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October 2, 1987     The Message
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October 2, 1987

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. Faith Supplement, The Catholic Diocese of Octolx, r 1987 Today Message, Evansville, 2, II IIII IIII II . I I IL ,. Tapping our roots By Father Don Talafous, OSB NC News Service e launch a boat with a bottle of cham- pagne. We shake hands on being in- troduced. We give gifts on Christmas. We make the Sign of the Cross with holy water. The best man carries the wedding couple's rings. Hindus bathe in the Ganges. All these probably qualify as traditions. Some pertain to certain classes or groups of people; some people may have no part in them or may even find them objectionable. Traditions often have a hard time of it in our fast-moving society. One person's tradition may be another person's antiquated custom. A theologian writing on this said: "Recently Studs Terkel chided a group of students for hav- ing no sense of tradition and for supposing that the history of music began with Bob Dylan. One of them asked, 'Bob who?'" Inevitably people accept some traditions or make their own. Most of us live with some traditions, some customs handed on to us or which we intend to hand on to others. This is because they pro- vide gestures and actions for some of our cherished beliefs and convictions. Traditions afford us ways of do- ing things, of handling certain common situations; they were us- ed by others before us (often for many, many centuries) and seem to have enough worth for many to keep on doing them. In a religion like Christianity, what was done and witnessed by the earliest disciples is very impor- tant. So there is a strong tendency to preserve or to develop customs which put into concrete form the attitudes and beliefs which seem rooted in these early disciples. *The restoration of white as the color of vestments for funerals highlights the earliest Christian understanding that hope should prevail over gloom at the death of a believer. *Standing up while the Gospel is read expresses an attitude of readiness, reverence and alertness in the presence of God's word. A writer named G.K. Chesterton said that tradition is a way of giv- ing a vote to the dead, of taking into consideration their experience and knowledge, of not being dominated simply by the present. Tradition, he said, asks us not "to neglect a good man's opinion even if he is our father." In Christian life, too, tradition means giving some weight to those who have gone before because they have learned something of value for us and because we believe they were especially close to the original fire, the faith ig- nited by Jesus in his followers. In life, some traditions can be found oppressive -- that women must wash the dishes, for example. Some may find that to kiss some- one on both cheeks upon meeting is repulsive; others may consider it a great improvement over the handshake. Like everything else in human life, traditions are limited by time and space. For instance, the separation of men and omen within a church building is a tradi- tion of certain ethnic groups that has faded from the scene deservedly, most would say. We change traditions. We go back to earlier traditions -- for ex- ample, Communion in the hand and exchanging the sign of peace. Or we drop them and form new ones more appropriate to our lives. Otherwise we would be in danger of what is often called traditional- ism, an unthinking kind of rever- ence for whatever has been. If we kept and observed every tradition that our family, church or country had handed down to us, we might have a hard time even getting to work in the morning. In Christianity and in each Christian there is bound to be some tension between traditions and the present moment. Keeping a good balance is difficult and re- quires the concern and contribu- tion of every active believer, of all the people of God. (bather Talafous is a professor of theologj, at St. John's Universi- ty, Collegeville, Minn.) The tradition continues... By Father John Castelot NC New8 Service A half century had pass- ed since the resurrec- tion of Jesus when Luke set about writing his Gospel in the 80s. He was a latecomer on the scene, a gentile convert with no direct knowledge of Jesus. Where did Luke get his informa- tion? From tradition, from the Christian communities. Among his sources Luke men- tions eyewitnesses and ministers of the word -- preachers (Luke 1:2). Some material Luke used had been put into writing. He used the Gospel of Mark. Scholars believe Luke also had a collection of the sayings of Jesus at his disposal. And apparently he had special in- formation picked up through con- tacts with the churches in various places. Paul also was a latecomer. For insight into the workings of tradi- tion, listen to what he tells the Corinthians as he begins a discus- sion of the resurrection: "I hand- ed on to you first of all what I myself received" (1 Corinthians 5:3). "To hand on" and "to receive" was technical language for the process of tradition. The word tradition refers to a dynamic pro- cess through which God's word is communicated and through which we respond to it. For years, decades in fact, tradi- tion was an oral process in the an- cient church. Paul's first letter, 1 Thessalonians, was not written until 51 A.D. and Mark, the first written Gospel, appeared only about 70 A.D. Jesus wrote nothing; he preach- ed. His followers, too, looked upon preaching as their primary responsibility. As preachers, they shared the, understanding of what God had done for humanity in Christ Jesus. And they related this to their hearers' current needs. This process is reflected in the books of the Bible, which crystallize traditional interpreta- tions in written form. All of this is summed up in the Second Vatican Council's "Con- stitution on Divine Revelation": "After the ascension of the Lord, the apostles handed on to their hearers what (Jesus) had said and done, but with that fuller understanding which they, in- structed by theglorious events of Christ (the resurrection) and enlightened by the Spirit of truth, now enjoyed." Then, "the sacred authors...selected certain of the many elements which had'been handed on, either orally or already in written form, others A L