Dig In: It's OK If You Don't like Beets. There's a Dish for Every Taste on the Catholic Table

Article excerpt

JESUS MUST HAVE ENJOYED EATING. IF HIS OPPONENTS called him "a glutton and a drunkard," we can only guess that he loved a good dinner party. The scandal he caused, however, had less to do with what he ate than with whom: "tax collectors and sinners."

The issue of who is welcome at the Christian table never really went away. The New Testament tells a story of a progressively larger table that came to include Roman soldiers, influential women, Gentiles rich and poor. But the question of who got a seat, based on both belief and behavior, was never without controversy.

Paul ruled out a long list in his Letter to the Romans. The North African theologian Tertullian and other ancient sources said no soldiers, and most early bishops had their lists of excommunicated heretics. In our own day political and moral questions create the boundaries, with authorities of varying degrees--from bishops to bloggers--holding forth.

Those with no recognized authority--most of the baptized--rarely get a sounding about what it takes to get a reservation, but we can thank Chicago priest and sociologist Andrew Greeley for one attempt, in his home archdiocese of Chicago. "What must one believe and do to be a good Catholic?" he asked this church in the heart of America. The answers, published in October, were a bit surprising.

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Tied for first on the list of "very important" components of a Catholic identity came belief in Jesus' resurrection and in the presence of God in the sacraments (81 percent of those interviewed), with faith in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, concern for the poor, and devotion to Mary tied for second (75 percent). Daily prayer, social justice, and angels and saints each cleared the 50-percent mark with 63, but weekly Mass attendance (46 percent), acceptance of papal infallibility (34 percent), regular confession (30 percent), and support for priestly celibacy (24 percent) sank to the bottom.

Catholics of left and right would find much to criticize in Greeley's respondents when it comes to details. When asked what makes a "good Catholic," (54) percent agreed that one should be married in the church, but less than 40 percent agreed that accepting the church's teaching on abortion, divorce, gay marriage, and birth control were necessary. …