Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Buffet Catholic

While reading through my regular feed of Catholic blogs the other day, I was disturbed by the number of times that the term "Cafeteria Catholic" was used.  I'm not sure why it bothered me so much just then; I have, of course, seen the term in use for some time.  But once I got to thinking about it, I decided that I really didn't like the term much.

When Catholics who are trying to follow the teachings of the Church (orthodox Catholics) refer to someone as a "Cafeteria Catholic", the goal almost always seems born from a desire to call them a name, no different than calling someone stupid on the playground.  It is a way of attempting to separate oneself from another that they see as foolish, dirty, dangerous or otherwise undesirable for company.  In virtually every case, the one seen as unorthodox is not there to defend themselves from the term, so we can safely rule out that it is being used to awaken them to their state.  I recognize that not everyone uses the term in a derogatory way, and if you are such a one, then my apologies to you.  I ask your pardon, as I am still quite entrenched in the other group, and have done my share of name-calling.

If one feels that they must continue using the term, then I propose a new term.  Well, more of taking back a term and re-purposing it.  If someone insists on calling another a "Cafeteria Catholic", then I must insist on my own title:

I will be called a "Buffet Catholic".

Please don't misunderstand me.  I know that the term "Buffet Catholic" is seen as synonymous with "Cafeteria Catholic".  I mean here to re-assign it; to take back the term and give it new life.  Let me explain why I feel it necessary to take this particular new title.  (Before I continue, I will state that I know the following is mixing metaphors a bit.)

When one is in a cafeteria, food is often served a la carte. One selects from the multitude of items and takes them to the clerk, who tells one how much they owe.  Much of the food is same day-to-day, prepared elsewhere, separately and pre-packaged. Each item has a price, regardless of how small it is.  One must be careful not to select too much, because one has only so much money available to pay for their meal.  The model is that one only pays for what one wants.

In a buffet, it works quite differently.  While there is still a multitude of items available, one gets to take as much as one wants.  The selection is a good blend of new dishes and old favorites, all of them fresh, all prepared in one kitchen by master chefs.  One need not worry about how much each item is going to cost, because the price is paid once, up front, before any of the food is available.  The model is that one pays for everything, but then all is open.

I want to be a buffet Catholic.  I want to pay the doorkeeper to gain access to the feast.  His price is high: acceptance of authority.  But is it really that high a price?  On the occasions where I have been in a cafeteria, I've often spent as much for a meal there as I would for a meal at a buffet hall.  It is actually quite nice having one price to pay and not having to keep track of whether I've overstretched myself while attempting to build my own meal.

I want to be a buffet Catholic.  I want to take as much as possible from the teachings of the Church and from many different sources, the saints, the mystics, the popes, confessors and Tradition, without having to worry about whether I can afford them or where they came from.  I want to be able to take from any number of fields of service.  I want to accept something from each of the seven courses.  I want to drink deeply from the many fountains of spirituality and not be restricted to one.

I can hear the objection, "But you are only taking what you want!"  Indeed.  I can sample from every category, but I will focus on a few favorites.  This is not really much different from what we do in our walk of faith.  We can sample from the many areas of prayer and service, but we tend to focus on only a few in our daily life.  One is called to a life of study, another to feeding the hungry, another to clothing the naked, etc.  We don't ignore the other dishes we don't like; we keep in mind that others at the buffet will take them and enjoy them.  The important thing to remember is that one is still paying for all the other dishes just as much as for the ones enjoyed.  Furthermore, in a buffet, one is encouraged to take little portions of the other dishes, to expand one's horizons and have a well-balanced meal.  This is less acceptable when one is watching every little thing they accept onto their tray, fearful that this addition may be one cost too many.

The last reason that I like using this term is because it shows a basic truth that underlines everything and we are often so quick to forget (myself included).  The truth that we are not so different from one another.  A buffet is very similar to a cafeteria, though they are not the same.  I've explained above that I think the mindset of one is good and the other needs improvement, but the major point is that they would look nearly the same to one who was not aware of the difference.  I chose the name of "Buffet Catholic" because it identifies with those who are called "Cafeteria Catholic," stating that we are not the same, but we have much in common.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Didache

The other night, we had some of our friends over and I was discussing the history of the Church. He is very interested in apologetics and learning how to defend and explain his faith (which is, by the way, a wonderful goal for all people of faith, not to mention all Catholics). Many times in our discussion, he would mention that the non-denominational Christians he had been speaking with would deny that Church traditions went back as far as they claim to go. Things such as the Trinitarian baptism, relics, saints, etc. As we talked, it occurred to me that Catholics have a resource which is seldom called upon to defend the truth of the Catholic Church: the Didache.

For those who have not heard of it before, the Didache (also known as the Teachings of the Twelve Apostles) is an ancient text which claims to be the summation of what the Apostles taught. It is estimated to have been written between 50 and 110 AD. It is mentioned by many of the Church Fathers before the Bible was compiled and just narrowly missed inclusion. It was lost for many centuries and was only rediscovered in 1875.

This is an enormous help for the Church, because it is a documented piece of evidence that shows a very Catholic view of the early Christian world. I also disrupts the theory that Catholics simply made up core pieces of the faith.

To give an analogy, imagine for a moment that you go to a barbecue. You've been to many places that serve BBQ, but this place has something different. The chefs have a very specific way that they do theirs and they only smile and politely refuse if anyone suggests changing it. When pressed, they tell you that their recipie is unchanged from the very first one, handed down by the greatest BBQ master of them all.

Of course, most people would scoff at such a claim. "That can't be true. You're getting a bit conceited about your own tradition. There's no way that you have the original BBQ recipie."

Then, one day, a historian runs across an ancient document (say, 1000 years old) which mentions barbecue and lists a recipie. When compared with the one being used by that one group of chefs, it is found to be a match. All of the key ingredients are there, done in the same order, in the same amounts. Other barbecue recipies may be similar, but no others have the same integrity.

If such a situation were to happen, the claims of that group of chefs would be greatly bolstered. Their statement doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore.

This is similar to what one finds when reading through the Didache. It supports Catholic tradition and practices. It is nearly free from the claims of corruption, because it was considered lost for a great deal of history. Christians who dislike the Catholic Church are stuck too, because it predates the Nicene creed and the accepted doctrines of the Trinity. It may even be older than some of the New Testament. It is widely known and accepted by the early fathers of the Church, which throws out claims that it is a heretical work. In short, the existence of this document lends credibility to the Church's statement that its teaching remains unchanged (indeed, unchangeable) from the very earliest days of Christianity.

On a broader level, it gives another area of consideration. If one can see and acknowledge that the Didache lends credibility to the Church's claim that she has the original teachings of the Apostles, why should she not be trusted when making other claims?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Six Words

Had two different blogs mention the Six Word Memoirs project today, so I had to have a go at it:

"Have mercy on me, a sinner"

I can think of lots more. Perhaps some for the comments, or some other time.