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Tradition & Values

The "Fiddler on the Roof" showed us the traditions of a Jewish family when it came to marriage and family life. The word tradition comes from the Latin word "tradere" which means to hand over. One can hand down dead customs that have lost the value formerly enshrined in them, so that only the externals remain. Jesus upbraids the Pharisees for this. The values were forgotten but the externals were stressed. So religion became a farce. The word "tradere" is also used when Abba father handed over his son Jesus to die for us upon the cross to save the world. We too are invited to die to ourselves so that others may live. This is the living tradition of the servant Church that has come down to us for two thousand years.

Such a tradition of the Christian life, of love and sacrifice, of being life-giving, will be effectively handed down from one Christian generation to another, through the family, which is a domestic church. I mentioned some of these values in the last talk : forgiveness, sharing with the least of Christ's brethren and trust in Divine providence.

I am reminded of a story that I heard some 40 years ago, when I was a seminarian. I used to visit some paraplegic ex servicemen in Bangalore who lived in a Red Cross Home. Most of them were in their twenties and died of urea poisoning, after a while. Some tried to commit suicide and most felt depressed since there was no hope of recovery from their paralysis. They felt the shame of impotence and being a financial burden to their families. I would visit them to cheer them up and say a prayer for them. I heard this story from a visiting Buddhist monk on one of my visits.

Two men climbed a high building overlooking a busy street. One was filled with love, joy and peace that he wanted to share with others. So he took a basket full of rose petals to the terrace and scattered handfuls of scented petals on the people passing on the street below. The other was filled with self-pity, envy and bitterness and he took a barrel of foul smelling muck to the terrace to throw on the passers-by on the road below. However a strong wind blew away both rose petals and muck. Neither fell on the people who thronged the street below. But the perfume of the roses clung to one man while the stench of the muck clung on to the other.

The monk told the patients that maybe their lives went by unnoticed by most and hardly seemed to affect the crowds who passed by on their busy way. But the joy and love or the bitterness and envy clung to them. He invited them to be positive in thought.

Christians who believe that Jesus rose from the dead and sent them the Holy Spirit to dwell in their hearts, even in the midst of suffering, have a deep joy and peace in their hearts. Dying to oneself, living for others and being life-giving in word and action are a way of life, handed down by Jesus' disciples from one generation to another. What a privilege it is to grow up in a home with parents, grand-parents and elders who share Gospel values!! Love, joy and peace accompany these lived values.

In some countries, the elderly leave their families and live in nursing homes. They are looked after by professional therapists. They long for a passing visit from loved ones. I think of an old man who used to come for the early Mass everyday. He lived alone. He made the effort to go around and share the peace of Christ with every single person at Mass. It was the only human contact he had during the day. But he went home and prayed several rosaries for all the people he met at Mass, so that the peace he offered them at Mass might remain with them during the day. Parishioners thought that he was senile. Yet the power of his prayers must have helped many who were unaware of him during the busy day. On another occasion I met a blind old lady in a wheel chair in an old age home. I knelt by her side, held her hands and greeted her. She smiled at me and asked me if she could touch my face. She ran her gnarled fingers over my face and told me that I was very handsome!! She felt loved and so did I. Are we depriving our children of opportunities to love and be loved because we are all so busy becoming successful ?

Mother Teresa said that it is more important to be faithful than to be successful. The faithful are full of faith in a God who is love. Let us then consider what values our parents and grand-parents handed down to us and what we are handing down to our children. I know of some young couples who are handing down better values than they received, because their faith is stronger than that of their parents!! Their parents are learning from them. I certainly as a Priest learn more from families about living the Gospel in actual practice, than I share by preaching or teaching.

We may discard certain traditions and customs that are hollow and meaningless today but we must try to see how the values can be handed over in new vehicles of expression. The Holy Spirit is creative and alive in every age. When we allow him to guide us, he will surely show us how to be alive in Christ and to witness to Jesus today.