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Icon of The Sermon on the Mount

Like many of you, I’m at home in self-imposed semi-quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world. I pray this finds you in good health physically, and not losing your sanity sitting at home.

For the two weeks prior to this week, while I was traveling and spending time with family, I unfortunately let my prayer life lag. Thus, in my semi-isolation this week, I’ve found consolation in returning to my morning routine of prayer, meditation and study.

My inspirations for yesterday came from the daily scripture readings. The first was from the first reading, Dt 4:1, 5-9, which tells us of the beauty and importance of the Commandments. Verse 9 particularly caught my attention: “Be on your guard and be very careful not to forget the things your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart as long as you live, but make them known to your children and to your children’s children.”

Isn’t this exactly what the Apostles did when they passed along from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit?[1] Obvious to all Christians is how they did this through the Sacred Scripture of the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament. We all agree that these works were written by men but inspired by God even though there are some minor inconsistencies between them.

But, what about the first generation of Christians who did not yet have a written New Testament?[2] How was the faith handed down for them? It was handed down by word of mouth and stories from the Apostles and disciples that conveyed what was seen with their own eyes and held in their hearts to their children and others to whom they evangelized. For us Catholics, this is what we call Sacred Apostolic Tradition, and it is the second component of what we refer to as the Deposit of Faith.

Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal. Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own always, to the close of the age.[3]

Fortunately for us, the Catholic Church, unlike our Protestant cousins’ insistence on Sola Scriptura, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.[4]

The idea of Apostolic Tradition, even before I ever actually heard it called Apostolic Tradition, made total sense to me. Forty-three years before I became Catholic I was sitting in a history class in the 7th grade at an all boys school in southern England learning about the Protestant and English Reformations. We were lectured about Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, written in 1517, which, for good reason, denounced the Catholic practice of the day of selling indulgences. But, Luther also decreed that salvation could only be achieved by faith alone without regard to good deeds; and, in declaring that the Bible was the only source of divine revelation, effectively threw the baby out with the bathwater when he denied Sacred Tradition. We were especially expected to accept the teaching that King Henry VIII, in 1534, had the authority to defy Tradition and break away from the Catholic Church because he didn’t agree with the Church’s teaching on divorce. And, we learned about John Calvin who, in 1536, also denounced Tradition in favor of Scripture alone; and denied good works as a component of salvation, preaching that man’s destiny was predetermined at birth by God.

In the mind of a 12 year old who had very minimal Christian education, and virtually none about Catholicism, I thought, “How can Protestants simply erase fifteen hundred years of history and start over again?” I could understand their issue with the selling of indulgences, but wiping out tradition to suit their own convenience certainly didn’t seem right. In a way, I knew then that if there was a true Christian faith, it was Catholicism.

As I read that verse from Deuteronomy these memories came back to me and I realized this is one of the reasons why I love being Catholic! Having a faith that is based on both Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition is like being able to trace one’s family tree back two thousand years and not just a few generations. It’s like hearing stories told and retold of things our ancestors personally did and believed and not simply a synopsis of what it was like living in their time.

After reliving this memory, I pulled my attention back to the passage and focused on it’s real intent of urging us to live and obey the laws of God and to hand those down to future generations. As I read on to the Gospel for the day, Mt 5:17-19, Teaching about the Law, I received my second inspiration of the morning. In these passages, Jesus teaches his followers about the importance of living, obeying, and teaching the commandments. In my reflection on the Gospel, I asked Jesus, “What, Lord, are You wanting me to take away from this today? What is Your will for me today and how will it help me grow closer to You?”

In my subsequent meditation, it didn’t take long for me to hear the Holy Spirit begin this conversation:

HS: Are you living My Commandments?

Me: Yes, I’m trying to.

HS: Okay, can you tell me what they are?

Me: Sure! They are: Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain; keep the Sabbath holy; love our parents; um, don’t steal; er, don’t lie; ….okay, You got me, I don’t remember the rest.

HS: Son, don’t you think it would be good for you to memorize these so you can live them?

Me: Yes, Lord. I will do that.

HS: Thank you. I love you.

Me: Thank You. I love You, too!

My resolution for the day was a no-brainer: begin committing the Ten Commandments to heart by writing them down and inserting them at the front of my journal where I can read them daily and be reminded of the basics God is asking of me.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for Your love, generosity and patience with me as I work to grow closer to You. Thank You for Your mercy as I swerve a little trying to keep it between the ditches on Your road to salvation: loving You with all my heart, mind, and soul on the left, and loving my neighbor as I love myself on the right. And, thank you, Lord, for our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the true depository of our faith in You. Amen.”

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[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, Para. 83 (CCC 83)

[2] ibid.

[3] CCC 80

[4] CCC 82

(Tradition and Commandments, was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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