H. Roe Bartle (Kansas City’s Bartle Hall); former mayor of Kansas City, businessman, and philanthropist, is famous to the average man for two important reasons: (1) He brought an NFL team to Kansas City which today carrIes his nickname and (2) In 1930, at Camp Osceola in southern Missouri, he began a little known but highly successful leadership development program for young men within the Boy Scouts of America based on the idea of an Indian tribe.
From its origins this endeavor has brought some tens of thousands of boys and honored adults through its ranks changing lives for the better and giving many a purpose previously absent. The program uses the framework of Indian customs, traditions, and culture, as well as a primitive romanticism, to capture the allure and excitement of young men. Paired with these trappings is a wonderful personal development program focusing on the elements of service to God, family, country, and those in need as a path to personal fulfillment for boys transitioning to manhood.
A few weeks ago I was extremely honored to witness some incredible moments learning about this program, and in doing so felt the power of the Holy Spirit close to me as I watched and experienced boys becoming men during some very special moments in their lives..
One such moment came when I was afforded the opportunity to watch boys moving from one tribal rank to the next. As part of the process in a “council ring” on Visitors Sunday, they performed two important dances for the audience dressed in, and acted out in, traditional Indian fashion.
The first dance was a personal expression of thanks to God for the gift of their life and the physical ability to transition to manhood. The movement was physically challenging to do; allowing them to show God their readiness, and was also an expression of thanksgiving for their physical gifts. It was a personal witness to God showcased before any and all to see.
The second dance was more internally driven. Originally done in Indian Culture as a marriage dance, the boys today pull their mothers from the audience and dance with them as their key partner in life. As a community of dancers they moved throughout the council ring as a parade in a successive progression becoming at first an honored pair in the center, and then honoring the next pair in line as a supportive element with the rest of the tribe. The dance clearly demonstrated the relationship between the family and the community: each family both reliant on the greater community as well as a supportive element of that community. Both concepts separate, but linked together as one.
These traditions happen every year. It was just my first time to see them. Year after year they occur defining a growing significance in the lives of the participants through a shared experience. Therefore, these dances, though separate, were significant in theme by how they anchored the importance of tradition and custom to the life of the participant. Though rights of passage to the boy, each was thematic to a part of their life in individual importance. In watching these dances too I was drawn in my mind to a recent read by former Harvard University Sociology professor Carle Zimmerman entitled Family and Civilization.
Zimmerman, a native of Cass County, Missouri himself, draws a strong historical correlation from his research across both time and cultures between the strength of a given civilization and the strength of the influence of the family on its members within that same society. Regretfully in his research, Zimmerman reveals the deterioration of both the family and civilizations throughout history characterized by similar attributes. As the importance of family fades, so does the societal bonds that once tie a community to its values. Ironically, in assessing the United States, Zimmerman spoke of our parents and grandparent’s generation in making this comparison to the American identity based on his research timeline.
In speaking of the family, Zimmerman explains plainly:
.… The child is born into a family and sees the world through its eyes. His introduction to civilization is through the family. At first he is only a child in a system of social relations consisting of a unity of husband and wife, parent and child. Later he learns that there are relatives (grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) who are closer to him than other people. In time he acquires the idea of friends, and then strangers. Then he learns that he secures his status through his family. He is an American, an Englishman, a Chinese because he is born into a parental unit that belongs to those nationalities. His parents belong to a certain community and so does he, and they are subject to its rules and privileges. He can and must go to the schools of his community.
As the child grows up, he founds a family of his own where the roles are reversed; instead of remaining a child, he becomes a husband (wife), parent, leader, breadwinner, responsible person, disciplinarian, and status conferrer. In the course of a lifetime, most people play changing roles within the organization known as the family. A broad and philosophical knowledge of the meaning of this to the individual and to the society is one of the first requisites of understanding the society of which he is a part. …. – Carle Zimmerman
In the United States its hard to define true American culture and tradition as it changes quite regularly. As Americans we define ourselves by not being our parents. We define ourselves by the change we bring to the world. But what do we value? What is important enough to continue to define how we see ourselves and establishes the expectations we have to define our legacy as a people?
