When it comes to a buffet, what’s not to like? Self serve, all you can eat; just meandering down the buffet line and picking whatever strikes your fancy. Eat what you like, leave what you don’t, and above all – don’t stop until you’ve gorged yourself! If there’s a dining experience that’s more thoroughly all-American than a good old fashioned all you can eat buffet; then I’m certainly not aware of it!
Buffet Style Spirituality
More and more, however, it seems as if people are approaching religion and spirituality with the same “buffet” mindset. They pick and choose, take what they like and leave what they don’t. This brilliant cartoon by Cagle sums it up rather nicely:
Unfortunately, more and more Christians are also approaching their faith in this way. All too often, people select churches based on issues that fundamentally come down to personal preference. What religious experience will be the most enjoyable for me? Which church has the best ministries and programs for my family? The best worship band and music? The most charismatic and engaging pastor? The best coffee bar and baristas? The most comfortable seats and best audio/visual experience? Social media sites?
Truly, we are able to gorge ourselves at the buffet of religion in a way that was unthinkable in years past. I stumbled across one church which promoted 208 separate ministries on it’s website, including 125 outreach programs (balloon art or DJ anyone?), and 53 separate ministries dedicated to individual sports! Don’t believe me? You can check it out here: Ministries – The Rock Church
I’m honestly not trying to come off as snarky or condescending – it comes naturally for me so I don’t have to try 😉
Look, I appreciate that we all have unique talents and interests, and that our faith should inform every aspect of our life including our recreation. I get it.
The problem is this. Our religion has become recreation, our faith has become fad, and we ourselves have become people of the world rather than people in the world. We have forgotten that we are not of this world. [Tweet This]
This “buffet” mentality within Christianity can be especially prominent within certain Protestant movements, but it has also sadly found it’s way into the Catholic Church. Today too many Catholics seem to think that they can come forward to the altar table, to the very supper of the Lamb, and then pick and choose what they partake of. Receive Christ fully present in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul, and divinity? Yes please! Follow the Church’s teaching on contraception? No, thank you very much!
But the truth is, this “buffet” mentality is antithetical to an authentic Catholic faith! When I was received into the Catholic Church two years ago, I was required to make the following profession, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”
Not some. Not just what I agreed with.
This profession is obviously not one that should be made lightly! It is for this reason that the Catholic Church will typically require adult converts to attend almost a full year of catechetical instruction in the form of RCIA classes (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) prior to converting. If you are going to profess to believe all that the Catholic Church teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God, then you had best know what she teaches!
But it’s not just Catholics who want to be able to pick and choose when it comes to the bountiful table with which the Church presents us. Many of my Protestant friends and family struggle to understand why they are not allowed to receive communion within the Catholic Church when attending Mass with us. “Aren’t we Christians?” they will ask. “Don’t we serve the same Lord? Don’t we share many of the same beliefs?” Some of them even share our belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and ask, “Shouldn’t our shared beliefs mean that we can partake of the Lord’s Supper together?”
Many of them are deeply hurt and offended by the Church’s unwillingness to allow them to partake of communion. Others come forward anyway to receive communion against the wishes of the Church. Frequently they perceive this rule as displaying a lack of charity, humility, or ecumenism on the part of the Catholic Church when nothing could be further from the truth. Much like Christ Himself, His Church extends an invitation to everyone, inviting all to attend the supper of the Lamb!
But – and here’s the catch – the Lamb’s supper is not a buffet!
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast; but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’ But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and invite to the marriage feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”1
There is a great paradox at work in the parable above. Although everyone is invited to the feast, there are still rules which are enforced by the host. The guests must be willing. They must be worthy. They must be properly attired.
Eat Your Dinner!
There is a very simple answer to those who struggle with understanding the restrictions which the Church places on who can, and who cannot, receive communion. To partake of the Eucharist, to participate in the sacrament of communion – you must be in full communion with Christ and His Church!
It’s really that simple.
- If I am a Protestant and not in full communion with the Catholic Church – if I cannot say that, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” – then it is a scandal and a sacrilege to profess full and complete communion when there is not.
- If I am a Catholic and not in full communion with the Catholic Church – if I cannot in good conscience affirm that, “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” – then it is a scandal and a sacrilege to profess full and complete communion when there is not.
[Far too many Catholics fall into this category, privately (or publicly) disagreeing with the Church on matters of dogma and moral teaching. They profess that they must be true to their conscience without understanding that it is the job of holy mother Church to help them properly form their conscience. It is not our job to attempt to mold the Church to our own opinions, morals, or societal norms; rather we must allow the Church to mold and shape us – a lesson we should have learned after witnessing the results of the Reformation.]
- If I am a Catholic who is not in full communion with Christ due to unconfessed mortal sin in my life – then it is a scandal and a sacrilege to profess full and complete communion when there is not full communion.
I, like many, have been guilty of at least one of these offenses in my life at some point and have had to repent. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”2
The Church, much like a loving mother, wants for her children to be well fed. But much like any loving mother, she will require them to eat their vegetables with their meal, and require them to finish their dinner before dessert. She will remind them, in other words, that the Lamb’s supper is a family meal – not a buffet. That all are invited, but that there are house rules. She will remind them that the guests must be willing, they must be worthy, and they must be properly attired. And then, she will feed them a meal the likes of which they have never seen and could never have dreamt of!
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