Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Recovering the Sacred

by Ann Cavera


According to a survey by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, the number of Americans claiming to practice no formal religion went from 8% in 1990 to 15% in 2009. Our guess is that the number may be even higher today.

Outranked in numbers only by Catholics and Baptists, the group claiming no religion is the third largest category surveyed.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find people who believe some things are holy and worthy of reverence. Holding on to the sacred honors the Creator, protects the best in us and requires the humility to admit many things are beyond our comprehension.

The words we use to describe the sacred - "almighty, holy, ever-lasting" - sound off-key in a culture that has an instant fix for anything that happens to be an inconvenience.    

Where do we find the sacred today?  Marriage?  Even the words "For better or worse, till death do us part" have the ring of something from another era. Children often grow up without a sense of identity in homes where family structure is uncertain.

Human life?  The millions of abortions performed are too painful to think about. Today, embryos can be stored or discarded according to the whim of the parents. According to the World Bank, 15 million children will die of hunger every year. We have put ourselves in charge of life without the knowledge and the wisdom of the sacred. The result is chaos. 

In the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments provided a sense of awe for the sacred and a structure for daily life to a rag-tag bunch of refugees wandering in the desert.  Though the Israelites couldn't keep the Ten Commandments, they returned to them time after time to recover a sense of who they were.

In a gospel reading, the moneychangers and sellers of sacrificial animals placed personal gain above the deeper need to worship. In a burst of holy anger, Christ rid the temple of people who had forgotten how to honor the sacred.

Perhaps the deepest human thirst is a need for an encounter with the transcendent. There are those who point out that encounters with the holy can happen at any moment; in a quiet walk in the woods, seeing the glory of a sunrise or sunset, at the birth of a child or the death of a loved one.

True enough, we can experience the presence of something greater than ourselves in unexpected places. Connecting with the holy eases our hearts and brings a sense of peace to our souls. But, faith without the joy of companionship and the comfort of well-loved celebrations results in unsupported belief steeped in loneliness.

Recently, a young friend wrote that she feels she belongs to a generation that has lost something.  What we have lost is a sense of the sacred that anchors our hearts, surrounds us and leads us into something greater than the petty concerns of daily life.

Only when we rediscover a sense of the sacred will we recover a sense of ourselves.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.