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INHERITED RELIGION

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REV. ANDREW DEMOTSES

When we were newly married, our closest friends were a young couple that were also newly wed. One night when visiting their home for supper, we noticed that in preparing a small roast for dinner, our young friend cut off a few inches from the end, When we asked why she did this, she replied, "I don't really know, but my mother always did it that way." When she asked her mother for the reason for this curious custom, her mother replied, "I do it because my mother always prepared her roasts that way." She visited her grandmother one day and asked her the same question. "I always had to cut off a bit from the end because my only pan was too small." Her grandmother had a good reason for what she did, but the others had repeated the practice for no good reason other than "that's the way my mother did it."

In many ways, we do exactly the same thing. We respect certain religious traditions and observe certain practices of our faith simply because our mothers did them. This is not necessarily wrong, but it is a sure prescription for turning these traditions into empty and meaningless customs. It is not only important for us to know what we should do, but also why we should do them. The reasons for certain customs, traditions, and practices are as important as our commitment to preserve them.

It is important for us to understand that the rituals of a life lived faithfully before God are not empty gestures. They usually have profound meaning and can point us in the direction of realities far greater than ourselves. An important part of living our faith, therefore, is in knowing our faith.

Our ignorance, however, has another side to it; when we don't know the reasons why we do things, we oftentimes see no reason to continue them. We lose sight of the importance of things that can enrich our lives, and enliven our faith.

Why do we use incense? Why do we have a patron saint? What is the reason for fasting? Some of us take these practices for granted, while others abandon them completely. Both act out of ignorance. What we don't know may not hurt us, but it certainly makes us a lot poorer. We need to learn our faith.

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