2 Sept 2018
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
The Lord is always trying to tell us something. He’s always trying to give us words of encouragement, or wisdom, or correction. He’s always trying to get through to us—kind of like a radio signal that’s going from the transmitter to the receiver, or from the cell tower to the cell phone. There’s a connection that’s trying to be made, and we want to get rid of anything that gets in the way of that transmission.
And that’s what “tradition” is. It’s a transmission, and also the stuff being transmitted. For us Catholics our Tradition is the transmission of a set of values and beliefs from one generation to the next. And they’re transmitted through the everyday lives of believers. But sometimes that Tradition—that transmission—gets muddled up with a bunch of static or, like with cell phones, you find yourself saying, “Hold on, I’m only getting every other word.”
Now with cell phones we know what causes a bad transmission: maybe the wind is blowing the wrong way, or maybe I turned my head the wrong way and lost the signal, or maybe it’s just bad service. And with our faith what can get in the way of the transmission is oftentimes our usual ways of doing things, and our usual ways of thing. In other words, what we do and think can get in the way of what God is thinking and doing. And this is what the Lord’s parable today is trying to get us to see.
If we find that life doesn’t seem to be going well, or it’s not going like we envision, well maybe our transmission has too much static in it. Maybe we’re standing in the middle of a “dead zone” and we’re not getting a good signal. The signal is there; we’re just not picking up on it. In reality, life could be just fine. But if we’re standing too comfortably in our usual approach to life and faith, God may not be able to get through to us, and we might not be able to hear his message and enter into the mysteries he puts in front of us.
Now, we’ve had a lot of rain and clouds recently. And our usual response is probably: Oh, what a dreary day! Rain, rain, go away; come again some other day! But if we could see the rain and the clouds as they are—as fantastic creations of God—we might sing a different song. There’s nothing inherently bad about the rain and thunderstorms. But the value we give them...where does that come from?
God looks at all creation and calls it good. So why do we sometimes look at the rain and the clouds and call them bad? Well, among other reasons, it’s a matter of what’s been passed on to us and what we pass on to others. It’s a matter of values and beliefs. And the Lord is always trying to tell us something to help us form those values and beliefs.
But it’s not only the Lord who does the transmitting—it’s also his Church. The Church, the community of the faithful throughout the ages, is like a big cell tower, or a big radio tower. It exists to transmit the saving message and the saving grace of God. It’s why the Church is, by its very nature, a “traditional” thing; it’s a big transmitter.
And so, Tradition is good, and it’s even necessary—how else is the Gospel message going to spread? It has to be transmitted and shared from one generation to the next. And the community of believers—the Church—is the Lord’s chosen instrument for that.
This is why it doesn’t make sense when you hear someone say they’re “spiritual but not religious.” Now, we know what they mean: they mean they more interested in communion with God than in the bureaucracy of the Church. And I imagine most of us would agree with that. But to ignore the Church—to throw out its centuries of wisdom and teachings, to ignore its centuries of spirituality, to abandon the sacraments and Scripture—is like trying to make a phone call in an area where there’s no service.
You need the transmitter to get the transmission. Now, certainly, we can (and we should) talk with the Lord directly. That ability isn’t just given to the ordained; it’s given to everybody at their baptism. Each of us can (and should) call on the Lord directly. We don’t have to go through the Church to do that. But the “signal,” the transmission of all that God has to offer is stronger and clearer when we’re also attuned to the Church and its Tradition.
Its tradition of teachings is meant to connect people with God. Its tradition of sacraments is meant to make God’s grace available in more tangible forms. Its tradition of social and political involvement is meant to bring the Gospel to those who need it, and to transform societies and cultures for the better. Its tradition of community is meant to build each other up in faith, hope, and love.
I suppose you can be “spiritual but not religious,” and you certainly can (and should) pray to God on your own, but the Tradition of the Church makes it a much richer, stronger, and clearer encounter with God.
The Lord is always trying to tell us something. He’s always trying to get through to us. And he chooses to do that through transmission, through “tradition,” through the passing on values and beliefs through time, through the gift of faith, and especially through the living, changing Tradition of his Church. Are you getting a clear signal? Is he coming through? If not, it could be the transmitter. But it could also be where we’re standing. Maybe take a step this way or that way to see if Jesus comes through more clearly.