Cafeteria Catholics

Cafeteria Catholics

by Sr. Sheila Campbell MMM           Ireland            27.08.2023

Sr Sheila Campbell 3 cropped resized 210322Until the other day I had never heard of the term. Now I discover that it was first used as a derogatory term for Catholics who pick and choose what they want to believe in, especially in the moral teaching of the Church. Now some people, among them some Catholic politicians, are taking up the term and using it in a favourable light.

Before deciding which position to take, I decided to look at the word “Catholic”. It means “universal” and can also mean “all embracing, of wide sympathies or interests”. When I think of the Church, I see her worldwide, adapting to each culture where she takes root. Nowadays our worship is done in the local language of the people, our church music and instruments belong to that culture and then seep out and influence other cultures. In a nomadic culture, it makes sense to see the Church as a tent where all gather in friendship. In a sea-faring nation, the idea of the Bark of Peter may seem more appropriate.

In all this we come down to the question of language. We struggle so hard to express the inexpressible, to wrap mystery with words. One of the great strengths of the Church is tolerance. Hopefully, we are slow to pass judgement, allowing the other person time and space to develop their thoughts and struggle with the paradoxes of life. I know I struggle. And I think Pope Francis is realising that many people are struggling, trying to marry their religious beliefs with the cultural changes happening all around us. The role of women in society, and therefore in the Church, is one example.

So, am I a cafeteria Catholic? Umm, I won’t use the term, but I will admit to continual searching. I don’t feel I am alone in this. Saint Augustine once wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”