A reflection on the readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 13, 2022.
What came to mind for you when you heard about “the cloud” in today’s Gospel? Most of us are more familiar with “cloud computing,” the sort of cloud which stores our data so that we can access it from all of our many devices. Now, I don’t know exactly where “the cloud” is, but I know that my emails, calendar, photos, documents–even this reflection–are all in it. This mysterious storage place exists on the Internet–and we’ll be in big trouble if it ever fails!
We hear of an altogether different cloud in Luke’s Gospel today. In scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, “the cloud” is a symbol of God’s presence and glory. For example, as the Israelites wandered through the desert, the Lord preceded them by a cloud during the day and a column of fire at night. When the temple was dedicated, a cloud filled the house of the Lord. And finally, today we hear that a cloud cast a shadow over Peter, James, and John as they witnessed Jesus in his transfigured glory. “They entered the cloud,” and from the cloud they heard the Lord’s voice: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Peter, James, and John were enveloped by God’s presence, immersed in his presence as they witnessed the Transfiguration. This, I believe, is what God is inviting us to today: to live our lives in his holy presence. God is within us and around us. It is possible to experience his sacred presence each and every day.
Have you ever experienced the presence of God? Perhaps you have a “mountaintop” experience like these apostles did, in which you were acutely aware of God’s presence in your life. For many of us, though, God’s presence is made known in less dazzling ways. God is present for us in the Eucharist–have you ever felt his peaceful presence at Mass? Or have you experienced God’s closeness during a time of personal prayer, or while taking a quiet walk outside? If you haven’t–or perhaps have not in a while–please know the Lord desires that you experience his peaceful and loving presence. God wants you to learn to live in his presence in your daily life.
How do we live in God’s presence? “Practicing the Presence of God” is a spiritual lesson that many saints and holy people have taught us throughout the centuries. What does this mean? It means allowing ourselves to be surrounded by God’s presence throughout the day, indeed throughout our lives, just as Peter, James, and John were enveloped by God’s presence as they entered the cloud in the gospel. Living in God’s presence means to live with a deep awareness of God’s loving and guiding presence at all times.
But this can be difficult. Too often we compartmentalize the Lord. We think we can only speak to him or be aware of his presence at Mass, or when we pray. The truth is, he wants us to live with a constant awareness of his presence. His presence envelopes us, like the cloud that overshadowed the apostles at the transfiguration. We first have to spend daily time with him in the conversation of prayer, inviting God to make his presence known to us.
And as we learn to be in his presence for a set time each day, we then bring awareness of his presence into our daily lives. Throughout the day– at work, with family, in our car, while shopping, enjoying times with friends, during moments of stress and difficulty–we can remain immersed in God’s presence. We become more aware of sacred encounters and God’s presence in other people and events, even troubling ones. We live more slowly and more intentionally, with deeper peace in our hearts. We become aware of how he is leading us in the ordinary events of our daily lives. We deal more patiently with disappointment, trusting that God has a better plan. It all begins with our prayerful awareness.
When I was chaplain at La Salle Academy in Providence, Rhode Island, each time we prayed as a community we always began the way St. John Baptist de la Salle taught: “Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.” So, let’s do that. As we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, let’s recall that we are in God’s holy presence so that we may learn to live there always.
Image: Cloud Study, John Constable, 1822. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.