Sacramentals in Our Time


Over the last few weeks, we have looked at sacramentals, the integration of our life, and a sacramental worldview. In this last post on sacramentals, I want to look at the place sacramentals can play in the evangelization and restoration of our culture.

How do we evangelize our culture? How do we protect our families from the encroachment of secularism?

In 1953, Cardinal Cushing of Boston (then Archbishop Cushing) was asked to speak at a convention for religious educators. He addressed the mission of Catholic education and the difficulties of working towards that mission. Among the difficulties he named – in 1953 no less- was “the surrounding pagan environment…and constant fatigue and discouragement [of teachers]…[at a time] when Christian home life is so unhappily on the wane.”

Perhaps this sounds familiar, especially to parents and teachers. I was a little surprised to read his assessment of the difficulties in 1953, sounding so similar to our own. What was his suggestion to aid instruction in the faith when faced with such difficulties?

Catechizing the sacramental worldview.

He told the teachers that they must introduce their students (and through them, their families) to Christian family living by teaching them how to sanctify daily life and prepare for the sacraments by using sacramentals. He said, “We must always be realistic.  As realists, we see that Christian family living is not going on to any great extent in the midst of our secularistic environment.  It almost seems at times that Christ is the most unimportant Person in the world, in America, on any street.  To put Him in His first and proper place in the lives of students is something that we cannot do ourselves. …The Catholic school may plant, the individual through his efforts may water, but it is God who gives the increase.”

He continued, speaking of ‘sacramentalizing’ life, saying that sacramentals “have their place in education and Christian family living” and are given to us “so that the baptized Christian will not suffer excessively from living in a pagan world.”

I am grateful to be living at this time and in this place. To call our present culture “pagan,” might sound extreme or reactive. Cardinal Cushing, however, is just reminding us that quite often the mission of the world is not the mission of Christ. It is easy to get swept up in the allures of this life to the detriment of the life to come. Cardinal Cushing isn’t calling the modern world pagan so that we run from it. Rather, he’s teaching us how to equip ourselves to run into it and change it!

When we teach people to view the world sacramentally, we heal the false chasm between being “spiritual” and “religious.” We show that it is possible to integrate the various spheres of our lives. We demonstrate that all parts of our lives can be directed toward our vocation to holiness. A sacramental worldview is the answer to a culture who wants to separate faith from everyday life.

Can modern man understand this sacramental worldview? We are a visual society, we live in a world of heightened senses, where we are bombarded with images and sounds. Very often, however, very few of those images and sounds are Catholic. We must endeavor to bring more sacred images into our homes or Facebook feeds.

Being bombarded with images can also make it harder to enter into the mysteries that the sacraments and sacramentals express.  Just look at how hard it is for people to sit at the symphony and truly enter into the art. We have to be checking our phones.

How can we sacramentalize our lives? This is our task, as parents, as educators, as members of this human community. A sacramental worldview is exactly what our world needs. We need to be touched by His presence. And we need to re-discover how our daily lives can be sanctified and filled with channels of His grace.

Four weeks ago, I posed the question, “When film or television programs want to portray Catholics, how do they portray us?” They depict us by depicting sacramentals – rosaries, statues, and crucifixes. The tragedy is that these days we may find sacramentals more prevalent in the movie-set homes of fictitious Catholics than real Catholics.  It’s time to bring them back.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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