Cultivating awareness of God's presence

This Sunday, St. John offers his account of Jesus cleansing the temple. For many, the image of Jesus making a whip and chasing out the vendors and money changers is disturbing. Some might even mistake His anger-inspired actions for sin, even though we know that could never be true. Jesus is God and therefore is not capable of sin. Instead , the anger of Jesus is righteous anger, inspired by true injustice. His anger is just because the temple - His Father's house - has been turned into a marketplace, which is an act of injustice to God the Father.

The money changers and the vendors were in the temple for convenience. The Jewish people made pilgrimages to the temple - often from great distances - to make sacrifices to God. The vendors provided the animals to be sacrificed, so the pilgrims would not have to transport the animals on their sometimes long journeys. Likewise, the money changers were there to exchange foreign coins.

John tells us that Jesus drove the merchants and money changers out of the temple area. This is an important detail, for it shows that what they were doing was not an evil thing, but where they were doing it was. The temple was a place of God, not a marketplace. The actions in the temple were to focus on worship, not to distract from it. The money changers and the vendors had lost respect for the holiness of the temple. Caught up in their everyday life, they lost awareness of God's presence.

Like the vendors and money changers, we can lose our sense of the presence of God in our lives and the holiness that surrounds us. We, too, often need to confront the distractions we let into our spiritual life on a regular basis. The season of Lent offers this opportunity, as we are called to prepare ourselves for the Holy Triduum, where we will be drawn into the great mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

During Lent, let us strive to regain the sense of sacredness that surrounds us. In the morning when we get up, let us ask the Lord to give us the grace to be aware of His Presence during the day, and take time to reflect on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in ourselves and all the baptized living in the state of grace. At the end of the day, we can take time to recollect ourselves in the presence of God, asking to see our day through His eyes. We may start by recounting the blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us that day and giving thanks for them. Here, we may also ask for His help to realize His presence in our life more clearly in the future and ask Him what distractions or habits He might want to remove from our hearts in order to bring this about. This is also a time to practice contrition for the times we failed to follow His commands or promptings that day. We make preparations to change these sinful actions or negligences in the future and make reparation for any injustices we have committed.

These are just some of the daily prayers we can take up this Lent that will help turn our hearts to God more frequently and more sincerely. Through these prayers and other Lenten practices - like almsgiving and fasting - may we continually allow Christ to rid us of any distractions that keep us from the joy of dwelling in the awareness of His presence in our lives.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015