In a brief autobiography written at the request of his children, my father records that an ancestor of his “had a sense of the sacred.” The phrase has always made me wonder, and today – the beginning of Advent – would be an appropriate time to ponder.
What does it mean to have a sense of the sacred? Who has this gift? Does any of us? Does each of us in some degree? How different is the life experience between those who do and those who don’t? What has it to do with holiness?
If holiness is, as we are taught, the essence of God, then the sacred is that which reveals this essence and draws us closer to it. The phrase “holy, holy, holy” appears twice in the Bible, in Isaiah and in Revelation, and both times the acclamation is uttered by heavenly creatures reacting with humble obeisance to the ineffable grandeur of God. What is there in the quotidian lives of us 21st century Americans that might spark in us a glimmer of such awareness? Do we care?
In a sense, all of creation is sacred because of the holiness of the Creator. Certainly, the majesty of the mountains or the glory of a sunset may inspire in many a reverential awe. But it would require the advanced sanctity of a mystic to gaze on a marigold and experience an epiphany. Most of us, if we’re interested in approaching the divine, have to rely on the organized support of religion.
Beyond her ‘sacramental economy,’ the Church offers this organized support by sacralizing time, space and sound. She does so by instituting the liturgical year, by consecrating liturgical architecture, and by providing sacred music. Those who avail themselves of these treasures with a genuine openness to the divine tend to grow into the “sense of the sacred” of which my father spoke. With this sense, they appear to possess an uncommon serenity and a richer appreciation for each moment.
On behalf of all of us at the National Catholic Community Foundation, may the new liturgical year which began on Nov. 27 advance each one of us in the Kingdom.
Dana Robinson is chair of the board of trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.