Not an American Thing
I have a long time friend from Sheffield, England that I met in college. Later on in life, when I lived in England myself, I spent lots of time with he and his family when opportunities permitted. To my periodic chagrin, he continually reminded me that if his fellow Europeans thought Americans had no culture, they obviously hadn’t yet heard American Country music. Not a fan myself, I always rolled my eyes at this comment. But age and experience has made me appreciate his point. Country music, in its own way, defines a reliable constant in American culture. But surely, we could and should have others?
What about our Faith Family
Family is strongly institutionalized and valued throughout the Bible. Sirach 3:2-16,12-14 and Colossians 3:12-21 are both emphatic testaments to the importance of family. Jesus modeled family for us and built the foundations of the Church around family. The Catholic Church recognizes this through the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph each December 30th. The Feast of the Holy Family celebrates the human family unit, as well as the ultimate family unit: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The feast, not a solemnity, is usually celebrated on the Sunday after Christmas. If Christmas is a Sunday, then the feast is celebrated on December 30th.
The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the “domestic church” or the “church in miniature.” St. John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a “family church,” and in doing so, we sanctify the family unit. Just how does one live out the Church in the family? The best way is by making Christ the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, going to confession frequently, and so forth, all done together as a family unit. (www.churchyear.net)
Tradition in the Catholic Church is Sacred, literally. As Catholics Sacred tradition is a cornerstone of our faith. We recognized sacred Tradition preceded the written New Testament by several hundred years as well as the Canonization of the Bible itself. Sacred Tradition is the faith as communicated by Christ to and through the Apostolic line and as such created the divine authority of the Church herself. Luke 10:16 tells us “Whoever hears you, hears me. And whoever despises you, despises me. And whoever despises me, despises him who sent me.”
In the Second Vatican Council’s document on divine revelation, Dei Verbum (Latin: “The Word of God“), we understand the importance of sacred Tradition through comparing it to sacred Scripture: “Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit. To the successors of the apostles, sacred Tradition hands on in its full purity God’s word, which was entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.
Thus, by the light of the Spirit of truth, these successors can in their preaching preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same devotion and reverence.”
This is important for us as practicing Catholics, as the Laity, to remember. It is important not just from the perspective of jurisdictional authority as espoused wonderfully by our apologists, but also more practically as a vital tool for us to use in the living out of our faith. What does that mean? It means we have the same responsibility to own our traditions as members and families of the church as the Church has in protecting and preaching it.
Like my observations of the Indian ceremonies giving personal growth value within the Boy Scouts, we as the heads of our families – our increasingly at risk families – need to own the responsibility of creating and maintaining our family’s traditions and link those traditions and customs to those of our faith. For it will be through the care taking of these traditions by which we fulfill our new role as head of our family in Zimmerman’s explanation of the link between family and civilization. As we move from child to parent it is incumbent upon us to fulfill that role so that our children share in the same identification and warmth of development that we did (or even more importantly, as I can personally identify with, that we may have even been denied as a child).
Despite your attitudes on Lincoln car commercials, I found what says this best was the conversation that Matthew McConaughey’s character in the movie Interstellar said to his daughter when discussing a father’s purpose, “Now, we are just here to be memories for our kids.” Well that is in many ways right, and it is those memories that define and align our children to their greater society. It is those memories you make for them that will protect and guide them throughout the struggles of their life. Do you want your children to be tightly anchored in the storms of their life or are you too busy for that and leaving them free to be taken by the winds of the day? Or more sadly, are you like so many parents in America today and outsourcing that responsibility to others?
Are you helping your kids take root in the faith? Are you honoring sacred Tradition in your family?
Brothers, if we observe your family from its traditions can we recognize what Tribe you are from? Do you know yourself?
Happy Father’s Day,
Let us pray
Jesus, our most loving redeemer,
You came to enlighten the world
with your teaching and example.
You willed to spend the greater part of Your life
in humble obedience to Mary and Joseph
in the poor home of Nazareth.
In this way, You sanctified that family,
which was to be an example for all Christian families.
Graciously accept our family,
which we dedicate and consecrate to You this day.
Be pleased to protect, guard, and keep it
in holy fear, in peace,
and in the harmony of Christian charity.
By conforming ourselves to the Divine model
of Your family,
may we attain to eternal happiness.
New St. Joseph People’s Prayer Book