True Worship
August 25, 2020
A New Way of Living
August 26, 2020

Homily for 25 August 2020, Tuesday of the 21st Week in OT, Matthew 23:23-26.

One of the biggest fake news item ever published in the social media was about Pope Francis allegedly endorsing Trump for president in 2016. And yet, in spite of the fact that it was so obviously fake, it was passed on as fact and shared as news by millions of Americans, and may have helped Trump win the presidency.
Today’s first reading tells us that long before the age of social media, there had already been many instances of fake news being passed on as fact. St. Paul tells us that some letters were being passed around, allegedly written by him, but which he never wrote.
The good thing is that the Thessalonian community bothered to do a fact-check. It means they wrote Paul an earlier letter to verify, and Paul is now writing 2 Thessalonians precisely to set the record straight. He says, “Do not be alarmed by any report or by some letter said to be ours saying that the second coming is near. Do not let yourselves be deceived, in any way.”
And then he advises them to “stand firm and hold on to the traditions” that Paul and the other apostles had taught them by word or by letter.
St. Paul is aware that not all tradition is worth keeping or passing on. He should know, because he was himself a Pharisee who was obsessed with traditions before he experienced his conversion.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for their obsession with minute details about tradition. He points out how even non-essential things can be handed down and imposed as heavy burdens on people. Jesus says, “You forget what is most important in the Law: justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
Isn’t this exactly what happens when people reduce religion to the observance of rituals and pietistic practices and never get to put their faith into practice or even consider its relevance to concrete issues in society—such as human rights, human dignity, social justice, and the politics of the common good?
In the letter of James, the apostle speaks not just about an irrelevant faith but about a “dead faith”. St. John, in his own epistle says, we are liars if we claim to love the God we do not see and yet are unable to love the neighbor whom we see, who is supposed to be God’s image and likeness. St. Paul too says something to this effect; he says, “Even if I speak with the tongues of men and of angels; if I have no love, I am but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… if I have no love, I am nothing.”
The Jewish people have a tradition on the Feast of the Passover, of ritualizing the meaning of the feast they are celebrating with a meal. There is a part in the ritual meal where a father engages his son in a dialogue. It begins with a question from the son, “Father, what is the meaning of all this?” And then the father explains, by retelling the story of their liberation from Egypt. It is a beautiful example of what we call TRADITION, which comes from the Latin verb TRADERE, which means to “hand down” some practices from generation to generation.
The Latin verb has created two words in Italian that almost sound the same but are very different in meaning: TRADUTTORE AND TRADITTORE. The first one, traduttore, means to translate or put in another language. The second, tradittore, means to betray or to be a traitor. This Italian play of words should serve as a good warning to us about the function of tradition. While some of it is worth handing down because it gives light, we have to be careful about aspects of it that bring, not light but darkness, the darkness of falsehood, treachery and betrayal in our lives.

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