“Tradition is not intended to shackle us to the past. Rather it is meant to change us, otherwise it becomes a mere ideology.”

I read this the other day in one of the theological journals to which I subscribe. As I read THIS SUNDAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 3: 44 – 52] I was stunned by the truth of the above quotation as expressed in each of the three main images presented by Jesus in the Gospel extract.

Reflect on (i) “finding one great pearl of great value, (he) went and sold all that he had and bought it.” …. (ii) “sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away” …. and (iii) (he) who has been trained for the kingdom … brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” ……..


, we must consider the quotation and ask ourselves three questions:

1 Do we really know the treasure of our own tradition?

2 How deeply have we gone into ourselves and the reality of our treasure?

3 Do we see all the levels of our tradition?

Too often we make the mistake of equating individual customs as sacrosanct parts of our tradition.

CUSTOM IS NOT TRADITION. In many instances those who claim to prefer the ‘old’ ways of the Church are merely hanging on to customs which shackle them to the past. Do they really know the treasure of our tradition? How deeply have they gone into themselves and the reality of the Church’s tradition? Have they seen ALL the levels of the tradition?

Two examples will help to illustrate: (i) celibacy of the priesthood is not a constant tradition of the universal Church. In fact there are parts of the Catholic Church (outside the Latin Rite) where celibacy has never been obligatory – and in today’s Church there are Latin Rite priests who are married with children. The Church has a tradition of

PRIESTHOOD – men who set aside their lives for the ordained ministry of offering Eucharist and serving the People of God; and (ii) bishops, in certain celebrations, wear mitres (and in fact some Catholic bishops wear crowns or other special head wear) but the wearing of a mitre is a custom, not an essential part of the Church’s tradition. In fact, our bishops used to wear ‘pontifical gloves’ but this custom has been abolished – without prejudice or damage to the Church’s tradition. The Church’s tradition is hierarchical (suitable priests are ordained to the higher office of overseeing the work and ministry of a specific geographical area, and together, in union with the bishop of Rome, enjoy responsibility for the universal Church. How deeply have we gone into ourselves and the reality of our tradition? The tradition is our treasure – not our customs.

How willing are we to forfeit (“sell”) a particular custom if something much more valuable (“one pearl of great value”) could be gained? What customs are we prepared to willingly and joyfully give up for the greater good of the kingdom? There are customs which serve us well but others which become a halter around our necks. Too often we serve the custom, not the tradition. This is one element of Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel parables. Will receiving Communion in the hands damage the growth of the Kingdom?

To answer all these questions we must be prepared to sit down and sort out “the good into vessels.” It is only after we have done the sorting that we will be able to bring out of our treasure what is new and what is old. The old must always remain new, and if it cannot remain new and serve the Kingdom it needs to be discarded. Christianity as well as Catholicism is not an ideology. It is a way of life and living. An ideology is a science of ideas, a system of ideas at the basis of a particular theory. Our Faith is not a theory. It is a fact.

In all of this we need be hang on to the real treasure and not seek to cling on to the more immediate which appeals. See Solomon in

TODAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [1 KINGS 3:5. 7 – 12] as he asks for the gift of WISDOM so he will know how to judge matters and discern. I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” The Church (and we ourselves) have to seek the wisdom of what must stay in and what must go out. This seeking must be based on the faith that “the unfolding of your word gives light, and understanding to the simple.” {see TODAY’S PSALM – [119 OR 118]and appreciate how this illustrates today’s three parables of Jesus,}

At the same time it is instructive to notice the opening words of

THIS SUNDAY’S NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [ROMANS 8: 28 – 30]. ….”We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” God’s purpose is the Kingdom – no more, no less. The Lord must always be the first-born” – not some custom. We must always be willing to sit down and sort out.

Otherwise we make God’s work more difficult then it already is! We must seek the wisdom to know what must go out and go in.