Welcome back to CatholicMom.com’s Lawn Chair Catechism! If you need to catch up on what this is all about, find resources, or just review past chapters, head to my dedicated page for this year’s session.
This week, our chapter dealt with tradition (a la Tevye) versus Tradition (a la Catholic Church). Really, we have both kinds of traditions, though. We have the traditions that might vary, depending on where you are. Our parish has a tradition of a picnic each Fall, receptions after Big Sacraments at the parish, a New Year’s Eve party after our Vigil Mass that really rocks out (and is fun and safe for families), and more. But every Catholic parish holds the same Traditions, which are common to the universal Church and do not change based on when or where you live. These are things like the Creed, our doctrines, and other basic teachings of the Faith.
I live in the Bible Belt, and so a lot of the people I know talk about living a Biblical Life. While this is commendable (and we could all stand to live a more Biblical Life!), as Catholics we know that the Bible is not the only guiding star in our lives. Christ left us the Church and the Magisterium, not the Bible. And so we have what Brother Leo of EWTN once called a tricycle of faith: a steady, easy-to-ride, three-wheeled trike. The wheels of our tricycle are the Magisterium, the Bible, and Tradition. Without any one of these, our faith lives – and our ability to live authentic Christian lives – becomes more difficult. He explained that Protestants reject the Magisterium, which gives them a bicycle; this is still something that you can ride, but it’s harder than a tricycle. Other Protestants also reject Traditions of our Christian faith, making it even more difficult to ride, since now they’ve got unicycles! It’s possible to learn to ride a unicycle and become proficient at it, but it’s really not easy – and some people can never get the hang of it.
I’ve always loved that analogy! I take comfort in riding on my tricycle, especially since Jesus gave it to me!
Let’s get down to the discussion questions:
What is your understanding of Church Tradition, as opposed to Church traditions?
Church Tradition is something we cannot do away with; it’s been handed down throughout the ages and is indispensable. The Deposit of Faith was handed down from the Apostles for centuries before the Bible was compiled, and so I know I can trust that the Church has kept these Traditions and preserved them to help us reach Heaven. The little traditions – celebrating a particular saint’s life, our processions, private devotions – are good to have, and can help us grow in holiness, but are not essential.
What advantage does having a Magisterium—an official teaching office—give to the Catholic Church?
The Magisterium is probably one of the most comforting things about being Catholic! We have 2000 years of history, 2000 years of theology, 2000 years of Tradition behind us as Christians. And behind that, we have even more time of history, theology, and Tradition from the Chosen People to account for, too! How can anyone expect to become proficient in all of this in order to understand the Christian message and the Bible properly?
It’s true that we can share the gospel message with people on a basic level, but to interpret the meaning behind texts written 4000 years ago, keeping in mind the type of literature it is, the history of the time, the mindset of the people, the audience it was written for, and the intent of the author? Holy cow!
God has always chosen people to lead His children in His ways. Abraham was the first patriarch who led his family to God and taught them what He wanted them to know. Moses was given authority to interpret God’s message to the children of Israel. The Judges were set up as rulers and interpreters of the Law, helping guide people to proper worship and devotion to God. The prophets did the same, the Pharisees preserved the Hebrew’s faith during the Exile and brought the Remnant home again.
Why do we think we’re so much better than all of those people, who all needed leaders chosen by God, anointed by Him (or the men He chose do anoint), and called to lead His people and interpret His Word to them? Guess what? We’re not better. We still need help, and God provides it through the Magisterium.
If the Bible is not an “answer book” to all of life’s challenges, just what is it?
The Bible is our salvation history! It gives guidance in how to grow in holiness – how to gain Heaven. But it’s not a manual to every little thing in life.
What is the purpose of the Bible?
More than anything, the Bible is a collection of love letters from God. Yes, that’s a cliché (sorry!), but it’s true. If you read the storyline of the Bible, you see a Father in Heaven who loves His children through good and bad, calls them back to Him, begs them to learn holiness, and eventually comes down to their level to help them understand His plan of salvation better. It’s not a collection of rules and regulations as much as it’s a collection of stories of God’s never-ending love for His children.
What is your personal experience with Scripture? How familiar are you with the Bible? What is your biggest obstacle when it comes to deepening your familiarity with the Bible?
I grew up being able to tell some of the more familiar Bible stories, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I really got familiar with the Bible. I won’t tell every story, but I will tell you two programs that completely changed how I see the Bible (and made me very familiar with it, though that can always improve).
First, Nathan went through a course at another parish on the textbook Understanding the Scriptures. It was written by Scott Hahn, and there’s a terrific podcast of the class available on iTunes. It touches on every book of the Bible, but it focuses on the Covenants between God and Man. It really helped me understand the connections between the Old and New Testaments, and I highly recommend it. (If you opt for the podcast, you don’t really need the textbook, but if you can get a hold of it, definitely do it! I know some places where you can pick up secondhand copies that make it economical to purchase.)
The other course was offered by our own parish about 7-8 years ago: The Great Adventure Bible Study, led by Jeff Cavins. Our parish did the sessions two weeks apart to make it easier to handle, which lasted over the course of about a year. This program dovetailed nicely with Understanding the Scriptures, since it focused on the story of God’s Family – beginning with one couple, expanding to one tribe, then one nation, and on until it was One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. As with Dr. Hahn’s program, this Bible study made the connections between Old and New Testaments come alive, and it drew me closer to God as I began to see the Bible as the story of my spiritual family, headed up by my Father in Heaven.
What does it mean to you to say that everything in the Bible is true but not necessarily fact?
This is something that I’ve had to make sure my girls could understand, especially since we live in an area where the population is only about 4% Catholic, and they have lots of friends who take the Bible as completely literal.
The Bible is true, in the sense that it teaches us God’s plan for our salvation. But it must be understood in a theological sense, as well as in literary terms. There are stories with figurative language, parables that use symbolism, poetry, and more. You can’t read poetry like a history textbook. And even history was written differently in ancient times than it is today!
The Creation Story, for example, is mean to teach us truths about the world: God has created a place for everyone, and has set up certain creatures to rule each of those spaces (space, the air, the sea, the land), and Man is set above it all as the pinnacle of all Creation. Language might be literal – God certainly could have created everything in six 24-hour days – but it could also be figurative. Even the Bible says that a day is like a thousand years to God, and a thousand years is like a day. Time to the One who is outside of it is different than it is to us. We have to read the Bible with this idea in mind. The Bible is here to teach us about salvation and holiness, not about science.