Nowhere is the need for a properly formed conscious more needed than in knowing how to effectively witness to our post-modern culture. On the one hand, there is the obvious problem with Mr. Cline’s statement that there is no “real meaning” to Christmas beyond what each individual feels like applying to it. One would be hard pressed to imagine this argument being used to justify a commercialized Yom Kippur (do producers of appetite suppressants make special ad campaigns for the Jewish demographic during that time while McDonald’s has a sale on happy meals for those of us who want to apply our own meaning onto the holiday?) or a corporate blitzkrieg during Ramadan. So yes, there is much need for catechesis on the meaning of some holidays (as Mr. Cline himself pointed out when he talks about the tendency of some self-identified Christians to get themselves into debt buying gifts).
On the other hand, sometimes a holiday just isn’t worth the catechesis. Halloween, other than its location next to All Saints Day, has no religious overtones and St. Valentine was removed from the General Calendar back in 1969. In cases like this, getting upset at the secularization of a holiday is not only futile, but it also makes it harder for people to take you seriously when you start talking about any other religious topic – the Chicken Little effect.
What that happens, I think it’s best to look to the example of those early missionaries to Europe. Look at the theological understanding of the culture around you, and work from there. Halloween can become a conversation on the existence of evil, a concept sorely needed in a relativistic, everyone applies their own meaning to an event, world. From there, you can talk about the existence of good, and how Goodness has a source, and that source wants a relationship with all of us.
Valentine’s day has morphed into a celebration of romantic love and sex with a large love it/hate it following and a whole industry devoted to relieving you of your money in return for flowers, chocolates, lingerie, etc. etc. This is a crowd as far removed from caring about martyrdom for the sake of Christ as possible. Attempting to teach about the historical saint’s beheading is not only going to fall on deaf ears, it will also get you filed under “Irrelvant”.
Instead, take the Pope’s lead, and use the day to model godly uses of the gift of love and sex:
Dear young people, don’t be afraid to marry. A faithful and fruitful marriage will bring you happiness.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) February 14, 2014
We need to sharpen our cultural literacy, our ability to read and operate within the world. Look at St. Patrick, who, according to legend, took a humble native plant, one completely familiar to the people he was hoping to teach, and used it to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. Use was is familiar and at hand in your evangelization efforts, and take a deep breath before railing against what they did to good St. Patrick’s feast day.
Cari Donaldson is the author of Pope Awesome and Other Stories: How I Found God, Had Kids, and Lived to Tell the Tale. She married her high school sweetheart, had six children with him, and now spends her days homeschooling, writing, and figuring out how to stay one step ahead of her child army. She blogs about faith and family life at clan-donaldson.com.