The Catholic Church and Tradition are like Fish and Gills. The Church lives and breaths its Tradition.
Tradition is the Catholic version of the Protestants God-breathed word of God. Actually I was taken aback by the Catholic accusation that conservative Protestants place too much credence in their belief that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. They assert that the Bible resulted from “Tradition.” Catholics also have lesser traditions, below the status of dogma, that distinguish themselves as uniquely Catholic, such as the sign of the cross, meatless Fridays, the Rosary, and dozens of other rituals that are intended to be physical reminders of their spiritual faith. These are helpful to many faithful Catholics.
However, in taking an on-line class on basic Catholic beliefs and faith formation, I have also experienced a problem shared by other denominations but which is uniquely Catholic because of their traditions.
Those who are concerned about the moral decline of our society and also aware of our collective obliviousness to the threat of Islam to our faith and freedoms realize that the Churches in America are part of the problem. Most churches maintain an inward focus with their academic and arcane approach to Scriptural study and application. They are further from being “salt and light” in our culture than I ever recall in my 60+ year life. So much so that they remain oblivious to the real threats to not just our faith and freedom but to our very existence as a nation.
The highest values among both Christians and secularists has become non-judgmentalism and tolerance – go along to get along is the mantra. There is little distinction between Christians and secularists in this regard.
While Protestants lead Catholics in the liberalizing of their denominations in the United States by dismissing or spiritualizing major chunks of traditional Biblical teaching, Catholics remain oblivious in a number of different ways. The course I have been taking enlightened me to the extent Catholics are immersed in what they refer to as their little “t” traditions, their rituals and their physical objects of faith. So much so that these rituals have become so habitual that they have become mind-numbing meaningless motion to many – how many I don’t know – I suspect many many. The purpose of their tradition is supposed to remind them of the truth of their core beliefs as enunciated in the Nicene or Apostles Creed at every Saturday or Sunday Mass. Perhaps the rituals still have the desired effect for many, but I suspect that for the majority, such “tradition” and ritual has become as detached from meaningful faith as paper roses are from expressing true love.
What is worse is the Catholic defense of these traditions at the expense of applying their faith to our cultural challenges and threats. As part of my Catholic course, I responded to the topic of tradition by expressing my observation that tradition and ritual preoccupy Catholic faith and practice so completely that it separates their faith from many real life challenges – challenges that threaten their very ability to freely practice their faith. The tradition leaves little room for Catholics to engage the culture as salt and light. It is a closed society, shielded from the world by its preoccupation with tradition. There is not even enough room to accept the concept of the Catholic version of a “sermon”, the “homily”, of having any significane in the Mass. I was roundly reminded that the Eucharist IS THE MASS. Everything else must maintain a low profile to maintain the centrality of the Eucharist. That explained to me why Catholic homilies are typically shallow, trite, emotionless, and boring. Catholics who attend church don’t have any benefit of even 15 or 20 minutes of relevant teaching of how they need to intereact in our culture. They can’t even expect two tenths of one percent of their waking hours to be devoted to any effective counter-cultural message.
And for that observation, the moderator of the class warned me about my “anti-Catholic” attitude. She and other Catholic leaders appear to be blind to the need to educate their flock about what the hell is going on in the world and about how their faith needs to be invoked to challenge our culture. But that won’t happen with that attitude. Defense of tradition that creates a wall of isolation from reality will eventually create self-extermination of their faith.
What I have learned so far from the class is Catholics, along with liberal Protestants, are part of our problem of declining faith and relevance in this culture of corruption, although in slightly different ways.