All human communities develop traditions. “Family traditions” galvanize gatherings at Christmas, fiestas and holidays. Traditions perpetuated in schools or universities mark the distinct character of their academes. People take part in and are proud of traditions in their hometowns and regions. Traditions are expressive of life in society and are laden with personal and communal significance.

The Lord Jesus slams the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes who take offense at his disciples who do not follow the traditions or the conventional way of doing things. While traditions are inescapable, the heart, Jesus says, is more important than the rote performance of inherited or established actions. Obedience to God’s commandments must take priority over human traditions.

This week let us try to understand what it means when we say Sacred Tradition (note the capital T). While Catholics teach that there is a two-fold source of revelation from God – Scripture and Tradition – many other Christians maintain that only the Bible is the source of truth and order in faith. All other beliefs, practices, and teachings not explicitly found in the Bible are mere useless actions, superstitions, and accretions (lumped under one heading – tradition) to the original and pure Christian faith.

Note that the Lord Jesus did not say that human traditions were bad; only when its performance supplants homage and faithfulness to God did it become wrong. And the church does not mean human traditions, those that Jesus condemned, when it speaks of Sacred Tradition. So what exactly is Sacred Tradition?

The one Word of God comes to us through two equal streams, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Scripture is the “written” Word of God while Tradition is the “living” transmission of that same Word in our worship, spirituality, doctrines, and disciplines. That means that God’s Word still flows in our lives today. The Bible itself was the product of Tradition (before it was written, it was first “orally” handed down) and it is not the endpoint of Christian life. It is made alive and fruitful as we bring it and use it in our acts of prayer, celebrations and relationships.

God did not say (even in the Bible) that there is only one source of revelation, the written one. We will be hard put to find a verse that says that. What is clear is that there are revelations of God that have not been put to writing at all (see Lk 1:1-4, Jn 20: 30-31). For Catholics, our prayers and devotions, our charities, our studies of God’s Word, our orderly structures, and the diverse ways of celebrating faith around the word are all part of this living transmission of faith – Sacred Tradition.

So you see, it goes beyond the rituals, customs and practices to which we sometimes attach too much importance. Do we not at time justify our critics when we become too engrossed in our festivals, ceremonies, formalities and practices that are more “traditions” than “Tradition?”

Let us take care to seek the Lord’s will above all things, to receive his Word in Scripture and Tradition, and not to be bogged down by the details and demands of our human traditions.