A woman always cut off the ends of a ham before putting it into the pan and setting it in the oven. She did this every holiday. When a friend asked her the reason, she looked perplexed and said, “I don’t know. My mother always did it." So the woman went to ask her mother why she trimmed the ham, and the mother replied, "Because that's what my mother, your Grandmother, did."
But when mother and daughter went together to ask 'Grandma' about this holiday cooking tradition, Grandma said, “What tradition? I only ever cut the ends off because my pan was too narrow.”
Sometimes we hold on to family traditions or human habits as if they had the same degree of authority as God’s doctrines.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites,” saying, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men…You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God to establish your tradition!”
Again, he says, “You are making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”
So, tradition: is it awful? Should we get rid of it? Perhaps, many would advocate getting rid of it, and in fact, many already have.
“Get rid of the crucifix - it turns people off. Don’t make the sign of the cross, that’s too Catholic. Get rid of the liturgy, it’s for the old folk. Times have changed!"
Those are sadly common sentiments we have all come across or overheard in the modern world. Many argue that certain religious practices are outdated, and we must change to fit contemporary culture.
"Out with the old, in with the new," they say.
I would argue that traditions are important and can be beautiful. We just have to remember that God must come first. We must always reach for Him, to know Him more, to love Him more.
Often times, people can just go through the motions of the Mass and forget to explore their hearts and minds, making Mass more about tradition and ritual than a desire to have a relationship with and to honor God.
What is Jesus railing against in our text today? Tradition, per se? Perhaps it is more about mindset and intention. After all, Jesus himself did keep traditions.
In fact, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the annual pilgrimage festivals. He went to the synagogue regularly, as was the Jewish custom. However, Jesus did not hold human traditions on par with God’s Word.
Jesus railed against misinterpretations of the Jewish law and traditions: those that are taught as doctrine, equal to God’s Word - resulting in ritualism, without engaging the heart and mind.
Engaging our hearts and minds can help us flourish our thoughts, words, and actions.
St. Paul told the early Church in Galatia that the purpose of the law was to bring them to Christ. (Gal. 3:24).
Let us ask ourselves: Are we merely going through the actions of keeping the Church’s traditions, or are we using them to bring us into a closer relationship with Jesus Himself?
Let us deepen our relationship with God and the Sacraments by learning more about our faith and the meaning behind our traditions, and by praying for God to bring us closer to him each day.
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About Father Jilson Tom, C.S.C.
Father Jilson Tom, C.S.C. is from the Northeast India Province of Holy Cross. A native of Kerala, Father Jilson has been serving in a parish and school ministry since his ordination twelve years ago. He joins the Family Rosary team as an Assistant, while he works to study Pastoral Counseling in the Boston area. With a personal devotion to Mother Mary, Father Jilson is thrilled to be working to enhance family prayer through the Rosary. And if you ever need a listening ear or want to play a board game, Father Jilson’s your guy!