Personal Statement on Sacred Space
by Thomas Sienkewicz
I was raised in the Catholic Church and attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through college. I was an altar boy for many years in grade school. Religion meant a lot to my family, especially to my mother and father, who made sure that all of their children had Catholic educations even though they themselves did not attend church regularly. I have always felt comfortable in the Catholic Church and especially attracted to the church’s liturgical aspects. By this I mean that I find the deepest religious experience in the mass rather than in theological doctrine. My sense of sacred space will always be defined by the church building in which I had my earliest religious experiences, St. Ann's Church in Hoboken, New Jersey.I regularly attend Immaculate Conception Church in Monmouth, Illinois.
My wife Anne is a Methodist and has never felt attracted to the Catholic faith. We were married by a Methodist Minister in the presence of a Catholic priest present in 1972 at Vesper Hill Children's Chapel, a non-denominational outdoor chapel in Camden, Maine. All three of our children have been raised as Catholic but attended public rather than Catholic elementary school in Monmouth. Until our children went away to college we attended mass together as a family nearly every Sunday and sang in the choir. All these years my wife has been attending the Catholic church in order to enhance this feeling of family worship. I am very grateful to her for the sacrifice she has made I have never wanted her to change her religion for my sake and respect her religious beliefs.
For me religion not only faith and commitment but also and especially a bond of traditions which link me with the long line of family members who have shared the same religious experiences that I have had. Whenever I enter a Catholic church, anywhere in the world, I am aware of these generations of family members going back for centuries and centuries who also cherished such sacred space. When I go to Mass I find consolation in thinking about deceased members of my family like my parents and grandparents with whom I feel more connected because of this shared religious experience. While at mass I feel a sense of their presence even in death. At the same time at mass I feel attached to the wider community of Christians who have worshiped at mass going all the way back to the time of Jesus.
As a classicist I have had to learn a lot about the religion and mythology of the ancient Greeks and Romans for many years. Because of my enthusiasm for this topic, some students have occasionally suggested that I am a closet worshiper of the ancient gods like Zeus. This is not true. I do not believe in Zeus as a god although I do respect the ancient Greeks and Romans who believed in his divinity. I am enthusiastic about the religion and the sacred spaces of the ancient Greeks and Romans because I think that these ancient points of view can offer meaning to the modern world even if we do not consider their gods to be real. We may have transformed the religion of the ancient Greeks and Romans into mere mythology, but I am convinced that by experiencing the sacred spaces of the ancient Greeks and Romans, I can understand my own sacred spaces better.
Most of my most important sacred spaces are inevitably Catholic churches, including Charter Cathedral in France, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Other sacred places sacred to me are linked to my love for the Classics; for example, he Parthenon in Athens and the temple of Apollo in Delphi.Yet others are sacred to me because of their natural features; for example, Rocky Mountain National Part in Estes Park, Colorado, and Muir Woods in California.
Ultimately, my personal spaces are inevitably linked with my own personal history and experiences. They enable me to experience the divine through my ties with family, classics and the natural world.
This material has been published on the web by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students at Monmouth College. If you have any questions, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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