Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cafeteria Catholics

I often write in order to sort something out in my own mind. Bringing what's tumbling around in my head in an irritating way to the page can bring clarity. So I hope it to be with this issue of "cafeteria Catholics". What does this mean? It is typically used as a derogatory term for those who claim to be Catholic yet do not believe or practice everything the Church teaches. Right away, the use of this term toward others puts one into a "holier than thou" position, which brings about the sin of pride. The remedy to pride is humility. That's why I liked the "Cafeteria Catholics" article from U.S. Catholic linked above. It encouraged in me the impulse to lighten up, to not take myself so seriously, and to detach from the scrupulousness I have been witnessing among certain Catholics and have noticed in myself.

It is understandable that as a recent convert to Catholicism, I would be disturbed by the memory of statements made by RCIA staff members that they do not believe everything the Church teaches, and especially by the claim of one of them that neither does our priest. Maybe people in a leadership position would serve newcomers to the faith best if they did not openly express their doubts. Then again, maybe knowing that even devout Catholics can have a crisis of faith, or experience periods of questioning certain teachings, provides an important role model. It is human, and a natural part of the faith journey, to go through various stages of maturity. I do think that if a leader does express disbelief that he or she should do so with caution, and with a specific explanation given and particular purpose for sharing it.

The priest who authored the article speaks a lot about the diversity of Church members. This makes me think of something my grandpa once said: "Everyone sitting in church believes a little bit differently. The important thing is that we go."  I think that stuck with me because of its simple but profound truth. Everyone sitting in Mass is there to worship God to the best of his or her ability, and no one does it perfectly. They are there to receive Jesus in the Eucharist, whether or not they have a complete understanding of, or belief in, the Church's teachings. One parishioner may have theologically or historically valid reasons in mind for why she thinks the Church should allow the ordination of women. Another might be struggling with why the Church thinks contraception is intrinsically evil and may not entirely agree.

When the priest in the article talks about the teaching of transubstantiation being a difficult one for answering a definitive "yes" or "no" in regard to belief, he comes across as potentially heretical. Yet I think he is trying to say that he believes in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine, but that how this miracle takes place could be explained and understood in a number of ways. In the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6: 47-59, in tandem with the events of the Last Supper in the synoptic Gospels, the truth of what the Church calls transubstantiation is clear.

Jesus talks graphically about the necessity of eating of his flesh and drinking his blood, and at the Last Supper he establishes the sacrament of Communion, which explicates how exactly we will be able to partake of his body and blood. But this is still a great mystery of the faith, and theologians have used various metaphors for how the bread and wine still looks and tastes the same but has somehow become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus, which he gives us for spiritual nourishment and to conform us to himself in one Mystical Body. Transubstantiation is the official Church teaching, but that does not exclude other notions of the Real Presence, as long as they do not conflict with Church doctrine. Being overly scrupulous can have the effect of taking the awe and beauty out of the great Mystery of Faith.

When it comes to faith, not everyone has to be in the same place, on the same page. Faith is a state of being which lives, breathes, and grows. It can even have its dark nights of the soul. The key here is that we don't judge one another's spiritual path. That we seek to understand another person's view, find the common ground, and engage in compassionate, meaningful dialogue. Yes, I believe everything the Church teaches and submit to her authority in matters of faith and morals. At the same time, I endeavor toward a faith that is personal, that is unique to me.

For example, I believe in the Trinity, the teaching established by the authority of the Catholic Church that there is one God in three divine persons--the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is Church dogma, which all of the faithful are compelled to believe. My personal theology is that in the relationship of the three persons of the Trinity there exists a "feminine" dimension, though of course God is pure spirit, neither male nor female. That God contains the perfection of the qualities of both a father and a mother is official Church teaching. The way I understand the feminine principle of the Trinity doesn't contradict Church doctrine as far as I am aware.

Basically I believe that the biblical character of Wisdom reveals the feminine nature of God, and most expressly the bridal-maternal qualities of the Holy Spirit. It is also Church teaching that the Virgin Mary is the "dwelling" of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, I perceive that Mary is a personal manifestation and especial sanctuary of Wisdom. There have been and are orthodox Catholics who believe in a similar way, such as Thomas Merton and St. Maximilian Kolbe, while there are others who decidedly don't.

The Church does not demand a blind obedience to her doctrines. She does, in fact, encourage intellectual discernment in regard to religious beliefs and the application of the informed conscience in moral considerations.

We do not all need to believe in exactly the same way. The notion that everyone should be the same is actually part of the heresy of modernism, which the U.S. seems especially prone toward, and from whence "political correctness" is derived. Perhaps most damaging is that our sins of pride and our rigid, judgmental scruples will be reflected in our children. We need to accept our differences, even if we strongly disagree. We must try to see Christ in every face; but I'm not there yet, and that's okay. I just need to do my best to follow our Lord. And that's all we can ask of one another. If we truly need to correct a brother or sister in a matter of grave importance, let us do so with humility and lovingkindness.