20 January 2012

The New Face of Traditions in the Church


There is a notion in the Church today that much of her venerable traditions are no longer relevant, and indeed some of those traditions are no longer to be tolerated. An age of so-called tolerance has led to more intolerance. It may not be a popular view, or one that is keeping up with the times, but the simple truth is that traditions have sustained the Church and taught the Faith in an authentic way through two millenia. I believe people today are starving for tradition and orthodoxy of faith. Yet, they are so immersed in anti-tradition and modernist viewpoints that they might not even be aware of this internal hunger. The timeless traditions of the Church, now smoldering in their few remaining strongholds, need to be re-kindled into the brilliant flames of the Faith that will spread far and wide and leave no Christian untouched.

First recall the words of Saint Athanasius, whose name graces that great Creed that explicitly defines what is required to be Catholic. Saint Athanasius said that those who hold to the traditions of the Faith, even if reduced to a handful, are the true Catholic Church. Certainly those today who hold to tradition often feel marginalized like an unwelcome minority or a strange oddity. Widespread changes in the 1970s affected Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and even much of other Christian communities. In some cases, the social justice movement fought to be supreme, leading to social justice arguments defining theology rather than the other way around. New freedom resulted in fundamental changes to liturgy and necessarily to underlying theology. A God-centered attitude was replaced with a people-centered attitude. Clerical dress has largely disappeared, with many clerics preferring to dress like parishioners rather than live up to the obligations of their state in life. Traditions were eroded, boundaries were blurred, and consequently the people were given an empty shell of what once was the norm.

Just as building a new house requires more precise control than renovating an existing building, in order to form a new order in the Church not built on timeless traditions, more controls are necessarily required. Ironically, it appears that the modernist changes that were ostensibly supposed to inspire more freedom for the people have ultimately resulted in less freedom. 

A large number of the old traditions of the Church are now often the subject of derision. Those who uphold them are often made to feel like outcasts, even within their own churches, parishes, and faith communities. What the modernists do not understand, though, is that adherence to tradition does not equate with being stuck in the past and unable to move forward. Being stuck in the past is not a good thing. Traditions, though, have allowed the Church to move forward and progress through the centuries. One must know where one has been in order to know where one is going, and tradition serves that purpose. One must have a strong foundation on which to build in order to be confident, and tradition serves that purpose. One must be certain of the authenticity of the message in order to share it, and tradition serves that purpose. Each generation of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church has built on the traditions of each generation of the Church before. We progress and we evolve. Catholics do not tear down and destroy. Yet, that is precisely what happened in the latter half of the twentieth century. Tradition was largely replaced with the here-and-now.

Clinging to tradition is being determined not to throw away what is tried and true for what is not proven. To hold fast to tradition is to hold fast to Holy Mother Church with a resolve that will not and cannot be shaken. To keep tradition is to keep the Faith once delivered. I preach nothing more than what the Catholic Faith has professed for two millenia and do not preach my opinions. No Catholic should do otherwise. With the firm foundation of Sacred Tradition, we have confidence in the knowledge of the Faith. When traditions are eroded, we have a foundation that is weakened. When traditions are significantly eroded, we are necessarily left with the preaching of opinion and new doctrine that form a new tradition, which, by virtue of its break with historic tradition, may or may not be truly and wholly Catholic.

Fortunately, many are now re-discovering the venerable traditions of the Church. Once they were stifled, but now they are being presented and promoted as relevant in the modern world. The world changes constantly, but the Church is a firm rock that always and everywhere must be consistent with herself. The true Christian Faith today is the same as it was when it was delivered to the world by Christ. Tradition is what keeps that constancy. The modern world, with all the rapid changes in technology, dissemination of information, the economy, security, and ways of life, needs to see the true traditions of the Church again. The new face of tradition is not a change in tradition, but rather a new application of something tried and true to the modern world. The world is always changing, but the Faith is eternal. Let deacons, priests, bishops, and all clerics not try to blend in when outside the walls of the Church, but proclaim both the Faith and the mission of their vocation of service to God, His Church, and His people. Let all the faithful in Christ not be shy about living the Faith in all they do, openly and in the true humility of Christ. Let the new face of ageless tradition proclaim the presence of the Church in the world for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.