If I do not read, I have nothing to say. That may seem like some ancient cliché, but it is a fact of my life. I have to speak all the time – not just talk; not just converse; but speak – principally preach, but also teach, instruct, and exhort in various formats. Because I am responsible for putting to you the way, and the truth, and the life, constantly I am on a quest for new ways to allow Him to reveal Himself. Obviously, I read Scripture – again and again and again, each and every time finding something new and remarkable. But I also read many other things. I must speak; therefore I read.
Poking around the Internet, I found a remarkable article by a professor of theology named Leroy Huizenga. Because it was based on the work of Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite authors (Southern, Catholic, died about three weeks before I was born), I read it with some eagerness, and found this:
Those of us who value tradition are often accused of nostalgia, of seeking greener pastures in the irrecoverable past.
Nostalgia is a sin, a mild form of sloth, and engaging in it enervates discipleship and devotion. But tradition is different; tradition is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead, as (Jaroslav) Pelikan said. To live within and out of tradition is not to daydream about days gone by most of us never experienced anyway, but rather to ride the crest of the wave of God’s redemptive story as we live out our own stories within its broader plot.
We have no other time than the present in which to live; all of us were called for such a time as this, this time, here, now, Today, as long as it is called Today, wherever and whenever we are. But we do not stand alone; we stand locked in arms not only with our sisters and brothers today in time and space but also in spirit with those gone before — St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Hildegard — indeed, the entire company of all the angels and saints, the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant.
Where is this encounter to be found? Where meet heaven and earth, past and present, I and Thou? In the liturgy, in the Mass, borne forth by tradition and bearing tradition forth, in which together we encounter Christ our God in the Eucharist, the sacrament of all unity, the source and summit of Christian life. Here, the Church teaches, is the highest form of prayer, upon which daily prayer, devotion, and discipleship draw, and thus here, the crest of tradition, is whence we draw wisdom and courage for meeting the challenges of our present age.
Nostalgia is a sin. Tradition is not nostalgia.
Earlier this very day, I had dropped an email note to a friend of mine, exhorting him to enjoy an evening of nostalgia tonight, before he leaves town. Suddenly I find myself recalculating, as your car’s GPS says. Apparently, I need to reconsider my idea of a harmless and even happy pastime.
For a parish with as marvelous a past as we have here at Saint Bernadette, days and years filled with fun and glory, nostalgia is a popular pastime. Many good and holy happenings have taken place here, changing and shaping lives in a good and even glorious way. For folks here who struggle with something different from what they have experienced in the past, nostalgia for things remembered is often mistaken for tradition, and becomes an excuse to reject the challenge and opportunity of today.
I have no doubt, and admitted above, that I can be lured onto the destructive rocks by the siren song of nostalgia. I will have to apply this distinction more carefully now before I present happy memories as a guide or lesson. But I invite you to engage with me in the same critical self-evaluation, all because of something I read, without which I would have nothing to say.