January 01, 2018

The New Year and Tradition

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli *
Credit: Unsplash
Credit: Unsplash

Out with old, in with the new! That is literally how some people welcome in the New Year. In some parts of Italy, especially in the south, Italians have the custom of throwing old things out the window, especially old pots, pans, plates and any other unwanted items. A grand gesture to let go of the past! Ecuadorians are somewhat more creative. They take old clothes, stuff them with straw and make them into effigies of the old year and then burn them on New Year’s Eve.

At the stroke of midnight, from Samoa to California, sirens, fireworks, horns, bells and every other sort of raucous noise bid a strong farewell to the old year. People raise their glasses of champagne, prosecco, or sparkling apple cider and toast a hardy welcome to a new year. With the turning of the calendar from December to January, everyone looks forward to a better future.

Nonetheless, all the cheers and good wishes of our New Year’s celebrations cannot change reality. We are the same person the first day of a new year as we were on the last day of the old year. There is no radical break in our lives when the Times Square ball makes its sixty-second descent, marking a new year.

The fact that something is new does not make it any better. We can become so enamored with change that we run the risk of losing a sense of stability. Not every change in society is progress.  We should hail the advances in medicine that allow doctors to operate on some infirm babies in utero and bring them to term. We should hang our heads in shame that we allow other doctors to take away a child’s life in its mother’s womb.  

“Although there is no progress without change, not all change is progress” (John Wooden). Is the loss of a common understanding of the natural law progress? Is teaching young children that they choose their own gender really a help to them? Is the loss of biblical morality a step forward? Or is it a slippery road to Neolithic barbarity? There have been many efforts at social and cultural change since the 1960s. But, most Americans are no happier than they were fifty years ago.

Disappointment with certain government officials or policies has led some to disrespect our flag, burning it, trampling it, not saluting it. However, when some exercise their constitutional right of freedom of speech in this way, we are the less for it. We become a house divided. More and more young people are not voting in our elections. Political opponents are more and more vilifying each other with rude remarks. Could this be because we have failed to pass on a basic understanding of American heritage and history, values and form of government? In a sound society, there is a need for balance between individual choice and the common good. “And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word... Tradition” (Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof).

Tradition is not a bad word. All disciplines of knowledge depend on tradition, the handing on of the knowledge of the past from teacher to student. Faith, itself a gift from God, is nourished and sustained by Tradition. The Church is not free to discard or change the teaching of Jesus. The Holy Spirit guides the Church that, from one year to the next, she faithfully hands on to believers the teaching of Jesus, whole and entire and undiluted because of our inability to always live his teaching in our lives. Tradition provides a sense of identity. It fosters rootedness in a community.  Shared moral values and regular attendance at church keep families united and hold a nation together. We need to recover a healthy sense of tradition in society and in the Church.

Bishop Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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