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With all the sound and the fury today about a “Pick and choose” approach to orthodoxy, I remembered the following reflection from the Religion News Service.

The truth is most Catholics are cafeteria Catholics. Conservative Catholics were quite willing to ignore John Paul’s and Benedict’s strong statements on justice and peace. Progressive Catholics are happy to ignore Francis’ opposition to women priests.

These criticisms of Pope Francis put progressive Catholics in an awkward position. Progressives are big fans of Francis, but it would be somewhat hypocritical of them to suddenly become papal absolutists when they clearly had disagreements with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. On the other hand, conservatives who are now critical of Francis accused progressives of being “cafeteria Catholics” when they disagreed with John Paul or Benedict.

It sounds like we have entered the arena of “Personal infallibility”!

Another form of “inconvenient truth”?

Over the decades I have noticed that the connotation of what is now called “Cafeteria Catholic“ varies according to who is doing the calling and what the issue is.

In the 1960’s, and for the following 50 odd years, I noticed that whenever a Pope said something related to sexual matters one group would stand up for strict adherence to what he said. Another group would say something to the effect that change was necessary. I always found it revealing that when the Pope would speak of social issues the groups would shift sides!

It became clear to me that people invoked the Pope when he was saying things that they agreed with. Thus, the shifting support or questioning for the encyclical on issues of sexual morality (Humanae Vitae) and social justice (Mater et Magistra.)  Few would say it, but the way either would rally around the Pope seemed to depend upon whether the Pope agreed with them.

Today those who used to take cudgels to anyone who disagreed with a Pope now often lead the charge seriously asking whether the current Pope is Catholic. And those who tended to ignore past Popes cheer on the current Pope.

But the truth is larger than what either is willing to see and struggle to understand. Truth can be inconvenient!

Recognizing tendencies in myself.

The post reminded me that it has taken me a long time to become aware of how I read scripture. I finally realized that I read the scriptures with a “cafeteria” mentality.

I read the parables of Jesus as stories of what happened long ago. I would fail to see myself as each of the persons in the scripture.  Focusing on one part, I missed the deeper challenge for me contained in the story. I would fantasize myself as the Good Samaritan. Indeed, there were many times when I have been.

However, I never asked myself when and how today I have used excuses and passed by my wounded brother or sister. Or, after taking care of the immediate needs, have I provided for follow-up care? Have I thought about how to make the road he was traveling safer? All these are parts of the truths contained in the story of the Good Samaritan.

So I began to ask myself if I am a Cafeteria Vincentian. Do I see BOTH the physical and spiritual needs?

Cafeteria Vincentians?

  • Am I concerned about spiritual and physical needs of my brothers and sisters?
  • Do I work toward long term solutions as well as meeting immediate needs?
  • Do I balance working with the sweat of my brow and nourishing myself in prayer as Vincent did?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.

This post first appeared on Vincentian Mindwalk

Who are you calling a cafeteria catholic?