Friday, January 1, 2010


"Cafeteria Catholic" was a nickname I often heard as a kid for more liberal Catholics. It meant people who obeyed only the Catholic rules they liked and ignored the others, like students on a cafeteria line picking out lunch. Inherent in the derisive term was the notion that an ideal Catholic, or Christian for that matter, should listen and obey all of Jesus' teachings.

However, as I get older, I realize that almost all of us are "Cafeteria Christians." Most of us do not consider it adultery for couples to divorce and marry others. We don't see it a sin for a widow to remarry. We see the complexity of relationships and the difficulties in them, the fact that sometimes they don't work. We don't expect the woman to completely submit in a relationship either.

We don't automatically condemn the wealthy to hell, even though we've heard Jesus say plainly that it'd be harder for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.

There are those who say we must follow the Bible to the letter, but even they usually decide how much of the Gospel to adhere to based on their values.

I think most Christians today have a somewhat tense relationship with Jesus' advice : on the one hand we revere Jesus as the son of God, but we, and I think everyone, have times when his words put us ill at ease. So we practice selective obedience.

Do we betray our faith by not following it to the letter?

Have we sworn an oath to obey every word?

I think of the words that I speak in every mass, which include believing in Jesus Christ as the son of God, and God himself. And that God is first and foremost my Father. But do I swear allegiance to his every word? No. I swear humility and reverence to the words, but never complete obedience.

As children, we are advised to listen to our parents' advice and learn from it, as the words of those who want the best for us. However, as we mature, we combine that advice with other realities, other experiences, and we go our own course. We build our own beautiful lives, and we disobey, not out of hatred, but out of our natural need to determine our own destiny. Chalk it up to original sin, if you want, but it is in our nature to seek our own truth.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that I don't think being Christian means I need to aspire to complete obedience of every one of my Father's edicts.

Instead, I ask my Father to understand, as a loving father would, that every child must become an adult and pave his own way, taking their creator's advice with thanks, considering it seriously, with love and respect, and applying it as best we see fit in the lives we live.
This manner of acting isn't always encouraged in our church: sometimes I feel like the clergy do not acknowledge the maturity of the laity. It often seems like we are talked to more like infants, and if we would just shut up and suck on our Father's bosom, everything will be fine.

That kind of treatment can only work for so long. When I visit my father's house, I hope to find love, comfort and encouragement, and give the same. I will always be proud to be God's child, but I would hope he would no longer expect the mindless love of an infant.

So yes, I am a cafeteria Christian. I pick and choose the advice I take with me on my way forward, with love and reverence, but not always agreement. I would hope my Father wishes me well on my journey, and that like the Prodigal son, in the end I well be welcomed back home.

1 comment:

  1. Very good points. It took me a long time until I could look at my Christian life and acknowledge that I've lived most of it in a unconscious state of Christian infancy. Until I realized that the task is maybe not to find out what God's will was for every little notion of my life, but that he was asking ME what I intend to do with my life. And that he wanted to support me in what I wanted to try out for myself.

    Today I feel like an adult son who went studying or working somewhere away from his hometown, living his own life. I frequently call my dad on the phone and look forward to visit him on special occasions. I know he loves me, that he is proud of me and that he actively supports and believes in my capacity to live an adult and rich life.