I remember once watching my wife knead the pie crust while my five-year-old and three-and-a-half-year-old covered their hands in flour. She was doing all of the work, but they're both asking questions. "Why are you doing this? When do you add that?"

At five, my oldest one remembers most of the steps from the last time they made pie. Her younger brother can show interest in the process for several minutes before caking himself over in flour. That day eventually we had pie.

At some point, without supervision, these kids will be making  their own bread, pie crusts, and other delights. While a few years off, other parents remind me that it's "closer than you think....or want."  In my mind's eye, I see my daughter, just a bit bigger than now, excited, because the loaf she made on her own rose perfectly.  A small family task will now be hers. And just like my wife's mother taught her to make pie, she, the next generation, will have taken up the tradition.

Handing on What we Receive

As Catholics, we pass along the faith by handing on traditions. Learning the parts of the mass. Initiation into the sacraments. The Rosary. Medals. Scapulars. Holy Water. Prayers at meals. The liturgical seasons. Our experience of our faith is largely mediated through practices handed onto us through (small "t") traditions. And, when our fellow Catholics fail to take up our (small "t") traditions or outright toss them aside, we don't like it.

Traditions require our commitment to them to hand them onward. It's an intrinsic part of the action. While there's something almost idyllic about my wife's pie-making with the kids, the circumstance of family and holidays allows for an easy assimilation of this tradition between them. So the tradition actually shapes daily life in a meaningful, if small, way.

Traditions are often worth doing simply because they have always been done. Casting them aside is not (or should not be) something done lightly and easily. Lost in today's hyper-ideological Catholic discourse is the simple advice from then-Cardinal Ratzinger to the Lutheran editor of his manuscripts: don't convert to Catholicism, stay Lutheran, at least during your time of great suffering and crisis. I can't imagine the consternation if it ever came out that then-Cardinal Bergoglio gave similar advice.

Why Take Up Traditions

The business of handing on traditions—much like handing on anything in our stewardship—is complicated stuff. Those of us practicing a tradition might not want to let it go. The next generation might not see the value in what they perceive as the old ways. Of course, when we are talking about traditions that benefit a human community like a family, it's often not act itself that is of central importance, but rather the loving interaction and exchange of the gifts of time and attention to one another. 

Yes, my wife's strawberry rhubarb pie is the best. But it tastes sweeter somehow because she and the kids worked on it together. And somehow, I suspect it might taste even better when it's just my kids or kids' kids who make it. 

But that's hard. For one thing, it requires my wife and I to get a bit out of the way and let what happens happen. That humility is not comfortable, especially when we know it could be done "better." Sometimes in a human community stepping aside for a less perfect process is what wins the day over the best outcome or work product. That doesn't make it any less easy or right to accept. 

In our mass culture society, there's probably a great concern over how we pick up traditions. We've erected barriers between generations making "handing things on" a Sisyphean task. It's in the labels we like to apply: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Y, and Z, the millennials, etc. Thanks to crass culture we ask each generation to reinvent itself. And if we want them to hand on traditions, we make the path towards doing so hard. The incumbent generation doesn't see the letting go and handing over of that tradition as an essential part of the human experience of the celebration.

Still, there is a need to hand on traditions and responsibilities from one generation to the next. Any parent knows that this handing on is both delightful and bittersweet. We want our children to love the experiences and good things that we came to love at their age. But we also know that as soon as they master and own these traditions, and take them up, we come to experience these traditions in a different and for a time, while we adjust, in a diminished manner. It becomes hard to let go. 

It takes a certain level of detachment to let the next generation take up traditions, but that in the end, it serves a greater good of actually keeping the tradition alive. 

Mattias A. Caro is the Executive Editor of Ethika Politika.