Our Catholic identity is shaped by a living heritage
As Catholics, we have a “lot of baggage” — not in the sense of having negative issues, but in the sense of having a rich heritage from which we draw forth inspiration and direction. This living heritage, which we refer to as Tradition, shapes us into the very people we are as Catholics. As we continue to explore our Catholic identity in this column, today we look at a distinctively Catholic characteristic: our reverence for Tradition.
In my book, Practice Makes Catholic (Loyola Press), I explain that any good journalist depends on reliable sources: a person, another publication, or perhaps some document or record. When journalists report, listeners or readers want to know the source of the information and whether or not those sources are reliable. When it comes to religion, it helps to know the source of the information we are being asked to embrace as truth. For Protestants, that source is Scripture and “Scripture alone.” For Catholics, we identify our source as Scripture and Tradition — not two separate sources, but a single source that comes to us in two ways. Scripture, of course, is the written Word of God’s self-revelation. Tradition refers to the Church’s efforts over the course of two thousand-plus years to interpret and apply the Word of God to the experience of each generation. The result is a rich heritage of teaching, grounded in Scripture, that comes to us through the lives and writings of the saints and the teachings of the Church as handed down through Church documents and writings.
Catholics believe that God wants us to enter an intimate relationship with him. To that
end, God reveals himself to us through Scripture and Tradition. Our source of truth encourages us to use both faith and reason to explore every aspect of life to find the one Truth who is God.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways that catechists can instill a reverence for Tradition in faith formation.
Go on pilgrimage
It would be nice if, as a catechist, you could take your students to sacred sites all over the world. While that is unrealistic, there are sacred sites in your own region. Consider planning a mini-pilgrimage to a cathedral, shrine, basilica, or some other sacred site that teaches us about our faith. Likewise, you can take your students on virtual pilgrimages via the Internet.
Make friends with the saints
All of us, but especially children, learn by imitation. One of the ways we learn to follow Jesus more closely is by learning about the saints and imitating the ways they followed the Lord. Introduce your students to the lives of the saints and their stories; invite them to memorize a quote from their favorite saint; place pictures and quotes from the saints in your learning space; pray the Litany of the Saints from time to time with your students.
Draw from Church documents
While Catholics revere Scripture, we also revere our Tradition which often comes to us in the form of Church documents that are inspired and guided by Scripture. Introduce your students to Church documents, such as Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ which invites us to care for our common home. Or share the principles of Catholic social teaching as articulated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions—a document that articulates how our love of neighbor can and must take the form of action.
Teach traditional prayers
In addition to teaching reflective or Ignatian-style prayer, spontaneous prayer, and liturgical prayer, don’t hesitate to teach your students to memorize traditional prayers they can take to heart. While it’s important for us to be able to speak to God in our own words, traditional prayers offer two critical benefits. First, traditional prayers help us express what is in our hearts when our own tongues fall silent. Second, they connect us with a faith heritage that is deep and rich. Traditional prayers remind us that we are not alone — we are members of a community, the Body of Christ. In traditional prayer, we are united in one voice with the communion of saints. And teach traditional doctrinal formulas such as the Ten Commandments, the seven sacraments, the virtues, the works of mercy, and so on. While it’s easy to use search or use Google to learn such formulas, it is more beneficial to have them close to the heart.
We Catholics have some wonderful baggage! Our faith is not lifelessly preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. It is a living faith tradition. Be sure to pass on a reverence for Tradition to those you teach. Invite your students to explore the riches and mine the depths of our living heritage of faith.
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is the national consultant for faith formation for Loyola Press. Find his new book, A Church on the Move: 52 Ways to Get Mission and Mercy in Motion, at Loyola Press. Joe blogs at CatechistsJourney.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, February 2017.
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