Traditio – Pastor’s Reflection (August 2, 2015)
The Eighteenth Sunday of the Year
August 2, 2015
Last Saturday evening Fr. Jordan Kelly and I walked through St. Catherine’s Church. While we ambled, Daniel Sanez practiced (It did not sound as if practice was necessary!), and florists decked the church with the splendor of the season. Everything had coalesced beautifully for the parish’s Mass of Thanksgiving for 117 years of amazing life, and for five years of exceptional pastoring by Fr. Jordan.
Meanwhile, between the two of us the handing over had begun. Everywhere we turned there was someone for me to meet, an ongoing problem to be noted, or an achievement to be carried forward. Here was the tender, anxious moment of “traditio,” This Latin word captures the handing on that brings tradition into being. One could never describe such an encounter as a surrender, or an unloading, or even as professional due diligence, only the verb “entrust” captures what was happening. Think of St. Paul writing to the Corinthians about the Eucharist; “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread…” (1 Cor 12:23). Traditio plays a pivotal role in religious life: a brother hands over to another brother the fruit of his labor, the produce of his creativity, and the companions of his days. One man says to another, “here is five years’ investment of my soul, please receive it, love it, and foster it.”
How could this encounter fail to be painful in the giving, or overwhelming in the receiving? How could it not be a time of deep communion?
In my Dominican life I have been on both sides of this experience. When I am a recipient of tradition, it engenders in me a deep reverence for how a brother has brought his gifts and his temperament to bear in fulfilling a ministry. When I have been the one handing on, I perceive in a new way the depth and breadth of my commitment. When traditio takes place person to person, not just by memos or manuals, each man realizes the significance of his stewardship, and its smallness in the history of a community. Grasping that paradox gives one man the serenity to let go of something utterly precious and the other the docility to embrace the unfamiliar with dedication.
In these days, I can only wonder how much traditio has taken place between priests in the Archdiocese of New York as parish mergers lurch off the page into reality. How many moments of profound letting go and reception have closed and opened whole chapters of life in ministry? The emotions run high, but then clergy and religious are trained for these events and we expect to grow through the experience of them.
Much harder to instruct whole groups of people in the ways of traditio! Yet in the last weeks, it has been asked of parish communities on a large scale, and to all appearances they are figuring it out. On the day after Fr. Jordan and I walked through St. Catherine’s our two parishes held solemn liturgies of handing on. Each community recognized the singular wealth of spiritual gifts and practical talents entrusted to it by God’s love, and then took stock of how that patrimony had been fostered by loving hands for more than a century. Most importantly at such a moment, they recognized that this tended wealth is not ephemeral, but will be used by God in the new thing He is doing. The beauty and energy of July 26 at both parishes testifies to a spirit-filled life that no merger will snuff out, but which the merged parish will find is its most valuable resource, after God Himself.
As the new parish receives the rich legacies of its two predecessors, it will find much to treasure in the contributions of Fr. Jordan Kelly. His passion for every aspect of divine worship, especially music, has broadened and deepened the life of St Catherine’s in ways that will set a standard for our liturgical life going forward. He has given to many Catholic people a new sense of belonging that our new community must receive as an inheritance to cultivate. His commitment to the pastoral care of the sick challenges all of us to new levels of compassion. May what he bequeaths to us also be revealed to him as the wherewithal for a new chapter of life and ministry.