We Weren’t Always So Secular: Recovering a Sense of the Presence of God

The times in which we live are often described as “secular.”  This word comes from the Latin “saecula” meaning “world.” Hence in saying our age is secular is another way of saying our times are  worldly.

We may think it has always been so but such is not the case.

To be sure, it IS the human condition to be a little preoccupied with the world. But previous times have featured a much more religious focus than our own. The Middle Ages were especially known for way in which faith permeated the culture and daily experience. The Rose window to the right presents a typically Medieval Notion: Christ (the Lamb of God) at the center and everything surrounding Him.

In those days the holidays were the HOLYdays and one’s understanding of the calendar and the time of year centered around the Church’s calendar of saints and feasts. It wasn’t Winter it was advent, and then Christmastide. Even the word Christmas was ChristMASS. Halloween was the “Een (evening before) all Hallows (All Saints Day). Three times every day the Church bells rang the “Angelus” calling Catholics to a moment of prayer in honor of the incarnation. The Bells also rang summoning Catholics to Mass and vespers. In a previous article in this blog (By Their Buildings You Will Know Them) it was noted that even the architecture of the Middle Ages placed a large church at the center of every town.

Those days were not perfect days but they were more spiritual and the Christians everywhere were constantly reminded of the presence of God by the culture in which they lived. Seldom so today. Many people today almost never hear of God on a day-to-day basis.

But the truth is, God is everywhere. He indwells his creation and sustains every aspect of it. The Scriptures say that Jesus holds all creation together in himself (Col 1:17).  Most people think of creation as a sort of machine or closed system in which we live. But that is not the case. Creation is a revelation of and experience of God’s love and providence. Not one leaf falls to the ground without God leading it there. Not one hair of our head is unknown and provided for by God. We are enveloped by God, caught up into his presence.

It is especially sad for young people today. Some of us who are a bit older remember a time when God was more recognized. I remember that we prayed every day in my PUBLIC school until I was in 6th grade.

I remember my 4th grade teacher often reminding me when I got out of line: “God is Watching!” SHe also kept a copy of the King James Bible on her desk and the worst thing a student could do was to put anything on top of the Bible. Within seconds Mrs Hicks would scold: “Don’t ever put on top of  God’s Word….!” To this day I have a deep instinct never to place anything on top of a Bible. In that same public school we began each day as our Principal, Mr. Bulware read from the Bible, usually the New Testament, and then we prayed the Lord’s Prayer, then followed the Pledge of Allegiance….One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

I remember when Christmas (not “winter holidays”)  in School was actually celebrated and that we sang religious songs even in public school well into my High School years. I remember our public high school choir singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and many songs with religious subjects. Can you imagine a public school choir singing today “O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord”  ?  Gone are the days.

But we need to teach and help our young people get in touch with God’s presence.  Families out to pray grace at meals with their children and have numerous religious images. There ought to be family prayer and observances of the various feasts and seasons of our Church.

Question For Readers: What are some of the websites you might know that are helpful in families staying focused on God? Perhaps there are some devoted to helping Children and Teenagers experience the faith and the cycle of the Church’s year? Perhaps a few of you can also recommend sites that are helpful in this regard.

But the point is that we have to be intentional about  placing reminders of God’s presence in our lives and those of our children.

Here too is a video for young people reminding them that God is near, not far. It’s a toe-tapper with a message:

20 Replies to “We Weren’t Always So Secular: Recovering a Sense of the Presence of God”

  1. There are a lot of good things on EWTN but the regular programing is aimed mostly to adults and young adults. They have special programing called EWTN Kids mostly religious cartoons but I don’t think this is exactly what you have in mind.

  2. So true, Msgr., it is especially sad for the young people.
    They really have no way of knowing so many things we did in our youth. There is a generation, their parents, who are not able to give a good example because their own catechesis is poor or nonexistent.
    As you said, we do have to place reminders of God’s Presence in our and our children’s lives.

  3. The best thing that keeps God in our minds is enjoying all His beauty — nature, books, music, creative efforts, ourselves — and thanking Him for it all. It’s not uncommon for the kids to express thanks to the Lord for their favorite authors and musicians or the funny antics of our kitties. We also are aware of Jesus in the poor, lonely and suffering.

  4. I think the way to focus on God in the home is to have a crucifix on a bedroom wall and a picture of Our Lady. Or keep a rosary on the dresser in a clear container. The kitchen can have a picture of the Last Supper. Maybe the entrance says God Bless this Home. A holy water font situated next to the bedroom door might be good. Anyway, I think these are ways we remember God’s presence.

    There can be a reminder in the family car, like a statue of a saint on the dashboard or a finger rosary nearby.

    There are many other symbols of our faith that can remind us of God. These are a few that came quickly to mind.

  5. Familyland.org has a family catechism and several really great programs to teach the faith to adults and children alike.

    I have a personal blog that I keep about the faith at brandy-miller.blogspot.com

    I think the most important thing you can do to help make God’s presence real to your kids is to do what I do for my son – help them connect the dots between the things they’ve prayed for and the fulfillment of those prayers. It took a while for my son to be able to see it on his own, but when I began to show him all the ways God worked to answer prayers even when it was just a prayer of the heart and hadn’t been expressly spoken to God, it has really helped him to see God working in his life and therefore to prove to him the existence of God. He is a terrific evangelist to his friends, helping them to do the same things.

  6. You are separating God and world. God acts in the world, he freed Israel in what was a historical even that took place in the “world”, he incarnated Himself as Jesus Christ, a historical character, in the world. God and the world are not antagonists. What we need to do is get rid of this wrong mentality that separates world and God. It is not biblical. When Jesus speaks against the world he is speaking against a world ruled by force and cohesion through power in the style of the Roman Empire. Jesus never speaks against being human and living in this world loving one another.

