One of the great life skills handed down from generation to generation is fishing. That’s why early one Saturday morning in Spring, my sons and I sat perched in our 12-foot aluminum boat. We had our fishing rods in hand, hope in our hearts, and no clue what we were doing. Unfortunately, nobody passed the “fishing” skill on to me. I scramble to learn from friends and Youtube. But, nothing beats the practical wisdom and personal experience gleaned from family mentoring. Traditions like this are important to family life, and they offer an insight into the logic of traditions in the Catholic Church.
Obviously, the fishing analogy isn’t perfect. While learning the “ropes” from Dad is ideal, someone can do well by picking up fishing techniques from Youtube, getting tips about lakes from friends, and buying their own books and equipment from a tackle shop. These sources of fishing ‘wisdom’ in a sense constitute one grand fishing tradition. (It’s helpful to know that the words for “tradition” in Greek literally mean “to hand on” and “to receive”.) However, the Catholic tradition cannot be found and developed in any of those convenient locations, it must be given to us from someone.
Contrary to what some people may think, we don’t get true faith merely by reading a book. We receive authentic faith from the ministry of the entire Church. This means that all members of Christ’s Church participate in passing on the faith – both clergy and laity. The whole Church lives out the Gospel and teaches it by word and action. And, it is the special privilege of bishops and popes, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to steer our words and actions towards authentic truth and from false expressions.
This “passing on” is evident in homilies, scripture studies, and faith formation classes. Particularly important is how parents “receive” the faith and pass it on to their children, who pass it on to their children, etc. Handing on happens subtly, too. For example, people imitate others praying – especially children and new members of the Church. Symbols, like those used for the sacraments, speak loudly on a subtle level. And, one of my favorite examples is the care with which the priest takes in cleaning the sacred vessels at Mass. It demonstrates the belief that God is truly present on the altar. I am constantly reminded that my answers, actions, and attitudes as a Christian will have a profound impact on others. No wonder the New Testament encourages us, “stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess. 2:15)
If fishing was handed on to me the way faith is handed on in the Church, my sons and I might not have to sit wondering if anything besides dead, underwater branches will ever bite our lines. And so, Christ, the Fisher of Men, has handed on to us something greater than outdoor skills: the way, the truth, and the life through his family, the Church.
By Scott Roy