Have you ever seen “Fiddler on the Roof?” Maybe on Broadway before our government overlords decided to shut everyone down and cost half the country their jobs. Or maybe you’ve seen the movie version. There’s a line in there that stands out to me. They are singing about “tradition.” Tevya, the main character, says something really profound. He says, “Because of our traditions, each one of us knows who he is and what God expects of us.”
We all see this and feel it in different ways, but we are living in a world that is tumultuous and topsy-turvy to say the least. It feels truly dystopian and is completely unsettling. We are a culture adrift. There seems to be nothing stable, nothing that is permanent, and we feel the lack of it. As a culture, we have unhitched ourselves from history. This is one of the primary reasons, I believe, for all that is going on. We see this in the so-called “cancel culture” today. This silly obsession with erasing the past, good or bad, is nonsensical and quite immature.
We have a cancel culture in the Church today as well. Oh, they won’t call it that, these cancel culture warriors. They’ll call it progress or reaching the modern man or the big one, “relevant.” If you look at it carefully, it is ecclesiastical cancel culture. Those who engage in this have been and are trying to make the Church into something she is not. Now, they won’t claim that, of course. No, they claim that this is the natural “progression” of the modern Church (whatever that means) or the “development” of doctrine or even that they are “going back” to what the early Church was without all the trappings of religion. All of those claims are complete nonsense and false on their face.
Some will say, “But Jesus criticized the religious people of His day for their meaningless traditions.” No, He did not. He criticized them for relying solely on the externals of their traditions to save them. He criticized them for their lack of love and faith. Their harsh stance on tradition was criticized because they used it as a stick to beat the people with and put themselves on a pedestal. He did not criticize the traditions of the Jewish faith. In fact, He participated in the traditions of the faith and of His people. He went to synagogue, worshipping and preaching there. He went to the Temple during the great feasts. He observed Passover. He was a faithful Jew. There is no indication in the entire New Testament or from Jesus Himself that He came to do away with the traditions and faith of His people. Rather, He focused the fulfillment of the traditions and faith in Himself. He didn’t abrogate Tradition. He fulfilled it.
In the writings of the New Testament, we find again and again that Tradition was important to the early Church. In fact, there would be no New Testament were it not for Tradition. The Apostle Paul speaks repeatedly of Tradition. In his letter to the Church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:1-2), St. Paul says,
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.”
He goes on in this chapter to discuss proper worship, including the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper. He gives the Corinthian Church (and us), the institution of the Lord’s Supper as it had been received from the Lord. Did you read that? As it had been received from the Lord. In other words, St. Paul didn’t make it up. It was received. The Church hasn’t made up her Tradition. It has been received from the Lord and is the continuing life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
In 2 Thessalonians, St. Paul warns the Christians there of a great apostasy in chapter 2. He concludes that warning, in part in verse 15, by saying,
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
So, St. Paul says there is Tradition that is not written down. There is oral Tradition, “by word” as St. Paul refers to it. In other words, the Tradition that has been passed down to the Church has come by both oral and written Tradition. This is important and, in my opinion, blows a hole right through this nonsensical notion of “sola scriptura” that states that, unless you find it written in Scripture, it is not to be believed or practiced. Where do you think Holy Scripture came from and who decides what made it into the canon of Scripture? The New Testament didn’t fall out of the sky magically. It was compiled over time by the Fathers of the Church, by Tradition. And the books that were canonized haven’t changed. It is us (more precisely the Protestant practice) that decided we wanted to take some things out of the canon of Holy Scripture because it didn’t fit our narrative. Talk about cancel culture. This is Holy Scripture we’re talking about. You don’t get to go back and arbitrarily decide what is in or out. The Church, by the Spirit, decided that thousands of years ago.
St. Paul also reminds his spiritual son, Timothy, of this very thing. In his second letter to Timothy, chapter 1 verse 13-14, we read,
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”
Other translations, in verse 14, say “guard the good deposit” which was committed to you. St. Paul is of course referring to the gospel here, the good news of what our Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Included in that gospel message is the Tradition that had been received by St. Paul from the Lord Jesus.
And in St. Jude’s letter, verses 3-4, we read,
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
St. Jude says he was going to write about the gospel, “our common salvation,” but has instead had to write about keeping the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Once for all. In other words, it doesn’t change. It doesn’t adapt itself to the culture, it doesn’t develop, it isn’t modified. The faith and its Tradition have been once for all delivered to the saints. Changing that faith or the practice thereof is exactly what St. Jude goes on to warn about. He tells us that “certain men have crept in unnoticed.” Remember, he’s writing to Christians. In other words, there will be those among even the Church who will turn away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Are there men in the Church today who have turned away from the faith once for all delivered to saints? What has changed, the faith and worship and practice of the Church or have some men crept in among us unnoticed and changed things?
