Religion Sunday: Cafeteria Catholics

The Catholic Church of which I am a member has a list of what is permissible and what is forbidden In a book called the Catechism. It teaches that if you do not follow the what is permissible but slip into the
land that is forbidden then you have committed a sin.


There are two types of sin.

One is called venial; the other and most grave is referred to as mortal.

When I was in sixth grade I had to go to CCD which was a weekly class held after school at St William’s school taught by the nuns.


They dressed in garments similar to some Muslim women where all that is exposed of their body are their hands and face. Not even a speck of the hair on their head is visible. They were referred to as sisters.  One nun during this afternoon class explained the difference between mortal and venial sin.

She went to the blackboard on the side of the room to my right located on the wall opposite the windows. She drew a humungous circle in white chalk. She said that is our soul.

Explaining that she was going to show us how venial sins blemish our soul she put one inch size chalk marks at various places within the circle doing it in such a way that it made a noise and seemed as if they were bullet holes.

She paused so we could see the damage. There was little doubt the soul had taken a little beating but most of it remained in tact. She explained lots of venial sins dirty the soul but it can be cleansed after death with a good washing in Pergatory or by going to confession while one still could.

She then said she would show us what just one mortal sin does to the soul and how it inflicts greivous harm. She put the chalk on its side and in broad frenetic strokes obliterated the circle. The soul was gone. She emphasized that only one mortal sin totally destroy the soul.

She went on to explain that mortal sins could also be forgiven by going to confession so all was not lost. But one was in extreme jeopardy between the time when the sin was committed and having it forgiven. It was a guaranteed one way ticket to Hell.

We learned we might sin which offended God we but could always get back on His good side. In theology class at Boston College we learned about other ways of being forgiven without going to confession. In the Marines we were given general absolution at Mass when potentially dire situations faced us.

We learned sin no matter how greivous could be forgiven by God. We were taught not to judge others in their relationship with God.

Obviously we Catholics should follow the Church’s teachings. In doing so we should be concerned with ourselves and not with what others do. Condemning others and calling them Cafeteria Catholics because you think they are not doing what the Church permits in one area where you may follow the Church’s teaching is plainly wrong.

You too have sinned at one point or another. Does that make you a Cafeteria Catholic? Do you see the splinter the eye of another while you have a telephone pole in your eye?

Jesus taught us to love others, help others, and not to be vain. Didn’t  he scold those who pretended to be better than others by praying loudly in public.

Many Catholics have fallen into the belief that even if they abhor others, covet money, assist no one, and are uncharitable they are without sin because, for instance,  they oppose abortion. I suggest that Jesus may not agree.

We will have to wait and see on this. All I suggest is avoid condemning others and take care of your own soul. “Judge not others unless you be judged and found wanting.”


10 thoughts on “Religion Sunday: Cafeteria Catholics


    “The soul within the fetus cannot be destroyed by any kind of abortion,”

    In other abortions

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  2. John F. Kennedy promised that if there were ever a conflict between his faith and his oath of office. Like you, I was raised Catholic, including the Sisters of St. Joseph’s round diagram of the distinction between mortal and venial sins. It didn’t stick very well. I still check the RC box off on forms but that’s about it.

    My position on abortion is visceral. About 35 years ago, I observed twin sons being lost by miscarriage 5 months into a pregnancy. They looked like little guys to me and I formed the view that people shouldn’t do that on purpose. It’s not religious and I also think I shouldn’t force my personal view about abortion on the woman involved. I’d like to think a judge with strong views on abortion could put them aside when interpreting the Constitution but I wouldn’t count on it. I should emphasize that I think it’s absurd to say that there’s a “right” to abortion guaranteed by the US Constitution, other than one created by judges for policy reasons of their own.

    Generally, I wouldn’t trust a politician who talks much about his religion but he is certainly entitled to have his religion inform his sense of right and wrong on policy. Voters are entitled to consider his religion for the same reason as are senators confirming a judge. That’s not the same as a “religious test” prohibited by the Constitution.

    If a politician does talk about being a Catholic, he puts into play the question of whether or not he adheres to the tenets of that religion.

    1. As usual, Judge, a strikingly intelligent and logical reply. When I told my wife, raised Catholic (and a BC grad) long before we were even close to marriage, that I was anti abortion, she called me on it immediately. I told her that I and I alone was anti abortion, but that I was totally pro choice. I’m not telling any woman what to do with the developing fetus within her. But if I were pregnant, no way would I do it.

      And hearing politicians speak about their religious beliefs, is like hearing Bo Bo on Finding Bigfoot talk about String Theory.

  3. Quincy native Ed Tatro has a new article published
    in the JFK Assassination research journal Garrison.

    Then we have Gurdjieff….

    Gunther Weil introduced me to Gurdjieff around 1966.
    Dr. Weil was one of my thesis advisers for
    my M.A. Criminology thesis program in 1972-73.

    Attorney Andrew Vachss was my other thesis advisor.

  4. wa-llahi! I wonder when the civil war will begin? How will it start? What happenstance will furnish the Fort Sumter excuse? I’m thinking it will be a war of terror, and, counter-terror, but, things could just as well develop as they did during the Columbian Violencia; neighbor wasting neighbor, folks just pointing rifles out the windows of their homes, and, letting loose. 73 days until the election. All hail the apocalyptic moment.

  5. wa-llahi! I knew some catechists. They were Spanish Jesuits who were part of the base community program in Guatemala. During the late seventies, and, early eighties, the young priests went up into the Altiplano to serve the people living in isolated Mayan villages. I liken them to the Black Robes of North America. Just as brave, they were. The young Jesuits served not only the spiritual needs of the villagers, but, also, educated the folks on their rights as Guatemalan citizens. That threatened the status quo. Right-wing death squads martyred the young missionaries. Ronald Reagan supported the killers with weapons and advisers (SF).

    Never forget, never forgive. Our day will come. All power to the dialectic.

  6. During our regular meeting of the Savin Hill Theological Society (now defunct) held at the tin roof at the J.L. Motely School, the topic was mortal sin. We were fumbling in our attempt at a precise definition when Teddy R. came up with the winner. Teddy proselytized that mortal sin was a deliberate moral affront to God. Well, this was good news for us as we all agreed that we never did that!

    On that note we adjourned and went for a swim.

  7. What does it say about a person who calls his critics liars and haters but suggests we not condemn folks?

  8. Give me pro-life Democrats like Bill Bulger, Joe Moakley, Steve Lynch and Paul White or pro-life Republicans like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, the only President to speak at the annual Right to Life March in Washington D.C.

    Catholic Catechism: “2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. . . . 2271 Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion.”

    Matt suggests “avoid condemning others” while he’s spent four years condemning Trump. Excuse me while I “condemn” (i.e. resoundingly criticize) abortionists, war mongers, drug pushers, rioters, looters, arsonists, sex traffickers, gangsters, murderers, white collar criminals, corrupt two-faced politicians, and hypocrites. Excuse me while I condemn pro-abortion politicians like Biden who has promised to codify Roe v. Wade, who has sworn allegiance to abortion, and who has forsaken his decades long support of the Hyde Amendment, and who now favors taxpayer funding of abortion.

    2. The Declaration of Independence cites the three rights we’ve been given by our Creator: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Matt ignores the unborn human being’s Right to Life.

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