Even if you are not an avid theater fan, I bet you know this line: “Tradition, tra-di-tion!” Right, Fiddler on the Roof. This great musical is basically a story of ethnicity and the patriarch’s struggle to keep the practices of past generations alive despite modern times closing in. What about tradition? What is it that makes it important, valuable, worth keeping? One of the most valuable aspects of tradition is that it becomes a tangible connection between past, present and future. Family traditions cause us to recall those we love. Institutional traditions cause us to recall the goodness and commitment of the institution and national traditions cause us to recall pride and gratefulness for where and how we live.
We are in the midst of a Church season that is upheld on pillars of tradition, Lent. As a matter of fact Scholars consider three things as paramount when it comes to the validity of Church teaching and Doctrine: scripture, the magisterium and tradition.
In the Church, tradition is not a willy-nilly occurrence invented by people who have decided that the “tradition” is fun, nice, or something flashy for all to see. Rather, tradition in the Church comes directly from those who have gone before us and a rootedness that was taught by or practiced as recorded in scripture. For instance, one foundational tradition that literally builds the entire Apostolic Succession is: The Laying on of Hands. Protestants pooh-pooh the Catholic Church’s claim to Apostolic Succession as invalid. Catholics claim that every Bishop we have has been touched, selected and invested by the one who has gone before him. The Church firmly stands by this tradition and its full implication, which means that waaaay down the line every Bishop of our Church has literally been touched by Peter himself, the right hand of Jesus, the first bishop of Rome (i.e. Pope) and the one who initiated the unbroken line of Bishops to this very day. Now that’s tradition! This idea of passing on power and investiture by touch is not a figment of the Church’s imagination as Paul himself tells us:
“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” (2 Tim 1:4-8)
It is clear that Paul regards this physical act as something much more potent than a simple gesture. His text even seems to imply a choice for courage to perform the act in public as a dangerous witness for the believer. (Strictly personal conjecture.)
So during Lent, then, we are called to three other traditions that the Church models: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. In the light of the way the Church regards the efficacy of tradition think of your own Lenten practice. What is it that you have simply taken for granted with these three practices by doing them the same way for years? The Church teaches that tradition is foundational and when practiced with knowledge and fortitude it can be life altering. So, this Lent, take a closer look at your traditional practices. Maybe your fasting won’t involve food. Maybe you will actually establish and stick to keeping 10 – 15 minutes of silence with the Lord daily. Perhaps you might take money that you have carefully been saving for a treat or guilty pleasure and give it all to a cause? The possibilities are endless. The point is, of course, to rethink what your concept of what tradition is and “turn it on its head”. After all, that’s what Jesus would really do, isn’t it?
Copyright© 2016, Kathryn M. Cunningham