The Holy Roman Empire rather than The Kingdom of God.

Fortunately, there were always exceptions typically called, only after they were long dead, prophets, but they for the most part came from outside of institutional Catholicism than from inside and were usually met with great resistance by the clerical structures, Francis of Assisi being but one notable example.

Cafeteria Catholics are the norm not the exception, in my observation, as it ought to be, because, hopefully as we mature and grown and heal and forgive, we change our minds, we repent and we dig into the treasure house of Tradition and bring new understandings and beliefs as we discard and outgrow older understandings and beliefs over and over again.

As I have said before conformity and uniformity gives us false senses of security about too many things and too much of life, because we like to think “we are self-enclosed beings who have individual disasters and destinies and are in competition with everyone else to gain a comparative sense of well-being,” as my friend, Jack Shea says, and “believing” that we are all on the same ground at the same point in growth and development as catechism/apologetical Catholic thinking allows us to, enables that competition and hyper-individualism but it is a fantasy that in our times is dangerous and increasingly likely to prove lethal and I am serious about the lethality.

We are not all at the same staring point with the same standard equipment, we are individuals made in the image of the three personed God, The Trinity, we are mysteries not destined to individualism but created in and for community.

I like Pope Francis very much because I think he understands the complex mystery that we are dealing with when we talk about faith but he drives me nuts with his backtracking and equivocations and false starts and constant explanations of what he meant and what he said and what he didn’t mean, but if we are honest what else can you do when you are trying to sincerely understand anything human, as he does so sincerely, but we are not, none of us, cut from the same cloth or made with the same specifications nor equipped with the same standard features.

What else can he do when he is trying to make his way through our fractured and fragile lives together where he believes that Christ wanted everyone to find a place and belong and not be harmed or hurt but flourish and find peace.


Father Niblick

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