Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Consider the source

My mother, usually when someone would have said something stupid that upset me, would simply say, "Consider the source."
To understand today's gospel that is exactly what we have to do.

Often those who want to attack the Catholic faith will quote this passage from Mark and claim that what they are teaching is the Word of God and what we are teaching is merely tradition. Even Catholics will fall into what seems to me to be an odd convention of trying to distinguish between Tradition and tradition. (One has a capital letter).

The word tradition means anything that is handed down or handed over. The word traitor comes from the same root, meaning someone who hands over their friend.

The Bible itself is tradition in that it is the Word of God as handed down to us by those who were inspired to commit it to writing, those who who copied it over the centuries. After all, we don't have the original of any book of the Bible.

Jesus in Mark does not condemn tradition. Jesus understands that tradition is a part of God's plan and part of the mission of the Church, to faithfully hand on what has been given to us. What Jesus says is:

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.

Notice the word human.

In the Catholic Church we recognize a distinction. Mass in Latin or Mass in English? Communion in the hand or on the tounge? How many days are there to Advent? Altar boys, girls, adult? Vestments? All of these and many other things have and can change because we recognize that these are human traditions.

We do also believe that the Holy Spirit did not drop dead after the Bible was complete. The Spirit has continued to guide the Church and teach us things that are not commanded in the Bible, but have as their source God.

If we take the Bible literally we would still have slavery. Since the Bible literally tells the slave to go back to his master. We believe slavery is contrary to the dignity of the person.

While Jesus does not use the word,"Pope", we do believe he provides in the scriptures the structure of the Church.

What Jesus condemns is the way some Pharisees play games and use merely human tradition to dodge obligations. In a word what he condemns in the reading is not tradition but hypocrisy.
If you read the full text, he opens with

Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites

What are the traditions we are handing on to the next generation? The truth is we may not even think we are handing on tradition but every time they watch and copy our behavior we are engaged in tradition.