Do you remember that episode in Peter Pan when Tinker Bell is about to perish and all the children in the audience are asked to clap their hands if they believe in fairies? Their clapping makes Tinker Bell come back to life.
Tinker Bell seems to have invaded the mindset of modern man. That is to say, too many people think that if you believe something it makes it so, and if you do not believe something that makes it so. How often have you heard people say, “Well, I don’t believe in Hell.” Then they go on living like the devil—imagining that just not believing in Hell makes Hell go away. Likewise a good number of religious people think that just by believing a particular doctrine makes it so. This is not belief. It is wishful thinking.
This form of relativism is sometimes expressed as “If that belief works for you, then that’s good. It doesn’t work for me.” This is not faith. It is utilitarianism. A person chooses a belief according to how useful it is.
Most non-Catholic Christians treat the Church as simply a useful, manmade institution. They do not stop to think what might be the true Church, because they don’t think such a thing exists. Instead churches are like fast food franchises. You choose which one you works for you and you can “have it your way.”
An increasing number of Catholics operate the same way. They choose the items of Church belief and practice they like best, and reject what they don’t like. St Benedict named four types of monks, and these he called the “gyrovagues”. He writes in the Rule:
They are never stable throughout their own lives, but wanderers through diverse regions, receiving hospitality in the monastic cells of others…Always roving and never settling, they follow their own wills, enslaved by the attractions of gluttony.
He calls these church shoppers gluttons! No wonder we call them “Cafeteria Catholics”. Like diners at a buffet they sniff out what what they like and don’t like and take a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
The reason St Benedict links this kind of Christianity with gluttony is because the church shoppers are driven by pleasure. Cafeteria Catholics choose what they like and reject what doesn’t suit them, never realizing that in doing so they are undermining the very Catholicism they profess.
If you choose to believe in something just because it attracts you or because you think it is useful, then you are living in Never Never Land with Tinkerbell. We don’t believe Catholicism because we find it useful or attractive; we believe Catholicism because it’s true.
Catholicism is solid and real. It is based on the life, teaching, passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ—a real historical figure who was God in human form. He founded the Catholic Church by giving his apostles his own divine authority on earth. That Catholic Church is a real, historical institution. It has laws and property and prelates and priests and people. Each element of the Catholic Church is part human and part divine. The Body of Christ is incarnate today in a real and solid way within the structures and teachings and people and sacraments of this Church.
It is not fairyland. It is not a fantasy. It is not something that happens to be true if you happen to choose to believe in it. The Catholic Church does not exist because you clap your hands.
When Catholics fall into the ways of the world and pick and choose what elements of the Church they think is true and reject other parts they really, in a profound way, cease to be Catholics because by doing so they are saying, “This is not a revealed religion. This is, after all, simply a man made rule of a man made institution. I can therefore do what I like.”
What the Catholic Church needs now more than ever are good, solid, supernaturally inspired, joyful, dynamic and energetic Catholics. What we need are Catholics who are empowered by the supernatural vision of the Church of Christ alive in the world as an objective reality—not something that is exists only if you happen to like it.