Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thoughts on CARA Study and Cafeteria Catholicism

Ok, I know I said that I would talk about the Corpus Christi procession in this post, but I changed my mind. Today I was thinking more about the CARA study on the Eucharist. Because such large numbers of people don't attend mass regularly each week, it is likely that most of those people do not believe that intentionally missing mass to be a mortal sin. In addition, of those who don't attend mass regularly each week, many don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which they see as only symbolic. Therefore, it seems to me that one of the indications of the CARA study is that choosing to reject one teaching of the Church generally leads to rejecting other teachings. Were I a betting man, as they say, I would wager that one who doesn't attend mass weekly and doesn't believe in the Real Presence would also not feel obligated to follow the Church's teachings on sexual morality, especially the ban on contraception.

Many have styled this approach to Church doctrine as "Cafeteria Catholicism." As with the a la carte selection of a cafeteria, you get to choose what you want. Great idea for a restaurant. Terrible idea for a church, especially if you believe that church to have been founded by the Son of God.

The problem with Cafeteria Catholicism is that it operates on the presumption that God does not make any demands on us. It assumes that we are never asked to do very difficult things, the purpose for which we may not always understand.

I was reading the book of Jonah today. God asked Jonah to do something he did not want to do: go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance to the Gentiles. Jonah was a religious person. But he did not want to do this. So, "Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (Jonah 1:3). After a storm threatened the ship Jonah was sailing on, he allowed himself to be thrown into the raging sea, found himself in the belly of a great fish, then was spit out onto land. Then Jonah sings a hymn of praise to God, and proceeds to finally do what God asked him to do: go to Nineveh.

Then, of course, things get more peculiar. Jonah preaches repentance to the people of Nineveh, who then repent immediately. But rather than be content that he had fulfilled God's call, Jonah is angry because the people of Nineveh did repent. Jonah's anger gets back to a similar reason for his first resistance to God. When God asks Jonah why he is angry, Jonah replies: "I pray thee, Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and repentest of evil" (Jonah 4:2).

You see, Jonah didn't think he needed to obey God at first. When he does obey God, then he is angry about God being merciful and loving to Gentiles. Jonah thought he could pick and choose what kind of God he would serve. But that isn't serving God; it is serving ourselves.

Today's second reading at mass was from the letter of Paul to the Romans where he speaks of Abraham's faith (Romans 4:18-25). I thought about how God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, the one who was supposed to be the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham for untold descendants. Abraham could not see how God's promise could come true if he killed Isaac. It seemed to be against the Fifth Commandment. Abraham certainly could not see how these actions would foreshadow Christ's Passion. Despite not understanding why God asked him to do such a thing, Abraham was willing to obey God, and he was rewarded for his obedience. Abraham accepted all that was asked of him; he did not pick and choose. And he found closeness to God as a result.

I was listening to EWTN Catholic Radio the other day, and there was someone on who spoke about the cafeteria approach to Catholicism. The speaker teaches the faith to young people, and he has them blow up balloons and write "Magisterial Authority" on the top of the balloon. Then he has them write various doctrines of the Church elsewhere on the balloon (all-male ordination, ban on contraception, social teaching, etc.). Then he has them choose one of the doctrines to eliminate and prick it with a pin. Of course the entire balloon bursts. Another example the speaker tells young people is to consider what we would think of a husband or wife who said that he or she would be faithful 364 days a year. "It's only one day" of infidelity. And yet, of course, the one day would severely damage, if not destroy, the entire relationship.

I remember once overhearing a conversation with two co-workers a number of years ago. One woman talked about how she did not agree with all the doctrines of the Church. The other person, a man who was a Christian of another faith, said, "So, you're what, 70% Catholic?" At the time, I was a Cafeteria Catholic myself, and although I did not chime in, I recall thinking that "he just didn't understand." It was the woman and myself who just didn't understand.

I don't perfectly live the teachings of the Church, nor do I perfectly do what God requires of me. As we learned in today's Gospel reading: "People who are in good health do not need a doctor; sick people do" (Mathew 9:12). But being a Cafeteria Catholic is like ignoring part of the doctor's advice. If, after surgery, you are told to take an antibiotic and avoid lifting anything heavy for the next next six weeks, and then you choose to take the antibiotic but ignore the advice about lifting heavy objects, you may tear open stitches from the surgery. If you decide to avoid lifting heavy objects but refuse to take the antibiotic, you may find yourself with an infection. Our Divine Physician cannot heal us if we don't listen to all he has to say to us.

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