22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Within our Catholic Faith, we have many Traditions.  Fundamentalist Protestants will oftentimes point to today’s Gospel and claim that it condemns the Catholic Church because at first glance it seems to condemn tradition.  Jesus, in today’s Gospel condemns the Pharisees saying: “You hypocrites . . . You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Another text that is often pointed to, in order to argue against Tradition, is Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians where he warns his audience against false reasoning according to “human tradition.”  Reading these two texts out of context may give one the idea that Scripture condemns all tradition.

These passages of Sacred Scripture have to be understood within their proper perspective and within the larger context of all of Sacred Scripture.  In condemning erroneous human traditions, neither Jesus nor Saint Paul is condemning Apostolic Traditions; quite the contrary is true if we look at the context of the rest of the New Testament: Jesus orally entrusted the deposit of divine Truths to the Apostles and commanded them to hand those Truths on.  We get the word “tradition” in English from the Latin: “traditio,” which means: “to hand on.”

Right before His Ascension, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead the Apostles into all Truth and He instructed the Apostles to go out to the whole world, baptizing all nations and teaching all that He had commanded them.  Jesus never gave the Apostles the command to write anything down.  It wasn’t until later that the New Testament authors began to write; and it wasn’t until much later that the list of the Books of the Bible was actually agreed upon: the books in the Bible were not the only Christian writings of the day.  Nowhere in any of the original texts of the various books of the Bible is there a list of all the books that are supposed to be in the Bible.  It wasn’t until the fourth century that the Canon (or the approved list of Books in the Bible) was agreed upon.  The only thing that the early Church had was Tradition: some of it was oral tradition, some of it was written in various Letters.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there are several places in the Bible that actually command the following of Apostolic Traditions.  Saint Paul commends the Corinthians for following apostolic traditions in his First Letter to the Corinthians.  (cf. 1 Cor 11:2)  “I praise you,” Saint Paul writes, “because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.”  When Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he commanded them: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.”

The reason that Jesus condemned the Pharisees in today’s Gospel was not so much that they kept human tradition; but rather because they held on to human traditions and disregarded God’s commandments.  A good example of what Jesus is talking about here is demonstrated in another Gospel passage, where Jesus condemned some of the Pharisees because they used these human traditions as an excuse not to care for their elderly parents.  The Pharisees were neglecting the Fourth Commandment to honor father and mother, one of the 10 Commandments directly revealed by God through Moses, and they used a tradition as an excuse to justify breaking this Commandment.

Jesus continues in today’s Gospel: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”  What Jesus is really teaching the crowds is that all the outward religious practices in the world do little good if the heart is not converted.  Jesus wants us to give Him our hearts.

Saint James, in our Second Reading this morning says it like this: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”  The Word of God, and the Traditions that we hold need to have an effect on our lives and on our hearts.  It is good for us to come to Church on Sunday, but Sunday Mass should not be something that only affects us for one hour a week.  What we do here on Sunday should affect our entire week it should affect our entire lives.  Don’t check your faith at the door of the Church as you walk out.  You receive the Living God in Holy Communion; and that union with the Lord should transform your hearts.  We are supposed to take the grace that we receive from the Lord and let it shine before the whole world.  I’m not saying that everyone has to leave here and go get on a soapbox and preach to anyone who will listen.  I am saying that others should be able to tell that we are Christians, just by the way that we interact with them: our lives should preach louder than any words we could ever use.

Let us try to conform our hearts ever more completely to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and let us ask the Lord to help us to worship Him with all our hearts: Lord Jesus, help us to love you above all things; help us to give our hearts entirely to You, as you give Yourself completely to us in the Holy Eucharist.  Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.  Amen.

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