As I grew up in my very large family, we honored a lot of traditions, sometimes creating new ones that stuck, and other times carrying on those that had survived generations, sustaining and bonding those who participated. Yet over time we also let go of traditions, even some that had long held. Why? They didn’t accomplish the purpose for which they were created, or we outgrew them, or they had become burdensome, or they just didn’t work anymore. I learned that doing things “the way they’d always been done” wasn’t sufficient.
My experience as an adult reinforces that holding onto things for the sake of tradition is often not only unwise; it can be close-minded, destructive, and unjust. If we had never reversed “tradition”, women could not vote, schools wouldn’t be integrated, and slavery would still be allowed. In fact, Jesus warns against abiding by traditions that were built for human purposes, and he broke with many traditions himself, including things like purity rituals that were deeply embedded in his culture and religion.
Our Church has likewise seen fit to abandon various traditions, such as fasting three hours before receiving Communion or fasting from fish every Friday, considering suicide a mortal sin, forbidding lay people from reading the Bible, and more. There is no doubt that as we continue to discern the movement of the Spirit and God’s present-day revelation, more changes will be made in the practices of the Church. Some will be welcomed; some met with resistance. Yet our Church must be open so that Jesus does not say of us, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts”.
The call to examine traditions goes beyond the Church, too. I also need to look at my personal life. Which of my personal traditions, beliefs, and set ways of doing things are of God, and which are human constructions that need to be held up to the light? In what ways am I, like the Pharisees, caught up in obeying the rules instead of doing the hard work of spiritual growth? What practices have I outgrown as I mature in my faith? Are there some that are not only unhelpful to me, but actually harmful to others? More importantly, are there some that I find comforting and wish to continue, but which are actually harmful to others and need to end?
My challenge this week is to examine traditions in every sphere of my life, work, and faith in order to discern what is of God, and what needs to be released. May we all have the courage to honestly do so, the wisdom to know what is right, and the strength to let go of even treasured practices in greater service to God’s will.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.