Friday, June 8, 2012

You have followed my way of life

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of Sacred Scripture, especially the effects which memorizing Scripture has on our spiritual lives. As I was meditating on today's readings, I found a verse which pretty well summarizes my reflection from yesterday. "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work." Yesterday, I wrote about how Scripture was inspired by God and how it was useful for living the Christian life, but while I was writing it, I knew there was something more that I had to say about it. Today I want to pick up that thread.

Often the verse I just quoted is used to attack Catholics. Look here! Protestants will say. It's Scripture that is inspired by God and is useful for teaching. Don't hold to your man-made traditions! You Catholics hold your traditions above the Word of God! Because we Catholics are often not well educated about our faith, we'll sort of shrink up, intimidated. This Protestant knows the Bible, and the Bible seems to contradict the faith! This is when we back up a little bit and consider what Paul wrote just a few lines before this, "remain faithful to what you have learned and believed." Don't abandon the faith as soon as you hear an objection! Let it be an occasion to seek to understand your faith more profoundly.

If we look at this verse from St. Paul about Scripture, does it say that Scripture is the only source of truth for the Christian? No. It says that all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching. It does not say that Scripture alone is the totality of revelation. This passage begins with "You have followed my teaching [and] way of life…" St. Paul also instructs Timothy, and by extension us, to "remain faithful to what you have learned and believed." St. Paul points to his own teaching, preaching and even his way of life as authoritative measures to be followed, not Scripture alone.

Human beings communicate by more than just written text. A letter or an email never could suffice for human communication. You need to be immersed in a life with that person to communicate who they are and what they mean when they speak. To understand the fullness of Christ's revelation, the Scriptures alone were not enough for Timothy. He received a Sacred Tradition from St. Paul by means of human traditions which immersed Timothy in God's self-revelation. Sacred Tradition is a personal form of communicating Divine Revelation to every generation which goes beyond mere words.

Sacred Tradition contains the fullness of the faith and it is the same in every generation. Yet, it is something elusive and dynamic because the fullness of the faith can never be fully expressed. It might be helpful here to distinguish be Sacred Traditions and human traditions. Our human traditions express and immerse us in our Sacred Traditions. The sign of the Cross is a human tradition. We creatures made it up, but it expresses something Divinely revealed in Sacred Tradition. It expresses the mystery of the Trinity and the Pascal mystery, and in a way contains the whole mystery in a simple sign. Yet, this one human tradition can't hope to express the entirety of the Sacred Tradition it points to! So as it is with all human traditions: the Liturgy, the teaching of the Fathers, schools of theology, prayers, hymns and art, they all express only a portion of Sacred Tradition. Even look at the lives of the saints as human traditions because they reveal to us in a non-written way the Sacred Tradition.

St. Paul's way of life and preaching revealed to Timothy the saving action of Jesus Christ. We can easily see, therefore, how Sacred Tradition expressed by human tradition is inspired by the Holy Spirit. It constitutes a real form of Divine Revelation which "is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

One major difference between Scripture and Sacred Tradition is the diversity present in Sacred Tradition. Sacred Scripture has a definitive Canon. On the other hand, there is no limits to the number of human traditions which can express the mysteries of Sacred Tradition. There is a great beauty in this diversity because each tradition highlights the inexhaustible richness of the deposit of faith. And so, sip these traditions like a fine wine because you'll never be able to try them all. Find a few devotions that bring you closer to God, but don't be afraid to try new ones. Maybe God is calling you to learn about a new Saint who will teach you a new aspect of the life of Christ. Study and pray the Liturgy, unearth some of its richness! Most of all, use Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as two mirrors reflecting light on each other, each making the other more intelligible because together these two will lift the soul to contemplate the One True God.

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