My dear brothers and
sisters in Christ Jesus:
Quite ironically in an age that seeks change, in some instances radical change, the word nostalgia is referenced rather frequently, whether positively or negatively. For those of us of an older generation who still use a hard-covered dictionary (a slight hint of nostalgia), The Oxford English Dictionary (19th printing in the United States, March 1980) defines nostalgia in these words: “a form of melancholia caused by prolonged absence from one’s home or country.”
In the light of our Catholic faith, nostalgia is quite distinct from Tradition as it is understood by and lived in the Church. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read:
“81. ‘Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit” (Dei Verbum, no. 9).
“and [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” (Ibid).
“82. As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.’ (Ibid).
“83. The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.”
Tradition in the Church, therefore, is a living reality, the ongoing communication of the gift of salvation in Christ through Word and Sacrament. It hardly is an outdated, outmoded attachment to the past. Rather it proclaims the living eternal Word of God and culminates in our communion with Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist and in the Sacraments of the Church in the here and now.
At the same time, it commemorates the lives of the holy martyrs, saints, doctors, pastors and holy virgins in the Church’s liturgical calendar, seeking the intercession of those who have gone before as witnesses to the Church’s Tradition in their own times. This communion of saints embraces us in our own lifetime, as the saints are true members of our family in the community of believers and whose lives continue to represent commitment and love for Jesus, the same love and commitment we are called to through our Baptism in Christ.
Always and everywhere, the Church is our home. We cannot forget the faith into which we were baptized and the rituals that accompanied us along this journey of faith. Whether in a different language or in a different form, Holy Mass throughout the ages has inspired and continues to inspire so many of our vocations and life choices. These roots are not easily forgotten, nor does the Church expect us to divest ourselves of our personal experiences of faith that brought us into communion with Christ. Our “ancestry.com” reaches back to the time of Christ, and even before as He is prefigured in the Old Testament.
Benedict XVI advanced the Theology of Continuity, which embraces the Tradition of the Church in every age, allowing it to respond to the needs of contemporary society, such as the work of the Second Vatican Council, while always remaining faithful to the Church’s living and ongoing proclamation of the Church’s Creed. In this spirit of continuity, Benedict XVI has continuously supported and pledged his loyalty to Pope Francis. He who formerly occupied the Chair of Peter now gives filial homage to the one who now is Peter.
In his scholarly book entitled Nostalgia, Anthony Esolen wrote: “Happy talk about how all change is good and change that wipes things we have known clean off the face of the earth is extremely good – nobody in human history has thought or spoken so heartlessly. Nobody until our time” (p. 71). Properly understood, nostalgia in a positive sense is not meant as an unreasonable clinging to former accidentals of life or denying the positive improvements medically or technologically made in contemporary society. Rather, it represents a longing for those realities that can come under the umbrella of Tradition: the desire to protect the child of the womb, the nuclear family, the origin of the human person as created in the image and likeness of God, the preservation of peace, the freedom of religion and keeping whole and entire the Truths of our Catholic faith, and yes, our personal history of faith that fueled in us a desire to follow Christ.
In his address on Sept. 13, 2022, Pope Francis spoke these words to the Kazakhstan’s authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps in Nur-Sultan: “… How important it is, amid today’s rapid economic and social changes, not to neglect the bonds that connect us to the lives of those who have gone before us. I think particularly of those traditions that enable us to cherish the past and to value the rich inheritance we have received.”
In that same speech, Pope Francis went on to quote the words of St. John Paul II in the “Address of Welcome Ceremony,” Sept. 22, 2002: “The memory of your country, which Pope John Paul II, as a pilgrim to Kazakhstan, defined as a ‘land of martyrs and of believers, land of deportees and of heroes, land of intellectuals and artists,’ embraces a glorious history of culture, humanity and suffering.” I dare say, that the Christian Tradition has and continues to accompany God’s people in all the episodes of the human condition and becomes intrinsic to who we are, ever unable to be erased.
In this month of October, Respect Life Month, devoted to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, we are not being nostalgic in longing for what cannot be any longer, but rather longing and working for what must be, a deep and abiding protection of God’s gift of life and a community of faith working together to support this supernatural gift, as I wrote in last month’s column.
It is not nostalgic to long for the return of the pillars upon which authentic civilizations and nations are built, namely honesty, respect, civility in language and in practice, and the exercise of charity, the lack of which creates division that boils over into anger and violence.
It is not nostalgic to long for speaking the Truth as did Jesus, clearly and unambiguously, about who we are as disciples of Jesus and what motivates our acceptance of His invitation to come and follow Him. Clarity in doctrine is not properly articulated by what is of human creation, but clarifying what comes to us from Jesus and is alive as every Truth about faith is rooted in Christ: His passion, death and resurrection; His gift of the Sacraments; the integrity of His message about the human person, the crown of God’s creation to whom the Lord entrusted the care of all His creation; His elevation of marriage to a Sacrament whereby man and woman become one in mind, heart, body and soul and participate with Christ in the continuation of the human family; His judgment about how we live the gift of life; how we become the very one whom we receive in the Most Holy Eucharist by serving all in need from the least to the greatest. Longing to hear these Truths is not nostalgic; it is the rightful expectation of the flock to hear these Truths proclaimed in their integrity by the shepherds to whom they have been entrusted.
In adhering to these eternal Truths, we fortify ourselves in this life’s pilgrimage to that heavenly Jerusalem. And yes, a form of melancholia should settle in our hearts where there has been a prolonged absence from one’s home or country, in this instance our absence from the community of faith, the Church. But melancholia can never be the final stop; rather, it is our decision to turn our sadness into joy by crossing over the threshold into the House of the Lord! We do not remain locked in the past or in neutral, but we continue on, guided by the Creed we profess. We turn what some call sentimental nostalgia into food for the journey and clasp the hands of the great saints woven into this great Christian Tradition that will lead us to the gates of eternal life.
I conclude, as Anthony Esolen did in his book Nostalgia (pages217-218), by quoting the Book of Revelation:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
“and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;
“he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.’
“And he who sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
“And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.’
“He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son …. “ (Revelation 21:1-5).
United with you in adoration of the Savior of humanity and imitating the faith and humility of Our Mother Mary, who allowed the Word to become flesh, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester