Cafeteria Faith

Antonio P. Pueyo
June 26 2005
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

There is a practice of the faith called "cafeteria Catholicism". In a cafeteria, there are many choices of food, usually of the fast food variety. One chooses what he likes to eat. In the Philippines, this is called a "turo-turo" restaurant, literally "point-point". You point at the food you like and it is placed on your plate.

In the practice of "cafeteria Catholicism" one chooses the doctrines or teachings he likes and disregards the others he does not like. One chooses those which may be convenient for him or which agree with his feelings, opinions, or understanding. He does not buy the whole package. It is like ordering coffee without the sugar or salad without the mayonnaise. This kind of attitude may work well when it comes to choosing what to eat but it becomes absurd when transferred to the realm of practicing one's faith.

If we do not buy the whole package, then what kind Catholicism is it if we like the resurrection but not the cross? We like the meal but not the washing of the feet. We like the victory but not the sacrifice. We like the triumphal entry into Jerusalem but not the passion. We like the reasonable sayings or "logia" of Jesus but not the hard ones.

The gospel this Sunday presents us with the sayings of Jesus. Some of these sayings are reasonable, such as, "If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, he will not go unrewarded." Other sayings are hard sayings and seem to be unreasonable, such as, "whoever does not take up his cross and come after me is not worthy of me." Or how about, "one who loses his life for my sake will find it." In our family-oriented culture in the Orient, this one is really difficult, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me." And how about this, "Love your enemy." In a vengeful culture can one accept that, "If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer the other."

It needs faith to accept and to practice these hard sayings of Jesus. Faith goes beyond the reasonable and culturally acceptable.

It is not just the hard sayings of Jesus where we need to apply our faith. There are also hard teachings of the Church. These are teachings that go against what the culture has come to accept as reasonable and pragmatic. Doesn't it seem reasonable that those who are deemed unproductive due to age, illness, and disability be allowed or encouraged to take a hasty exit from this world? Doesn't it seem reasonable that the stronger, brighter, and more powerful lord it over the weak, the dull, and the helpless? Doesn't it seem reasonable that one chooses only those doctrines he agrees with?

Catholic teaching says that the person's dignity is prior to his capability to work or his productivity. His dignity comes from being made in the image of God. Catholic teaching says that human life begins at conception and therefore should be protected at its earliest stage. The Church teaches that the strong should protect the weak and the first should be the last. Catholic teaching also says that I am not the sole arbiter of what is true or not, of what is right or wrong. There is the bigger community, the Church to which I belong and the magisterium or teaching authority which guides it.

The Church is not a cafeteria. It is a communion of believers where one takes both the hard saying and the soft sayings. One shares the pain and shares the glory.

This action starter is a practice of faith: Choose one hard saying and practice it.