As you will no doubt be aware, over the past three weeks the fourteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops has been meeting in Rome. The Synod of Bishops “is a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world” (c. 342). It is their role to discuss specific questions, outlined in a document called the Instrumentum laboris or working document, but neither to resolve them, nor themselves issue decisions without the express permission of the Pope himself (c. 343). During this most recent meeting the delegates discussed the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.
There is a contemporary trend to view ‘tradition’ as an ugly word. In society, where many civil and political institutions are portrayed as backward and where the thought of being ‘establishment’ is deemed detrimental to popularity or success. And in the Church, where the ambient public culture has made inroads so as to polarize everything as either new or old, good or bad, exciting or dull, creating a seismic shift in the perceptions and expectations of many of our fellow citizens.
In fact, tradition properly understood is an essential element of the Christian life.. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that because Almighty God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, ‘Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth’ (CCC 74). The transmission of divine revelation, the gospel of Christ, is thus constitutive of the Church’s mission, proclaimed as it is in the words of the profession of faith, and the actions of our lives. Our ‘I believe’ is the starting point of the Church’s proclamation of the gospel to the world, which is why it is those words that we first confess as we are fused to the life of Christ in the sacramental action of the font. Our personal but not individual proclamation of the apostolic faith is not an inconsequential or private act of devotion, but is supremely ecclesial, interrelated to the life and mission of the entire Church.