Recently there was a video posted about Maria Shriver, the first lady of California (wife of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger). She described herself rather matter-of-factly as a "cafeteria Catholic." No apologies; no regrets.
Now, Ms. Shriver is a very articulate, attractive and vivacious speaker. She is clear and deliberate in her speech, which is evidence of a very good education and professional training.
She stated that as far as matters of faith were concerned she clearly identified herself as Roman Catholic -- liturgy, creed, etc. But as far as practice of faith and the Catholic Church's position on various issues -- e.g. women's roles in the Church, the right to choose an abortion, gay marriage and the like she clearly stated that she disagreed with the Catholic Church's positions.
She said that she did agree with the "social" content of Catholic teaching -- justice and peace, outreach among the poor, and she noted that she identified with Jesus' compassion and mercy, especially among the poor and the downtrodden.
As a Franiscan friar and priest I find this attitude curious and disturbing. For one thing, Ms. Shriver is a member of my generation, the so-called Baby Boomer Generation. She is a member of the Kennedy clan (first cousin, for example, of Caroline and the late John, Jr., the famed children of the late President John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy).
I think that Maria speaks for many of my/our generation and our generation's treatment of the practice of faith. One unabashedly picks and chooses as one wants. This certainly fosters a sense of individual identity, even a sense of individualism. Problem is -- and this certainly is problematic -- it flies in the face of the notion of the New Testament's image of the Church as Body of Christ. We are members of one another, as the Apostle teaches in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. We are not as individuals the Body of Christ!
St. Paul, in his various writings, and those attributed to him, certainly warns the various Christian communities against "novelty" in faith and strongly admonishes the members of the communities to be faithful to their Tradition -- i.e. what has been handed to them by Paul and other Apostles. We are an apostolic Church, after all, as we readily profess in our Creed Sunday after Sunday.
The one thing that was even more curious to me -- maybe you've seen the interview? -- was how Maria described teaching her daughters about a woman's right to choose an abortion. She said that she differentiates between being "pro-choice" and being "pro-abortion." At the very least, it is an interesting split. To be pro-abortion means, according to what she seems to have described, to advocate the termination of a pregnancy whereas being pro-choice means that it is the woman's right to choose whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.
This seems to me, at least, to be a definite disconnect between faith and practice. I am not advocating a so-called black-and-white approach; life is not that simple -- most of us have had to confront situations in our life where the answers were not easy. But the "cafeteria Catholic" approach to faith is, at best, disingenuous if not actually dishonest. Perhaps not deliberately so, but certainly the result leads to a rather loud dissonance of faith. Especially understanding faith as communion -- communion with one another, with our Bishops, with the Pope of Rome.
As Franciscans, we have traditionally been at the vanguard of mission and outreach. Since the time of St. Francis of Assisi and the early friars, we have been in the proverbial "trenches" where others did not want to go or were simply not aware.
It seems to me that confronting the "cafeteria" approach to Catholicism is one such "trench" to which we are called. Not as judgemental or arrogant, of course! But approaching folks with the reality of the lack of consistency -- and as an opportunity to evangelize (without being "preachy").