You’ve heard the expression “Cafeteria Catholic” to describe someone who picks and chooses the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church they want to believe in or adhere to.
Me? I’m a Drive-Thru Catholic.
Here are my (lapsed) credentials: Attended and graduated Catholic elementary school and a Catholic all-boys high school; altar boy for five years; and briefly flirted with the priesthood.
Somewhere around my senior year of high school was the first parting of ways I had with the Church.
That schism did not happen because of Church doctrines on issues such as abortion, divorce, women being excluded from the priesthood, etc.
I think it grew out of a natural restlessness of being a teenager and of being ready to move on.
That time of young adulthood left me believing in some of the principles of the Church — think of the Beatitudes as a good road map — but I was indifferent toward the Church teachings about the existence of God, Jesus Christ and the ceremonial trappings of the Church.
(Truth be told, I was a doubting Thomas from even a young age. I drove my mother nuts when, at the age of five or so, I declared that I did not believe in God because I could not see him.)
The last straw came about seven years ago when our oldest son came out as being gay. He was a sophomore in high school and active in a youth group in our local church.
We got complaints from parish officials about him talking about his homosexuality with other kids. I took it as disapproval of his sexual orientation and I was plenty angry about it.
But what frosted my rage cake came just a few weeks later.
A young, popular parish priest was arrested for having child pornography on his computer. A church leader interviewed on the local cable TV news downplayed the significance of it.
I’m paraphrasing, but he defended the priest as being a good guy and said, after all, it was not like this priest was touching kids or that any kids got hurt.
In that moment, I lost my mind. We stopped attending church. We pulled our youngest son out of CCD.
I haven’t looked back.
But why do I feel as though I am missing out somehow?
On Facebook I see friends, particularly classmates from my Catholic elementary school, who live a life filled with a deep abiding faith.
There’s some part of me that’s envious and wonders how they do it.
And now Pope Francis’ visit to the United States is stirring up more confusion for me.
He seems to have a more welcoming and less judgmental view of the world. It’s heartening to see the example he’s set to literally embrace the poor, the imprisoned and the disenfranchised.
But in the end, I’m left with questions:
Can I practice what the Church preaches about charity toward all without the obligation of faith in its theological teachings?
Can I be a good person without believing in God?
Can you pursue a path of goodness without religion?
If I believe that the answer to all three is a hearty yes — what is it then that I’m looking for?