A few months ago, Elizabeth Scalia (aka the Anchoress) challenged fellow bloggers to “tell the world why you are remaining a Catholic in an era where doing so seems not only counter-cultural, but also counter-intuitive and even, perhaps, a bit risky.” Although a little late to the game, I hereby take up her challenge.
In the beginning of Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye philosophizes that every one of us, in our own way, is a fiddler on the roof – trying to scratch out a simple tune without breaking our necks. The key, he tells us, is to keep our balance. Why do I remain a Catholic? To keep my balance. How does Catholicism keep me balanced? I can explain that in one word – Tradition!
If I had to define tradition in my own words, I’d say that tradition consists of significant practices and beliefs that are passed on to us by our ancestors so we can live them in the present and share them with our descendants. Traditions are the special things in life that are so important that our ancestors saw fit to share them with us so we can appreciate them and pass them along to future generations. I love traditions. Whether it’s baking date nut bread for Christmas (thank you Aunt Etta) or Easter Pizza at Easter (thank you Dad and Aunt Mary), buying a Christmas ornament at each place we vacation, or singing the Topnotcher song, traditions make my past a present that I can give to my daughters for them to share with their children. On the seesaw of life, traditions balance my present with my past and my future.
Catholicism is filled with traditions, so much so that the Church teaches that Apostolic Tradition (along with Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church) is one of the means by which Divine Revelation is transmitted to us. Through oral tradition, Jews and Christians passed on the stories that their ancestors understood to be divinely inspired. After they were written down, they were later codified into what we know as the Bible, relying, in part, on Tradition as a way to determine which books should be included. Catholic liturgies, which have been passed down to us from the earliest days of the Church, are based on the Jewish traditions of prayer and synagogue worship complete with readings from Sacred Scripture and the breaking of bread. Catholic Tradition has been preserved and passed on to us from the time of Christ through Apostolic succession – the handing on of preaching, teaching and governance from the Apostles to their successors the bishops through the laying on of hands. It gives me a tremendous sense of continuity, history and communion to know that my ordination at the hands of Bishop Bootkoski can be traced back through Apostolic succession to Cardinals McCarrick, Cooke and Spellman, to Popes Pius XII, Benedict XV, St. Pius X and Clement XIII, and ultimately back to an Apostle.
So how does Catholic Tradition keep me balanced? Here are a few examples:
- Catholicism requires that I rely on both faith and reason – “the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of the truth” – to understand God and the wonderful world he created;
- Catholic worship is the same worldwide. I’ve attended Mass on almost every continent, always knowing exactly where we were and what was coming next, no matter what language was spoken;
- Catholic Tradition engages all of my senses to motivate me to engage with my neighbors from every walk of life:
We see beautiful icons and images in Church that inspire us to see the face of God in our fellow man; we hear the tolling of bells that compel us to hear the cry of the poor; we anoint ourselves with holy water and the sign of the cross so that we can touch our neighbor with the sign of peace; we taste the elements of bread and wine as we receive our Lord in Holy Communion to strengthen us for our mission to bring food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty; and we smell the fragrant aroma of incense that lifts our prayers for all who suffer in squalor and stench;
- Catholic Tradition connects me with my family, past, present and future – with my mother, my grandparents, my great grandparents and ancestors untold, all of whom knelt in the pews, prayed the prayers and received our Lord in Communion, just like I do with my daughters today and perhaps will do with my grandchildren in the future.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church at 75.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church at 77.
 John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1998)