Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What Does it Mean for me to Honor my Father and Mother


I have been meditating a lot lately on the Fifth Commandment: "Honor thy father and mother." I was taught that rabbinical scholars held this commandment as part of our duty to God. This was because the teachings of the law of God were handed down by parents to their children. This process is called tradition.

Now, everything we have is tradition. All that we have has been given to us, in the hope that we will cultivate it and pass it on — that is what living is about. To refuse to do this is a form of murder, ensuring that the life of those who went before does not continue in us, and of suicide, ensuring that our life does not continue by giving life to others. A culture that is opposed to tradition is destructive of this continuing life: it is and will grow ever more to be a culture of death.

As a presbyter, an elder of the Church, a father of the faith, it is my duty to pass on the most important of traditions, those having to do with the ultimate meaning and purpose of human life. This means passing on the commandments of God, just like those first addressed in Exodus: and the first commandment is to love God, first, and also my neighbor as God has loved me.  This tradition includes, in first place, the Bible, but also how the Bible has been lived out in the life of the Church, the Liturgy or Common Prayer, the writing of our spiritual elders, and the religious and cultural custom of the Christians people, and especially those in my particular Anglican tradition.  The Tradition is embodied in our culture, our religious culture especially. Of course, there is much more to it than that human culture and endeavor, because God is at work in us in all this, in particular God the Holy Spirit in us.

I have no authority to make any of this up, I have only the authority to understand, apply, and pass it on.  Nor do those in authority over me in the Church have any authority to do or make me do otherwise, for they are bound to the Tradition as I am.

Now I do this in the understanding that much of what I have to pass on is a mystery.  It is not an ideology whose meaning is fixed so that once we accept it there is no further need for thought or inquiry.  The meaning of authentic tradition is not always evident, indeed its full meaning never is.  It must be lived in, by generation after generation to be understood, and it is never exhaustive.

This Tradition is not a dead thing, though, for as this happens, the Tradition lives and grows in us, not according to our own whim, but according to its own logic. That is why it is my duty focus on that Tradition, and on what it demands, especially as set forth in my ordination oath, and to do all I can to avoid the distractions that would divert me from it, even, especially, when those distractions are promoted by those with power in the churches and in secular culture.  I was taught by my teachers, (and here Abp. Michael Ramsey comes particularly to mind), and it has been confirmed repeatedly by my own experience, that far from being stultifying or a dead end, that this faithful living out of the Tradition provides the answers that we need to the difficult problems of the day, creative and frequently surprising answers.

But, the point is, it is my job to preserve, to understand, and to pass it on, not to betray my calling and my oaths by destroying that Tradition and our culture, under the suicidal delusion that I could build a new world according to the passing fashions of the day.

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