The true meaning of holydays is being forgotten

I recently read an article about how Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre joined with religious and political leaders to stand against the decision of Stony Brook University, part of the State University of New York, to hold classes on such religious holidays as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and schedule spring break after the seventh week of class in the semester rather than during the time of Holy Week, Easter and Passover. Bishop Murphy said that “the proposed changes are misguided and overtly hostile to a targeted group, the Judeo-Christian faculty, staff and student body who are proud to be part of this tradition.” He added, “Very simply, the changes, if adopted, will force these persons to choose between practice of their faith and taking examinations, attending/teaching classes or partaking in the other campus duties, responsibilities and activities.”

This story confirmed another alarming trend that I see increasing each year. That is the gradual diminishment of the religious meaning of our Christian and Catholic holydays, as they are being morphed into secular and commercial facsimiles. Just last month, on March 17, Catholics of Irish decent (and many others) celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, a day when we Catholics celebrate the memory of this great saint who encouraged the growth of Christianity in Ireland and who died in 460 A.D. St. Patrick initiated the symbolism of the Gaelic or Celtic Cross as a way of incorporating local Irish nature-based religious symbols and customs into the rites, rituals and symbols of Christianity. He also incorporated the bonfire into the observance of Easter since the Irish used them as a symbol of respect for their gods. St. Patrick’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate Irish pride by attending Mass, marching in or attending parades or reflecting on the great contributions to spirituality that Ireland has contributed to Christianity. Unfortunately, too many have turned this day into a day of drinking, lollygagging and silliness. To think that this towering figure in the religious and cultural history of Western Europe is slowly being forgotten and his feast day commemorated with leprechauns, intoxication games and general mayhem.

St. Patrick’s Day is not the only victim of this creeping secular consumerism. Take a look at St. Valentine’s Day, All Hollow’s Eve (day before All Saints Day) or Halloween and of course Christmas. These Christian holidays remembering a Roman priest, our beloved dead and the birth of Jesus Christ have been stripped of their religious meaning and denigrated into secular holidays. St. Valentine’s Day, which once remembered a priest— who stuck by his convictions, helped lovers to be together legally and morally and saved many people from inhuman and gruesome deaths — has been turned into a sappy sentimental excuse to spend money. Halloween has become the dark high holyday of secular consumerism. Christmas is slowly becoming a frenzy of spending as our society increasingly forgets the true meaning of the miracle of the Incarnation.

However, the most disturbing infringement of commercialism upon Christianity is the diminishment of the true meaning of Easter. A commercial celebration of Easter consists of a fuzzy blending of Christian symbolism and lucrative mass-market. The central tenet of our faith, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, is hardly ever mentioned, inferred or portrayed as the true meaning of the celebration of Easter by the secular commercialized world. Commercialism has preempted our religious symbols of Easter and covered them in chocolate or emptied them of any Christian meaning.

Christians of all denominations recognize the Resurrection of Jesus Christ as the central teaching and shared belief that establishes and nurtures our unity. Upholding and promoting the true meaning of our Christian holydays is another way Christians can promote unity. People of all faiths must protect the integrity of our religious holidays and encourage the marketplace to do the same. Have a Blessed Easter.

Father Joseph D. Wallace is coordinator, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.

Categories: That All May Be One

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