We live in a culture where, increasingly, any sense of the sacred is being lost. The thought that something could be sacred, special, holy, or somehow “off-limits” is bewildering to many. Indeed many secularists consider those who do see some things as sacred, to be stuffy and somehow arrogant. There are many in our culture who defend the rights of others to burn the flag, ridicule religious symbols (e.g. the cross submerged in urine some years back in a noted “art” museum), and even applaud when, a couple years back, homosexual activists desecrated the Body of Christ by stomping on hosts.
These of course are extreme examples. But there is also the more general loss of reverence in our culture which causes many to say “What’s so wrong with that?” when presented with some pretty questionable and shocking things. Consider the following example:
LONDON — Dead bodies will be burned to heat a swimming pool in the U.K. — and the British government is considering adopting the idea across the country.
Redditch Borough Council is set to become the first local government body in England to use heat from a crematorium to warm a pool this spring, the newspaper reported.
Senior lawmaker Sir George Young, the leader of the House of Commons, told The Telegraph newspaper that he would “die a happier man” if he could arrange for his cremation to provide heat for swimmers.
The Telegraph said the incinerators used to burn bodies reach temperatures of 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit and cited estimates that using the waste heat from the Redditch crematorium could save more than $22,000 per year.
Carole Gandy, the leader of Redditch Borough Council…”I do recognise some people might not like it, but if they don’t, they don’t have to use our crematorium.”
Durham Crematorium, in northern England, was thinking about fitting turbines to its burners in order to create electricity that could potentially power 1,500 televisions. 
Many in our increasingly secular culture will applaud such a move. Materialists and secularists tend to be utilitarian, pragmatists. “Why waste the heat…..Isn’t using the dead a way to honor them?……This will help reduce the carbon footprint……It will reduce greenhouse gases…..etc.” Yes, all very coldly practical from a materialist, pragmatist point of view.
But it also demonstrates a almost complete loss of any notion that some things, in this case the human body, are sacred and should not simply be used for any mundane purpose. Just because something is considered useful does not mean it should be done. There are other matters to be considered. In this case, what needs to be considered is that the human body is sacred, and not to be considered as fuel for a power plant.
Let’s consider what is meant by using the term “sacred.” “Sacred” refers to something or someone who has been set apart from ordinary use or understanding. Consider the chalice used in holy Mass. It is a sacred vessel, it is set apart for one purpose, to hold the Precious Blood of Christ. It would be wholly inappropriate for a priest to take this sacred vessel over to the rectory and use it in an ordinary meal, to serve wine or champagne or beer from it, or to use it as an ornament on the rectory dinner table. No, the chalice is set apart for something far more special than ordinary use. It is set apart, it is “sacred,” it is distinctively special, and has a dignity above any other ordinary glass or vessel.
The human body is also sacred. It is not to be equated with the bodies of animals, and surely it should not be equated with coal or any fuel for fire in a power plant. Human remains are to be treated with honor, given proper disposition and burial. The human body is set apart from ordinary things, for in it and through it, an immortal human person, known by God from all eternity has existed. The human body is not a log, it is not a lump of coal, it is not to be equated with anything ordinary, it is sacred. And even in those cases where human bodies are “donated to science” for the holy purpose of advancing medicine and understanding the of the body, the body is to be treated with respect and the final remains interred.
I realize that many today will sniff at such a notion. I expect to hear from some of them here. But in making their comments, they will make my point, which is that very little, indeed next to nothing, is considered sacred anymore. This is one of the unholy fruits of secularization: next to nothing is sacred. Almost nothing and no one has special dignity. Young people, especially those under thirty, have lived in a world almost wholly devoid of any notion of the sacred.
And to those egalitarians who want to say no one and nothing should have special dignity, the fact is when everything is called sacred, nothing is sacred, when everything is special, nothing is special. The fact is, distinctions are necessary in life, and it has been a human instinct to appreciate that some things are special, some things are sacred, some things are set apart for special honor, reverence and respect.
And thus, having abandoned this notion, we have the absurd result depicted above that human bodies, sacred icons and vessels of human dignity, are being burned for fuel to heat a pool and run televisions. It is a sad and dreary world we are passing on. Long gone are the days when, even in the tragic and un-sacred horror of war, troops would see that the dead, even the bodies of their enemies, were reverently buried. Honor is departing our world.
Is nothing sacred? Apparently not.
Cardinal Wuerl also ponders the loss in the sense of the sacred at his blog. Read his reflections here: Cardinal’s Blog on American Values