Monday, January 30, 2017

Building Blocks: Sacred Tradition - Homily for January 29

Readings for Sunday, January 29/ 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Zephaniah 2:3; 3:12-13  |  Psalm 146  |  1 Corinthians 1:26-31  |  Matthew 5:1-12

"Where is that in the Bible?" Have you ever heard that question before? Often it comes in response to a teaching of the Catholic faith when speaking with a brother or sister who isn't Catholic, but is from a Protestant denomination. They raise that question of things of the faith, "Where is that in the Bible?" The implicit belief or statement of what they are saying is that unless it's in the Bible, we shouldn't believe it. And yet, that's not exactly what we understand as Catholics. If fact, nowhere in the scripture does it say that only in this book are the things that are the teachings of God. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "This is the only place where we find the teaching of the truth." Rather we find something that's quite the opposite. In St. Paul's letter to Timothy, he explicitly speaks of the Church as the defender and pillar of truth; not the scriptures, but the Church herself, the Body of Christ, the Living Membership of the Lord. It's thus that we, the Body of Christ, rely not exclusively on the scriptures, but with the scriptures as well as tradition - the living tradition passed down to us from Christ Jesus, to the apostles, to their disciples and down to our present day. It's that that we lean upon, and it's in that that we rejoice. 

If you remember, in the early Church there wasn't exactly a Bible that was passed out to all the Christian communities to say that this is the fullness of belief of the things that we are to teach, the things that we are to believe. Rather, they had the oral tradition. The disciples would go and pass on the things that were taught to them. The apostles, hearing all of the things that came from the lips of our Lord, seeing the things He had done, the ways in which He had prayed - they went forth and began to spread that in the Christian community. Only later did they write it down. It was mainly by the gift of the spoken word, the living tradition. 

How many times has it been said by new parents, "If only kids came with a manual, things would be a little bit easier." How many times has that desire been there in the midst of a screaming baby at night, you're trying to find some way to console the child, or in the same way teenagers as they are becoming young adults, trying to understand young people, even in the course later in life as children become adults - how do we respond to them as parents. All of these questions would be welcomed to have a manual that answered every single one of them, and yet we know that that's not always the case. Certainly, there are many books about babies, we can know the many do's and don'ts of raising children. But quite often what happens when a person is struggling with how to respond to something that is happening with their children, to a friend or someone else, rather than go to a book, they go to someone with the experience. We go to our own parents and say, "What do I do? How would I respond? How did you respond?" And more often than not, things that are not always written in books are given to us as advice, and often times they work. Not just a written tradition passed down, but a living one. Something that is given from generation to generation and is passed on, and is true. It's much the same with things of Christ in the Church. Of how indeed we do have the scriptures. There are the holy scriptures - the Word of God written for us to help us walk in the path of heaven. Remember too, that we have the living tradition, the family of God. 

In the Gospel of John, toward the conclusion, it said that if he wrote down all of the things the Lord Jesus said and did, there would not be enough books in all the world to contain them. So there is this recognition, necessarily so, the gift of faith that we live is not confined to books, but rather is a living gift, the gift of faith passed from one person to the next. Much in the same as Jesus; He didn't pass out papers saying, "Everybody read this paper and reflect on it." Rather He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit... Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness... Blessed are the peacemakers..." Remember, too, the many accounts that our Lord Jesus would speak in parables and all of these various stories, but then He would go back with His disciples, His inner circle, they would ask more questions and He would give more answers. He would clarify things that often times were a little bit unclear, and we don't have every single one of those clarifications in the scripture, but we do have them passed down from one person to the next, generation to generation to generation. The living gift of our faith. 

As Catholics, we understand, believe and profess that there is nothing that the Catholic Church teaches that is contrary to the scriptures. Nothing. But there are things we believe that are not explicitly contained in the scriptures. We can dig a little and see implications there, but it doesn't have to be explicitly stated because we know they have been given to us from Christ; they are a part of our family story. 

