Cafeteria Catholic

I was raised Catholic, but the emphasis in our home was mainly to live a good Christian life. Going to church regularly or following the catechism was optional. Since religion in my family was mostly about showing Christís love in our actions, I believed I was a devout Catholic because my arms were stretched wide helping people like nobodyís business.

I attended Mass when it was convenient, and had committed my career to teaching in the Catholic schools. It was at one of these schools that I met my dear friend Lauren.

Lauren was a strange Catholic in my eyes. She kept telling me about different saints and their stories, using them as examples to lovingly teach me about my faith. I thought she was a little out there and kept asking her, "How do you know that story is true?" or "Where did you get that story?" Her patience with me was amazing.

Eventually she started telling me about the holy days of obligation. Like Sunday Mass, those, too, were optional in my opinion. I was not going to be a hypocrite and attend Mass during the week. Besides, my dad told me that going to Mass so everyone can see you is not what makes you holy. Itís how you live that makes you holy.

Poor Lauren. Look what she was up against. I was this holier than thou Catholic teacher who knew nothing about our faith and was convinced I didnít need to know it because I was living it. Bless her heart. Lauren did not give up on me.

Lauren gave me Scott and Kimberly Hahnís conversion stories. Youíd think that would turn me around wouldnít you? No, they were neat stories, but I was already Catholic.

As we went through the school year, Lauren invited me to begin praying with her after school. That was really pushing it. Prayer is a private thing. Sharing with a friend, whoa! But I agreed because I loved her and knew I needed to do what interested her.

Wow! What a difference that prayer time made. She taught me how to pray the rosary, how to talk to Jesus rather than just God the Father, and how to call on the gifts of the Holy Spirit for help. That did me in. When she got all three persons of God and Mother Mary working with me, my eyes began to open.

Then one day Lauren used the phrase "cafeteria Catholic" in a story she was telling me. I asked, "What is a cafeteria Catholic?" Lauren explained that a cafeteria Catholic is someone who only follows the rules of the Church that he or she agrees with and lets the rest go. Well, Iím a major rule follower and did not at all like the sound of that. So I began asking questions.

We turned to the catechism, we turned to the Bible, we prayed the rosary, and I was convicted big time! I knew that I was indeed a cafeteria Catholic, and until now I had not even known it. It was time to decide. "What will it be Mary, are you Catholic or not?"

I pondered this for months and in the meantime got pregnant. This affected me deeply. Was I going to teach my children to be cafeteria Catholics? My heart began to ache, my anxiety increased, and at the prodding of Lauren, I decided to go to confession at St. Charles.

I was so scared. I wrote everything down. I listed all the individual sins that I could think of, such as my wrong attitude, and the biggest sin of all which was that my husband and I had used birth control for years, even before we were married. That one killed me. Granted, he was my only one, but I had still sinned against God. That my husband is my one and only made it okay? Right? Not!

It was Saturday and approaching 3:00 p.m. I was so nervous that I was shaking. I picked Father Pat as the priest I would confess to. He is so warm and caring that I felt I could talk to him. So, I went in. "Face to face or behind the curtain?" I decided to face him.

He smiled and said, "Sit down, Mary." Before I lost my nerve, I told him that I wrote down a whole list of things, and that I had not been to confession in years. I donít think I took a breath.

Father Pat was so dear. He touched my knee and said, "Letís start with a prayer." We did, and that calmed me. Then he told me to begin my confession.

I read everything. I explained how I was raised Catholic and how I had changed. I told him about my husband and me. I got it all off my chest. You know what? He did not look disappointed, he did not tell me how bad I was, and he did not even call me a huge sinner and tell me to leave the Church forever. "You know what he said?"

"Mary, you have had a conversion. God has drawn you closer to Him and your life is about to change for the better." I was shocked and so relieved that I started to giggle. Father Pat joined me. He was so happy for me.

He gave me my penance, which was to go and live the life of a good and faithful Catholic and to say the Joyful Mysteries for strength and courage. I did, and now both my husband and I are living a Catholic life and raising our children to do the same. My life changed that day, and I give thanks and praise to God for both Lauren and Father Pat.

"Mary" Tacoma,Washington