What is a Cafeteria Catholic? In a cafeteria you wander around long stainless steel counters selecting the food which appeals to you. A Cafeteria Catholic is someone who similarly walks around catholic doctrine picking and choosing between dogmas which work or don’t work for them. Interestingly enough, the dictionary states that Cafeteria Catholic is a “pejorative” term – meaning that it is an uncomplimentary term most people would not use to describe themselves. I disagree; as a Cafeteria Catholic I question doctrine of the Catholic Church because I am continuously searching for the foundation of my faith.
The Roman Catholic Church does not allow its members to use contraception. Underlying this decree is the church’s position that sex is for baby-making only, and babies are gifts from God. Babies are gifts from God; witnessing the miracle of birth would bring anyone to their knees. But sex is for baby-making only? Teenagers experiment with sex, often with disastrous results for each teens’ families. Before couples marry, solemnly taking a vow of fidelity for the rest of their lives, they should know if they are sexually compatible. Sex for married couples serves as an oasis of intimacy far away from all the problems of parenting. This intimacy between a husband and wife lies at the heart of virtuous family life. Making love to make a baby IS the best sex yet, but not the only kind of sex. For those other kinds of sex, contraception is a must-have.
The Roman Catholic Church requires that priests be celibate men. This mandate of abnormality is founded on a concern by the church that priests not have a wife and children as this could result in heirs inheriting property (read church property); all church property was to remain in the hands of the church. This rule of celibacy has led the church, over the centuries, to the devastating situation where thousands of young boys and girls have been sexually abused by predators and pedophiles hiding within the robes of the Catholic Church. This vow of celibacy also creates this “otherness” of priests, these selfless men who choose a celibate life to follow Jesus, because this creates a distance between them and the rest of us. Christianity is not about creating distances and hierarchies; key to Christ’s message is that we are equal through the eyes of his father.
This discussion of antiquated church doctrine regarding sex and celibacy could suggest that the church must “modern up” for cafeteria catholics. However, it is just this antiquity that has such a hold on me. I will try to explain. The resurrection, the centerpiece of the Catholic faith, mystifies me. My theory is that the church authorities fabricated the resurrection story to prove that Jesus was God. They thought that they needed a good ending. I am a writer myself, and I have been in a similar situation. However, based on what Jesus had to say, as found in the New Testament, he did not have to prove anything to me. This man was a prince. His message speaks to me, and I try to follow his teachings. But at times I am haunted by the idea: WHAT IF HE REALLY DID? This is followed by a moment – an epiphany- wherein I witness the crux of my faith: and I let go and believe. This usually happens when I am attending Mass in the splendor of an enormous old cathedral within whose walls the ancient rituals are carried out and the people, holding hands, recite the Our Father, a prayer of primordial words – and I am once again spellbound by my faith…with all her antiquities intact.
As a Cafeteria Catholic, I wonder why. I ask questions. A teacher by trade, I treasure students who ask questions for this shows me that they are deliberating the material I have presented. Jesus is our teacher, as is his father. I sense they treasure cafeteria catholics’ questions for the same reason. For when I am within that flash of epiphany, I am encircled by the warmth of their love.
Photo courtesy of Rosebud Baker