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The Message
Evansville, Indiana
October 2, 1987     The Message
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October 2, 1987

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Faith Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville, October 2, 1987 1 Faith Todav A supplement to Catholic newspapers published by NATIONAL CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE 1312 Massachuse Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. with grant astonce from The C@thohc Church I1---I I EXTENSION Soc,ew 35 East Wadder Dr., Chicago, Illinois 60601 All contents copyright t987 by NC News Service. 33 L By Father Eugene LaVerdiere, SSS NC News Service S omehow an American picnic just wouldn't be an American picnic without hot dogs. Neither would Thanksgiving be Thanksgiving without turkey. Hot dogs on picnics and turkey on Thanksgiving have become so solidly associated that one without the other is almost inconceivable. They are traditions. Traditions grow out of real life and become an integral part of it. They may be small mat- ters, like putting out a flag on a national holi- day, or they may be bigger, like participating in the Eucharist on a national holiday such as Thanksgiving. People enjoy traditions and find little need to question them. They provide a sense of con- tinuity, identity and strength. As in ordinary life, so in a person's religious life. The New Testament even speaks of tradi- tions which shaped life in Jesus' home. Luke's Gospel tells us that Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover. When Jesus was 12 they went up for the celebration as was their custom. It was a tradition with them. Later in the same Gospel, we read that it also was traditional for Jesus to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He had done this as a young man in Nazareth Later this tradition was to provide a setting for him to i present his mission to those who had gathered on the ......... :: Sabbath in the Nazareth synagogue. And to describe his mission Jesus used traditional words from Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord was upon him and he had been anointed to bring good news to all those in need (Luke 4:16-19). Like Jesus, like Mary and Joseph, and like their parents, we too have religious traditions. We see them at weddings when the bride and groom exchange rings. We see them at First Communions with the communicants all spruced up in their best clothes, expressing people's feeling that a new step in life is being taken, that a new relationship to Christ and the church community is developing. Of course, there are all the wonderful greetings, prayers and readings used in the liturgy. What would Mass be without a welcoming "The Lord be with yott," without a gospel story, without the Lord's Prayer, without a gesture of peace, without sharing Communion together? All of these are traditional. They help to ex- press a long and proud Christian heritage. They tie us to the begitinings of Christianity in the earliest communities, such as those that gathered in Jerusalem and in Rome. Sometimes we laugh at traditions, such as the collection at Mass. Yet we would not so easily part with even this tradition. Its roots go back to St. Paul and the generosity shown by the Christian communities of Greece and Turkey for the poor in the mother com- munity at Jerusalem. What would Thanksgiving be without turkey? The Fourth of July without flags and fireworks? These customs have become an integral part of ordinary life. They provide a sense of con- tinuity, identity and strength. They are traditions. As in ordinary life, so in the life of the church. Father Eugene LaVerdlere says the church's key tradition -- the life of Jesus as It continues to be expressed -- and the many traditions which spring from that provide a framework for living. What complicates discussions of the word tradition is the fact that it has dif- ferent uses. In one sense, church tradi- tion refers to the very life of Jesus as it continues to be expressed n to be communicated -- in the church. Used is way, the word points to the heart of the church and the continuity in its life. Using the word more broadly, we speak of the many traditions which express that tradition. Of course, people often use the word tradition to refer to customs  customs which may genuinely express faith. Somehow it always seems easier to describe the church's many traditions than to tell what church tradition in the stricter sense means. This is much like finding it easier to tell people what you do than to explain to them who you are. Church tradition is alive. You might say i  that tradition and its many traditions, in- cluding the liturgy and important devotional prac- tices, provide a frame- work for living. This frame- ....  work is like a tree, strong and full of life, on which we can graft new prac- tices. Their life too comes from tradition. Healthy tradition is a condition for healthy change in the church. Matthew's Gospel (13:52) spoke of this by comparing a learned scribe in the kingdom of God to the head of a household who knows how to draw from his stores both the new and the old. What is the new without the old? And what is the old without the new? (Father LaVerdiere is editor of EmmanueL)