By Lois Heron
The Broadway musical “The Fiddler on the Roof” is about a Russian village that strives to protect the traditions of Judaism to keep their religious culture alive and thriving as the pre-Holocaust world threatens to destroy them. The story’s protagonist is Tevya, who has a running dialogue with God throughout the musical. His desire to keep the tradition alive drives him to his knees about how he raises his family. He’s a lovable character because his struggle is easy to relate to in every age.
At one point in the musical, he and his wife dialogue about their struggles in keeping the traditions of their faith front and foremost for their family amidst the inevitable changes they face in the culture. One of the most tender songs between the husband and wife relays what I believe you and I feel as parents and grandparents.
Sunrise, sunset. Sunrise, sunset,
Swiftly fly the years.
One season following another,
Laden with happiness and tears.
What words of wisdom can I give them?
How can I help to ease their way?
We must ask ourselves the same questions if we hope to vibrantly live the Sacred Tradition of our Catholic faith in our domestic church today and in future generations.
How can we do that?
I suggest that the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly small “t” traditions we practice within the culture of our family support the capital “T” traditions of the faith. We must be attentive to what habits and dispositions we form daily to protect our family and future generations from forgetting what they believe and why they believe it.
The orthodox Jewish home stands on three pillars we most likely recognize: the Torah (the Law of God), service to God and acts of human kindness. We are Judeo-Christians in that we are the extension and fulfillment of the history of salvation recorded in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament. And through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us once and for all, we are united to God for his good purpose. God’s Word is living and active, guiding us today as it did as it was recorded.
The Shema (Deuteronomy 6) alluded to in the musical is a declaration to adhere to as we raise a faithful Christian family. To do otherwise is to risk forgetting the purpose of our vocation as parents and grandparents. When we forget or are apathetic toward what we are about and why we observe our faith traditions, we are in danger of our children and future generations walking away from the faith.
It is not enough to say, “That’s just what we do,” as Catholic Christians. Our faith in God is to be lived purposefully, supported by faith and reason and action. Lack of attention leads to a lack of understanding, giving way to a lack of appreciation. All this culminates in a dismissal of the ancient traditions that sustain and frame the domestic church.
Beyond ensuring our children attend religious education classes and Sunday Mass each week, where do we form our Christian identity? In the domestic church!
We take care to keep the faith vibrant and life-giving 168 hours a week in our family’s life. The active attention to the integrity of the faith is reflected in our thoughts, words, actions and the choices we make for our family, and that forms the domestic church traditions, which will guard our families against relegating our faith in God to just another option in a world of shinier, but inferior, options.
We can’t read the words of the Shema without noting how pivotal the actions are in fulfilling the ordinance. God directs Moses to remind the people: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength” (Dt 6:4-5). Then he instructs the people, “Take to heart these words which I command you today. Keep repeating them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them on your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. … But keep the commandments of the Lord, your God, and the decrees and the statutes he has commanded you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and you may enter in and possess the good land which the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, driving all your enemies out of your way, as the Lord has promised” (Dt 6:6-9 17-19).
Friends, we live in a culture that is anti-Christ, which is the enemy at war against us. It is the enemy we must thrust out before us one deliberate action at a time. In the words of Tevya, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a Fiddler on the Roof.”