We find an abundant array of identities and voices in the long history of tradition. As a result, it presents great opportunities for personal exploration by allowing students (including ourselves) to ‘try on’ different environments, histories, attitudes, inflections, and the manifold colors of the Holy Spirit. As the Catechism notes,
CCC 2684 In the communion of saints, many and varied spiritualities have been developed throughout the history of the churches. The personal charism of some witnesses to God’s love for men has been handed on, like “the spirit” of Elijah to Elisha and John the Baptist, so that their followers may have a share in this spirit. A distinct spirituality can also arise at the point of convergence of liturgical and theological currents, bearing witness to the integration of the faith into a particular human environment and its history. The different schools of Christian spirituality share in the living tradition of prayer and are essential guides for the faithful. In their rich diversity they are refractions of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit.
“Traditional,” therefore, does not really mean (as many might expect) “limited” at all. On the contrary, over the nearly two-thousand year history of the Church and its worldwide spread, we have enough models of prayer, piety, and devotion that one would be hard-pressed to even find a ‘limit’ let alone feel limited by it. There are over 800 canonized Saints—add the blesseds and venerables and that climbs quickly past 10,000—a couple dozen different mendicant and monastic orders, and another several dozen congregations of simple vows [plus all the confraternities, tertiaries, apostleships, societies, etc…]. The challenge, then, is not to try to fit yourself into one firmly defined mold but, rather, to figure out which mold fits you.
In the work of Catechists, ‘tradition’ (in this broad sense) encourages us to facilitate and participate in the investigations of our students—learning with them as well as teaching. It can also be an opportunity to make use of technology for locating prayers and stories, for organizing discoveries, for connecting with spiritual communities around the world… Appropriate to the vocation of “midwife,” I think trying on the traditions of prayer within our tradition of faith is an exercise in giving birth to one’s prayerful self.