Reflection for Tuesday, February 11, 2020: 5th Week in Ordinary Time.

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Purcell, Tom
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|Whenever I read the word "tradition" in a biblical or religious context, I can't help but think of the opening song in "Fiddler on the Roof" and also the monumental changes wrought by Vatican II in the mid-1960s.  Both illustrate the tension between adherence to tradition and the need to adapt to changing circumstances.|In "Fiddler," Tevye is a character who lives in a fictional Russian shtetl of Anatevka at the beginning of the 20th century of the common era.  He is an important part of his community, with a wife and five daughters.  But both internal and external forces act to call into question many of his long-held beliefs and traditions, leading to quandaries for him, his family and his village.  His three older daughters seek, in turn, to marry (against the traditions) for love, without his advance permission, and even to a gentile.  Tevye reluctantly agrees to the first two unions, but cannot agree to the third, and banishes his daughter from the family.|The village itself undergoes significant shock as the Russian authorities engage in organized programs.  The Jewish members of the village are given three days to gather what belongings they can and are forced to leave their remaining property behind.  Throughout all these events, the traditions of the Jewish community are shaken and damaged.|Vatican II happened when I was in 8th grade.  I really did not understand much about what was going on, other than the Latin I learned to be an altar server (boys only) was suddenly no longer needed.  Priests now faced the congregation, altar railings were removed, and there was in essence a mandated move to greater community – the "kiss of peace" was especially aggravating to many.  I remember my older relatives and neighbors grumbling about what was going on, that this new way was not right because it broke with the past, with the traditions we had all known for our whole lives.  When I arrived at Creighton Prep, our first Theology teacher tried to help us understand Vatican II changes by admonishing us to "don't throw out the baby with the bath water."  It took a bit of understanding to appreciate that metaphor.|What Tevye struggled with, what we struggled with in the 1960s and since, what the Pharisees struggled with in Mark's gospel excerpt today, is the meaning of traditions and their importance in our spiritual journey.  A tradition might start for a good reason, but with the passage of time the reasons for its beginnings may be lost and the value of the tradition itself may be unappreciated.  As Jesus reminds the Pharisees regarding their traditions, the danger is exalting adherence to a human tradition over the call from God.|Tevye's struggles, and ours, come down to whether a human tradition is fundamental to our spiritual relationship with God.  Is a tradition an immutable practice, to be followed without thinking or challenging its basic premises, or should it be held up for periodic scrutiny to determine if it moves us closer to a stronger union with God?  Jesus accused the Pharisees of nullifying the word of God in favor of human traditions handed down through generations.  Jesus implies that the traditions may have lost their connectedness to the underlying original intent of the practices.  Jesus has said elsewhere that the greatest commandment is to love God, and to love our fellow humans and God's creation as we would want to be loved ourselves.  Does the tradition become an end in itself, or a means to a stronger understanding of God's invitation to receive and share God's love and to find solace in the arms of the Almighty?|And so, my prayer today is to identify and reflect on the human traditions present in my life, and then to apply Reinhold Neibuhr's prayer (as adapted below):|Lord, grant me the grace to accept with serenity those traditions in my life which are immutable and core to my relationship with God,|The courage to act as an agent for change in the traditions which are not core to my relationship with God,|And the gift of wisdom to distinguish the difference.
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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