There’s Wealth in Our Tradition

In times of turmoil, it can be wise to reflect on the past, less for nostalgic purposes and more for finding answers. Clinging to the past may be a fault, but the guidance of our spiritual ancestors is a gift to be treasured.

The signs of our time keep worsening. Unjust wars and terrorist killings are exploding across the globe, family and community values are eroding, the deaths of unborn children are celebrated as personal freedom, ideologies are undermining science, and norms and values are changing as if no lasting truths exist. At times truth itself, having fallen prey to so many corrupting forces, can be difficult to recognize.

In the past may be found understanding and inspiration. In the past, there are teachers.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta offered, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” Then, shattering the myth of killing as healthcare, she added, “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, killings, of wars, or of hatred…If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?” (Saint Mother Teresa, 1979, Nobel Prize Lecture)

In a world where justifications, rational and irrational, are routinely offered for violence, hate crimes, terrorism, and wars, Mother Teresa spoke for the vulnerable and shed light on the only path out of these horrors—one which recognizes humanity as God’s sacred creation, with each soul having infinite value.

Saint Thomas More offered prescient insights on education: “One of the greatest problems of our time is that many are schooled but few are educated.” As if cognizant of a future ensnared in relativism, he adds, “if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.” (Saint Thomas More, 1516, Utopia)

Consider, for example, how antisemitism on college campuses has spread contagiously through ill-education. Just as violence against humans belies the sanctity of life, so undermining truth in education disposes young people to corruption in thought and deeds.

Thomas More, martyred for his beliefs, recognized how it can be radical to embrace the truth. “Because the soul has such deep roots in personal and social life and its values run so contrary to modern concerns, caring for the soul may well turn out to be a radical act, a challenge to accepted norms.” In so doing, he guided us to discern and live the truth, regardless of changing norms. (Saint Thomas More, 2024,

Saint Thomas Aquinas reminded us, “Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church.” In his Summa Theologica, he drew not just upon the Bible and Church doctrine, but upon the works of centuries of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and pagan scholars, including Saint Augustine, Gregory the Great, Aristotle, Saint Jerome, Averroes, Dionysius, Maimonides, and many others, proving and disproving their propositions while discerning eternal truths. (Saint Thomas Aquinas, 2024,

In drawing from the past, Thomas Aquinas wove a spiritual gift for the future. He offered a starting point for addressing today’s aimless relativism: “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.” Implicit in his words is the existence of never-changing truths that give meaning and purpose to life. (Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1273, Two Precepts of Charity)

To this he added, “The things that we love tell us what we are.” Do we love power, wealth, pleasure, and material possessions, or do we love God and every person? And if we say we love humanity, do we truly “will the good of others,” including enemies, as Christ taught us to do? (Saint Thomas Aquinas, 2024,

A humble Saint Francis of Assisi turned to a gift from the past: the Gospels. He followed Christ’s guidance to his Apostles when He sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God: “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.” (Luke 9:3) (Ugolino, c.1300, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis)

Saint Francis chose to follow the Gospels literally and lovingly. His actions remind us that doing what is good and right can involve sacrifice and suffering. His world, with wars, diseases, a troubled Church, and competing values was, in many ways, similar to our own. What Francis did, in turning back to the Gospels, was find a solid cornerstone on which to build his Orders. Instead of trying to adjust Christ’s teachings to the norms of his time, he lovingly worked to change hearts so that all might follow Him.

The saints looked back that they might follow Christ.

In John 14:6, Christ says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” With these unchangeable words, Christ offers us life, a way to follow, and knowledge of the truths at the heart of our existence. His gifts of the Gospels, Revelation, and Church Dogma provide us a foundation for moving forward with our lives.

Today, truth seems elusive because it is being sought in all the wrong places. To seek truths in worldly desires, in moral relativism, in sociological trends, in academia—all without Christ—is a risky proposition, bound to lend to confusion and corruption of values.

As long as Christ’s call to discern, accept, and live actual truths is distorted by ideologies and relativism, individuals will continue to suffer and societies decline. For two millennia, devout Catholics have brought goodness into the world, lovingly sacrificing their lives in serving God and neighbor. They have found Catholic Dogma and the Gospels not to be outdated or burdensome, but rather the source of true life and joy. When looking backwards, they have encountered an eternal light shining into the future. Moving forward, they bear sacred gifts for all humanity.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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John Litwinovich is a Secular Franciscan, a member of the Little Portion Fraternity in Granite Bay, California. With a background as a human services administrator and Peace Corps and VISTA volunteer, his current focus is Catholic writing, travel and research, spending portions of most years in Italy. He is author of the Assisi Walking Adventure Guide and other faith-based works.

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