If you travel in Catholic circles for long enough, you’ll encounter those people at some point. You know, the aunt who only goes to Mass on Easter and Christmas. The couple who loudly dare the old man in Rome to try and enter their bedroom. Doesn’t he know most Catholics use birth control? The aging feminist who preaches about women’s ordination at council meetings while everyone else scans the pie charts of the parish’s abysmal failure to tithe and wishes they had signed up for the Rosary Guild instead.
You’ve heard about these folks who fall short –- who nosh on the burgers and fries of easy doctrine, and skip the spinach and eggplant of a challenge — but have you heard about the other cafeteria? Folks here enjoy fine foods and good wine. They love the way ‘arugula’ rolls off the tongue, relish the taste of bizarre things like canard à la rouennaise and turn up their noses at deep-fried anything.
The “other” cafeteria Catholics pick and choose from the Church’s beautiful variety of devotions and make them a requirement for faith. Mary’s gentle admonitions about modesty at Fatima are considered as authoritative as the Pope’s latest encyclical. They are quite sure that angels in heaven are weeping over the uncovered heads at Mass.
These Catholics cling to their own, strict interpretation of Church teaching. “No salvation outside the Church” clearly means our Protestant brethren are condemned to hell. Try to have a conversation about natural family planning, and you’ll get a lecture on the providence of God.
Diners in both cafeterias are often unaware of their picky eating. In the lunchroom of the lax, it’s rare to meet a person well-versed in Theology of the Body who chooses to use artificial contraceptives. Mortal sin? What’s that? Surely a loving God will understand that children put a real strain on one’s finances. There is little malice here – only the desire to maintain a certain level of comfort.
Likewise, the fine diners don’t know that their persnickety zeal can be crushing to those around them. They don’t know that the long sleeve/long skirt/hijab-optional dress code is intimidating – perhaps embarrassing – to their jeans-wearing brethren. They don’t know that arguing loudly about the superiority of the “traditional form” is alienating to those who barely feel at home in a vernacular Liturgy.
Really, why shouldn’t other parishioners dress appropriately for Mass? And why can’t Father So-and-So learn a bit of Latin. What do they teach them in seminary these days? While he’s at it, he really could improve his homily performance. There are far too many young and childless couples in the congregation. Father should spend a little more fire and brimstone on “openness to life” and a little less on financial appeals.
Since the readership here at Ignitum is predominantly practicing Catholic, I’m willing to bet most of us have snacked on at least a little endive salad in this room for the upper crust. I have, and what’s the harm?
If being Catholic is a good thing, why not be more than Catholic?
The trouble is two-fold. First, when we hold ourselves to an impossibly high standard, we’ll either despair or become entirely deluded by our pride. Second, by insisting on our own high standards, we impose a heavy burden – one that God himself does not place – on the shoulders of our brothers and sisters.
I will come back to the problems of dining in the second cafeteria in another post, but for now, I leave you with this thought:
Apathy is a dreadful thing to be sure. We know that the God of Revelation spews the lukewarm from his mouth. But if setting the bar too low is wrong, reaching too high is equally deadly. Tower of Babel, anyone?
Ronald Knox said it best in Enthusiasm, his history of various Christian schisms. The diner in the second cafeteria is so wholly preoccupied with his own salvation that he forgets God’s glory. He makes himself susceptible to the disease of scrupulosity and, without too little effort, falls into despair.