  7. Epistle 202
    My some ideas of “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope talked about Father’s childhood when Father was a pupil of 4th grade until 6th grade. On those years, Father prayed and sang religious songs every day in Father’s high school.
    According to Msgr. Charles Pope, Father’s childhood memories were beautiful memories.
    At the end of the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope had a question for readers: What are some of the websites you might know that are helpful in families staying focused on God?
    Secondly, now permit me to talk about some problems to relate to the homily hereafter:
    My childhood memories were ugly memories.
    From when I was a pupil of 1st grade until when I defended my doctoral thesis successfully on 1996, then I was 44 years old, I didn’t know at all on Holy Scripture as well as God, Lord Jesus, and Jesus’ Body.
    In during a period of above time, I learned English language, but I can’t write any article in English.
    However, from 2000 to this day, since I am a seminarian of Mai Khoi Monastery in Saigon, South Vietnam, I have known Holy Scripture as well as God, Lord Jesus, and Roman Catholic Church.
    From in early 2011 to this day, I have known Msgr. Charles Pope, especially I can write epistles in English and send them to Father daily.
    I also know some websites that I very love them because they are useful for my studying here below:
    Now I have become an American Catholic of Archdiocese of Washington. And Msgr. Charles Pope is my spirit-father. I think that just Lord Jesus granted His miracles on me./.

    1. Glad that you’re in the USA now. You’re included in my prayers. We need so much more good humble Vietnamese priests who can lead the people away from this world and towards Christ. And I hope that you will learn the Traditional Latin Mass well. This beautiful reverent form of the Mass that I’ve come to experience has helped my family and I so much, and I wish the same Mass to be made more available to more Vietnamese in the USA, especially the young ones.

  8. I have not been particularly successful in finding religious books that engage my 10yo daughter. There are plenty of Bible-story books for preschoolers, and “Christian Life” books for teens, but not much of a selection for older elementary-school kids.

  9. Recovering the sacred, the sense of God, can be initiated in how we pray the Mass. Behavior that projects adoration or even just serious respect for the prayer of others in the house of God, especially focusing on the real presence in the Eucharist, would be the best starting point. This means silence as appropriate and a style of worship that avoids the “heresy of formlessness.”

    Every culture is built on its religious foundation. Secular culture is built on an ambivalence concerning the existence of God. This ambivalence has been grafted onto the Catholic attitude in prayer especially at Mass.

  10. My church created a family catechesis program for K-6th grade called the Family Formation program. We have a webstie: http://www.familyformation.net and a blog http://www.familyformationblog.net Our program’s focus is re-engaging parents to be the primary educators that the Church and more importantly God Himself calls them to be. Our curriculum focuses on the liturgical calendar wherever possible so that what happens at Church that week is happening at the home. It is different from generations of faith because each person of the family learns ths same content of the faith, but at a different level.
    BTW Father, keep posting. I love reading your blog.

  11. These are Websites that I frequent to stay up to day on Catholic news and issues and to help in my path to holiness. Some have already been mentioned. I believe they have good information for all, but would need to be explained to children. They ought not be using the Internet without supervision anyways.

    http://www.audiosancto.org (My most favorite files are on the saints)

  12. Msgr. Pope,

    Perhaps a good start to restoring a sense of God in the world would be to bring it back into the Church itself . You can hardly complain about holidays no longer being Holy Days when the Church itself kicks them to Sundays because it might inconvenience someone. The abandonment of meatless Fridays, abandonment of Latin, the introduction of communion in the hand, the dreadful architecture and art, and numerous other things the Church has done in the last forty-fifty years are at least partly responsible for what we see today.

  13. I’d say encourage young people to download “Catholic One” and “Rosary Player” applications or “App”s for Smartphones running on Droid, reading articles and news stories from newadvent.org, catholic.org, catholic.com, listening to audio CDs from Lighthouse Catholic Media or viewing what’s available for purchase on Saintjoe.com; stay educated with those and pray!

  14. Get a Catholic calendar and start learning about the liturgical seasons and celebrating the saints’ feast days. The book, “Saints and Feast Days,” by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio is a great family reference with a biography of each saint and suggested activities for the family. Plant a Mary garden (great website: http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/resources/m_garden/marygardensmain.html). Prepare for going to Mass with confession, reading readings the night before, and finding the appropriate clothing so that you will be properly “vested.” Make a point of going to Mass on solemnities and your patron saints, and then begin to schedule you day around going to Mass. The fisheaters.com website, recommended above, is excellent for enumerating and explaining everything Catholic. Once you know there is a Catholic way to believe, think, and act, and begin and begin again to believe, think, and act, you will be on the road to heaven and be able to help family and friends as well.

  15. As important as god is to many families across the country, I do not agree with the authors view on the godlessness of our society, particularly public schools. A public school consists of a community that is not homogeneous in it’s faith. It would be against American principles to force a child who was raised to not believe in god to say prayers or have a teacher impose her beliefs on him. A difference between public and private communities must be made in respect to how someone approaches such things. An imposition of religious ideals in a public community is wrong, while a private community, such as the constituents of a church, can have their own standards. As secular as our society is nowadays, and as generally unpleasing a character it is, we cannot impose our own beliefs outside of our own private community

  16. Pat, this is solid stuff. I, too, believe that a healthy culture will solve 90% of a leader’s problems. As a matter of fact, I would say that developing a healthy culture, which includes casting vision, is the number one responsibility of leadership.

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