A few years ago, I was in the company of some Jewish people, they were from a liberal faith community and in the course of the conversation they used the words, observant and orthodox, a lot. They explained that they belonged to a tradition, with many rules, and specific expectations of its members, which has led to different groups forming within their religious community. Some people of their faith are hugely orthodox and go to great lengths to observe all their rules, others, like the people I met, don’t. But they are all Jewish. I remember feeling that their experience was very different to ours in the Catholic church.
Sometime later I heard the expression ‘A la carte Catholics’ for the first time and opinions expressed about the members of our own faith community who were perceived to pick and choose from among the teaching of the Church. Many times, since then, I’ve felt myself to be either among likeminded people, or I’ve felt that I didn’t meet the expectations of my fellow Catholics, I was either too liberal or conservative depending on the topic.
Recently while talking to a couple about their choice of a Church wedding they used those words again, telling me that they weren’t very orthodox, and didn’t go along with a lot of Church teaching, and that they rarely observe the norms and rules that the church prescribes. They explained that their parents don’t really attend church and that other than the bit of religion they learnt in school no one has really impressed on them what exactly it is that practicing Catholics do, other than going to Mass. They were attracted to the church as a place to be married because they felt it communicates stability and permanence, goodness and spiritual life, all things they want in their life together, and they were grateful for the welcome and support. These little moments, when openness to the divine and significant life choices coincide are precious.
I guess we have never all been one in heart and mind, that there have always been different insights, perspectives, experiences which are held within the common life we share as members of the Church. Respectful dialogue, mutual support, a common search for truth, and learning about and within our tradition seems like the best road forward.