I’m really not trying to be some grumpy curmudgeon here. This isn’t merely an argument of “We ain’t never done it that way” or nostalgia. This has, at its core, the very faith we profess and the core doctrines of the faith and the practice of our faith. If we change those, we are no longer the Church founded by our Lord Jesus and the Apostles. If we change those, we are no longer walking in that which was received. Rather, we are walking in a faith that we have made for our own comfort, not one given to us by Christ Himself.
God With Us Publications put out a series of books on the Eastern Church. In the book “A Stream of Living Water” addressing Holy Tradition, we read this,
“Tradition, therefore, is not an end in itself. We do not believe in the outward forms of Tradition, for that would be idolatry, substituting any created reality for the living God. We believe in the message of Tradition: that Jesus Christ is made present for us in the Church through the Spirit.”
This, then, is the Holy Tradition we embrace (or should) and take part in; the ongoing life of the Spirit in the people of God, the Church.
Let us return, dear brothers and sisters! Let us turn back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Look around you at the so-called Church and those who claim her name. Find the Church as she has been, the one who has held on to the faith. I assure you that she is out there. Run to the arms of Mother Church and there, in the embrace of Jesus, you will find rest for your souls!
Glory to God!
Our world is consumed with pride.
So are we, if we’re honest. Or maybe it’s just me.
We see this pride in everything. The media proudly struts about, pounding their nonsense into the brains of those foolish enough to listen to them, lecturing us about how we should be living a more woke life. The education system proudly flaunts the fact that they have largely abandoned traditional teaching methods and classic education and, rather than teaching our children how to think and read and interact with their fellow humans, they clamor about how modern their methods are, while teachers unions whine about doing their job because they might get sick. The government so proudly lectures us, in the persons of the radical left, about how we are all racists and sexual bigots because we (Catholics) cling to the Faith. Our own Church hierarchy, in their arrogance, feel that they can adjust the Tradition of the Church to fit into their liberal ideology and expect the faithful to just go along with the nonsense.
It’s everywhere and consumes all in its path.
This was, perhaps, the great sin of Lucifer. In his pride, he wanted to be the star of the show, not some lowly virgin who would give miraculous birth and certainly not to God the Son who would dare to lower Himself to become human. How dare God not recognize the beauty and knowledge and wonder of him, Lucifer thought! He was and is consumed by pride.
But our readings today point us in a very different direction. Our Epistle is St. Paul’s famous text on humility: Philippians 2:5-11. Our gospel reading is St. Matthew’s narrative of the Passion of our Lord Jesus: Matthew 26:36-75, 27:1-60.
Let us consider together the humility of our Lord Jesus. St. Paul reminds us that we are to have the mind of Christ. And, in our text today, what is the mind of Christ?
He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. God the Son, who has existed for all eternity, through Whom the world was made, for Whom the world was made, took upon Himself human flesh. He took on all our weakness and frailty. Imagine, brothers and sisters. God has become human. He emptied Himself of the glory in which He lived and the constant praise of the angelic hosts to hear the hateful words of sinful man who spat on Him and mocked Him. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating on this fact and not exhaust its depths:
He emptied Himself.
He humbled Himself, being obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Fathom, if you can, the humility of the God-man, God the Son, who was and is and is to come. He obeyed the will of the Father, knowing it would cost Him agony that we cannot possibly comprehend and suffering a death that was excruciating beyond what we can imagine. Look at our gospel reading and see His agony. He was beaten, spat upon, stripped naked, nailed to a cross. Behold His suffering and fall on your knees, brothers and sisters.
And we, brothers and sisters, we not only observe but are invited to participate in His very Passion. What grace He has given us, that we should be joined to His suffering and death by faith! We cannot, we must not turn away from our own suffering for, in it, we embrace the suffering of our Messiah.
Embrace the humility of our Lord Jesus in your own life. In the garden, He said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me.”
What an invitation He has given us! We are invited to stay with Him and watch with Him in prayer!
Do our souls sorrow for our sins?
Do we watch with Christ in prayer?
Our Lord said to the Father, “Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Are we willing to submit to the will of the Father, no matter the cost? Are we willing to submit our own will? Do we submit to His Church, and thus to Him, or do we demand our own way? Let us take to heart the words of our Savior, even in His suffering and Passion,
“Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak.”
Let us embrace what our Lord has gone before us to show. Let us take to heart His words and amend our lives, rend our hearts and submit. Let us watch and pray that we may not enter into temptation. Our flesh is indeed weak and selfish and prideful. Pray, brothers and sisters, that your spirit would be made willing. Fast, pray, embrace the life our Lord has called us to, a life of submission to the will of the Father and service to our Lord Jesus.
And what shall come of us after we have submitted, after we have fasted and prayed, after we have submitted to the will of the Father?
Like the veil of the temple, our hearts will be torn in two. Not in pain but in freedom. For the veil of our flesh and sin that has separated us from God our Father will have been torn finally in two. Our hearts of stone will become hearts of true flesh. We shall have then the mind of Christ. And we shall see our Lord face to face, as He is.
Oh, this is the end, dear brothers and sisters, of embracing the Passion of our Lord. We shall be made in His image and we shall see Him face to face! Watch ye, therefore, and pray!