About a month before Christmas 2011, I started a job at a Catholic organization as a Public Policy Organizer. This transition marked a new step in my four and a half years of interfaith organizing. My language started to shift from “congregation” to “parish,” from “meditation” to “prayer,” from “Happy Holidays” to “Merry Christmas.”
Going into the job, I had no idea what working as a Catholic would be like. It had been so long since I’d identified myself as Catholic with no qualification, no “and,” no explanation of my beliefs. In my new office, this was not necessary. I am surrounded at work by people who understand what I mean by “Catholic.”
I’ve always said that interfaith organizing helped me continue to truly identify as Catholic, but working in a place where my tradition’s language is the one I use every day has re-opened my eyes to what my religion means to me. I hadn’t realized, in the years during which I identified as an “interfaith organizer,” that I had been diluting my language so much to be inclusive. And I began to understand during the Christmas season this year that, to me, “Merry Christmas” means so much more than “Happy Holidays.”
I realize that when I use the particular language of my tradition, when I express myself with “Mass” instead of “Service,” I am more authentically engaging in an open conversation about what I believe. Words are so important, and with this new perspective, I’m seeing that the best way to engage with people of other faiths, for me, is to be real about the words I’m using.
Thus, this year I started to think of “Merry Christmas” as inclusive, not exclusive. By wishing you the happiest of seasons that, in my tradition, is one of the most important of the year, I am more authentically describing my sincere wish that you enjoy this holiday, regardless of whether you believe that Christmas marks the birth of God’s Son. Saying “Happy Holidays,” while nice, thoughtful and inclusive is not, for me, as sincere and meaningful as inviting you into the space where I celebrate.
In 2012, I hope to carry this spirit along, to be more conscious of the spaces in my tradition where I guard against others for fear of offending, and to be aware of how deeply and sincerely I’m engaging in interfaith conversation rather than vague conversations of “faith-related holidays.” I pray the Rosary, I believe in the divinity of the Virgin Mary, I want God to bless you and keep you and I want to wish you a “Merry Christmas.”
These words will always be, for me, more meaningful and sincere than any less-direct language could be. I wish you all a Blessed New Year.
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