Voices of Valor

Am I a Cafeteria Catholic?

A recent National Catholic Register column came to the attention of the Legion of Valor leadership team, “Facebook, Aquinas, and the Sins of Free Speech.”  We found the column thought provoking and highly clarifying, even if a bit convicting.

 In fact, it really made some of us think: am I a cafeteria Catholic? 

When we hear that phrase, our mind likely goes to the typical moral issues:  do I reject the tough teachings on contraception, marriage, sexual morality, etc. while claiming the Catholic faith?  Indeed, the phrase “cafeteria Catholic” was born out of such contradiction.

But in today’s post, we mean something different: do I publicly claim the faith while also publicly committing the sins of rash judgement, calumny and detraction in my emails,  social media posts, and conversations?

The author of the Register post, John Clark (whom some of you likely recognize from the home-schooling world), presents an honest self-reflection on the freedom of publicly sinful behavior with which we Catholics seem to engage in the digital world.  He writes, for example,

It’s easy to be infuriated over the misdeeds of another, but of this we can be sure: when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, you will not be asked about Facebook or Twitter’s corporate policies. You will, however, be asked whether you personally engaged in sins such as name-calling, mockery, lying, gossip, libel, calumny or detraction.

Ouch. Clark’s question is razor sharp. Let’s add the sin of rash judgement to his list and consider what the Catechism has to say about these acts:

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278

He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

As Clarke notes in his column, St. Thomas Aquinas concludes that these sins are more grave the more publicly they are committed—rising even to the level of mortal sin. Our email blasts, our Facebook posts, our Tweets…they are all out there for the public to see and digitally preserved.  This is serious stuff.

Herein lies the rub:  do we believe what the Church teaches about sin and its consequences?  Or do we choose to embrace the Church’s teaching on the other tough moral issues, while making exceptions and justifications of very public—and possibly mortal—sin?  Are we cafeteria Catholics who attempt to excuse ourselves from the serious obligations of charity and justice outlined in the Catechism passages above? 

Men, the devil enjoys few things as much as seeing devout souls separated from the love of God.  And let’s be clear: that’s what sin does:  venial sin wounds our relationship with God, and mortal sin ruptures it. Our anonymous, digital world is rife with rash judgement, calumny, and detraction. Traps are set for us on all sides.

If Clarks’ column or anything we’ve written here tweaks your conscience here are a few suggestions: 

1. As we say in the act of contrition, let’s avoid all that causes us to sin. Steer clear of social media, web sites, blogs, email chains, etc. that blatantly engage in the sins outlined above. Regrettably, the Catholic world is loaded with such things these days. 

2. Consider paragraph 2478 of the Catechism, noted above, before posting, emailing, commenting, etc. and ask: have I been more ready to presume grace, sought clarification from the person in question, and tried in “all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation?” If the answer is no, don’t make the post. If the answer is, “I can’t…I don’t even know the person,” then ask what just reason there is to make the post in the first place.

3. If you haven’t already done so, we encourage you to review last week’s post about Bishop Paprocki’s “turn down the volume” challenge for Lent. Ash Wednesday is this week. It’s a great time to focus on fasting from the “noise.”

We close with these words of scripture, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48) We have been blessed superabundantly with the Holy Spirit, grace, and faith in Christ. We are held to a higher standard.  Let’s aim for the bullseye, knowing what has been given to us and what is expected of us.

Onward Brothers,
The Legion of Valor Leadership Team