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.