On the March for Life the other day, on Friday, I was struck by a particular group of individuals who came out to protest. They didn't come to protest abortion. They didn't come to protest the protesters of the abortion. They came to protest the Catholic Church because they know that the Catholic Church is one of the most prominent voices in the right to life movement. And indeed, as we looked around, as we were marching ourselves, some 450 or so students and young adults from the Diocese of Baton Rouge, most of the signs around us were so-and-so Catholic Church or college. It was a very Catholic experience. As we were praying the rosary, we would look around and groups we didn't know would be praying with us. As we were singing the chaplet of Divine Mercy, so too there were many others around us that were praying along with us. It was intriguing because in the midst of that, there was one particular group who came to protest the Church. They had microphones to be able to yell at us over our prayers, and they had signs to let us know that the Pope is the anti-Christ, that all Catholics are going to hell, and we need to repent and believe in the Gospel. I was trying to listen to the individual who was preaching at us as we walked passed. One of the things he said caught my ear. He said, "Brothers and sisters, in 1952 the pope proclaimed Mary assumed into heaven. In 1952, the pope said Mary never died, and we know that St. Paul says the wages of sin is death, and no one is free from death. Therefore the Catholic Church is wrong, and all of you who are Catholic need to understand, repent and turn from the Church." I was marching at that point next to a brother priest, smiled and said to him, "Apparently he never read the document the pope wrote." Because firstly, the pope never said that Mary never died. He is just forcing that reading into it. The pope was very clear; he never said Mary didn't die. But also, there is this implicit belief that because we stated and clarified something in 1952, it doesn't mean that it wasn't true and it doesn't meant that the Church didn't believe it for the previous 1,952 years. 

It's a simple reality that never has it been claimed by any Christian Church, by any Catholic community, that they have the tomb of the Blessed Mother. Have you ever thought about that? We can go and point to all the tombs of the apostles. We can point to all the tombs of the saints. We can say they were here and here and here, we know where the Blessed Mother's house is in Ephesus, we can point to all kinds of things, but not one single soul has ever said in the history of the Church or the history of the world, that they have the tomb of the Blessed Mother, and they know where it is. From the first days of the Church, we believe and understood that Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul. It took us 1,900 years to come to a full explanation and to be able to say definitively because, and only then, it came under attack. If you remember in the early Church the letters of St. Paul - when he was writing, he didn't come to give a catechism lesson. He didn't say, "Let me lay out the entirety of the Christian belief of our faith for you." Rather he said, "I notice in your community, you are struggling with this. Let me respond to that." None of the letters were meant to be a catechism lesson; they were responding to the needs of a particular church in their struggle. So too, it continues down to our day. A question of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother, ultimately led to the pope going, "I see that in our current day there has been a question, a struggle. Let me clarify. Here is what we believe and here's why." Is it in sacred scripture? No. Is it contrary to it? No. Is it something we believe from the beginning? Yes. And we can go down that with so many things that our Catholic Church teaches. Several of them revolve around Our Lady: the Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and those sorts of things. But also they look to the things of the Eucharist, the sacraments of the Church, the life of faith, the life of prayer. Not always included in the scriptures explicitly, not contrary to them, but very much a part of our faith because we have believed it from the beginning. 

For 2,000 years, generation upon generation, has received the gift of faith, and every generation's duty is to receive it in its fullness and to pass it on to the next generation in its fullness. To fall short is a grave error on our part. So we receive and pass on. Those family remedies, those tales of things that seem odd and yet they work. Wonderful gifts of our faith. 

Often times, whenever we speak of tradition, it is seem as a bad thing. We cling to our human traditions, often times it is said. Us Catholics. And because we cling to our human traditions, we are at fault. But there is a different between human traditions and Sacred Tradition itself. Human traditions can change, and indeed they should, according to the need and the culture of the day. The fact that there is certain days where we fast or feast according to the liturgical calendar, the fact of the liturgical calendar itself, the manner in which we celebrate the sacred liturgy. Sometimes we get the new translation of the liturgy or a new part is added or something is taken away or changed. The fact there are so many other things through the course of the life of the Church, indeed those are human traditions, and as they come and go according to God's will, God be praised. If they served their purpose and they are done, fine, we move on. But Sacred Tradition itself, is non-negotiable. These are not things that come and go according to times and season, but rather are perennial teachings of the Church, from the start, form the hearts of our leaders, the hearts of the faithful. 

Something good, true and holy. Not to be set aside, but rather to be cherished because they come forth from the lips of Christ our God. And so we rejoice in this gift. We rejoice in the fact that for 2,000 years, we have had a continuous heritage and history, a family story connected to Jesus Christ. Not confined to a sacred word or text, but rather a part of a true family, one that knows the story and shares its story. So let's pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, brothers and sisters, to pray that the Holy Spirit would help us to receive the gift of our faith, to receive it in its fullness, and to go forth from this place each and every weekend to share the gift of faith with others, that so too the next generation may rejoice in this gift that we share and pass it on there next.