The Third Week of Lent: Cleanse Our Physical and Spiritual Temple March 1, 2024

Join the Journey! 

Bend your knees, mend your heart, and lend your hands.”

“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations.” Mark 11:17

After going into the desert on the first Sunday of Lent and having climbed the mountain with Jesus on the Second Sunday, we are invited to cleanse our physical and spiritual Temple on the Third Sunday of Lent.

We know the story well. Jesus, outraged by the fact that his “Father’s house” was turned into a marketplace took a whip and drove the merchants out of the temple. All four Gospels describe this very scene. There are some minor differences This year we read from the Gospel of John which does not have the following line we find in the other Gospels: “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?”

In a 2013 homily on the Cleansing of the Temple Pope Francis said: “The temple is the place where the community goes to pray, to praise the Lord, to give thanks, but above all to adore.” He went on to say that this is also true for liturgical celebrations as he asked the question: “what is most important? The songs, the rites, they are all beautiful… but what is most important is adoration: the whole community together looks at the altar where the sacrifice is celebrated and adores”.

Our churches are sacred places, and they should be treated as such. Everyone who enters a church should have a sense of sacredness which is a clear invitation to prayer and adoration. And as Pope Francis said, the celebration of the liturgy which happens in our churches should be prayerful and lead to adoration as well.

St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians wrote: “Do you not know that your body is a temple* of the holy Spirit.” (1 Cor 6: 19-20) According to Pope Francis, the type of adoration that takes place in our physical temples should also take place in the spiritual temples of our heart. There we adore God, present in us. For that to happen we need a kind of inner cleansing or purification through prayer, fasting and penance. And we need to avail ourselves to the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

Pope Francis said in 2013 that true adoration which is both outward and inward requires a disposition “of true piety that adores and listens, that prays and asks pardon, that praises the Lord”. The Pope then added: “when we speak of the joy of the temple, what we are speaking about is this: the whole community in adoration, in prayer and thanksgiving, in praise. In prayer with the Lord who is within me, since I am a temple; while I stand listening, ready and available”.

Finally, the sense of adoration we get in our churches, feel in our liturgies, and cultivate in our hearts should be carried out into the world where we are called to adore Christ in those most in need.  Addressing the youth during the 2013 World Youth Day Pope Francis called on them to contemplate and adore in the Eucharist and “ to recognize him and to embrace him in those most in need.”

During Lent, we invite you to: bend your knees in true adoration; mend your hearts through Reconciliation; and lend your hands by adoring Christ in those most in need.

  • Bending our Knees in True Adoration
    • In his most recent document on the celebration of the liturgy, Desiderio Desideravi (2022) Pope Francis suggests that wonderment, engendered by beauty is the path to profound adoration in the liturgy.
    • Beauty, he argues is attained when “the celebration is carefully tended to, and every rubric is observed.” However, careful celebration and attention to the rubrics cannot be the end goal.
    • It is when beauty leads to wonder, opens a portal to the Divine and reveals the mystery of God, that true adoration is possible.
    • One small step during Lent could be to open our hearts to the beauty of the liturgy which will engender wonder and lead to true adoration.
  • Mending our Hearts through Reconciliation:
  • In the same way as Jesus took stock of the state of the Temple and decided some much-needed cleansing had to happen, it may be good for us to take stock of our spiritual temple, and to cleanse the temple of our heart during this season of Lent.
  • What are the “merchants” in our lives and in our hearts that prevent us from the kind of wonderment necessary for true worship and adoration?
  • The liturgical season of Lent is a time of interior renewal through the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament, according to Pope Francis in a 2025 Lenten message “helps us grow in union with God, regain lost joy, and experience the consolation of feeling personally welcomed by the merciful embrace of the Father.”
  • One small step during Lent could be to avail ourselves to the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this season of Lent.

Lending our Hands by adoring Christ in those most in need.

  • Jesus’ act of cleansing the Temple is a reminder of the need for our worship to be cleansed of everything that prevents authenticity. Authentic worship relies on but is not defined by a faithful fulfilling of our obligation. Rather, authentic worship requires a true encounter with Christ which necessarily leads to a commitment to act according to the Gospel. Authentic worship promotes authentic Christian life.
  • St. Vincent de Paul admonishes us saying that “When you are called from your prayers or the Eucharistic celebration to serve the poor, you lose nothing, since to serve the poor is to go to God. You must see God in the faces of the poor.”
  • Saint John Paul II in Mane Nobiscum wrote that “our mutual love, and in particular… our concern for those in need… will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration is judged” because “at each Holy Mass, we are called to measure ourselves against the ideal of communion which the Acts of the Apostles paints… sharing in spiritual goods but in material goods as well.”
  • One small step during Lent could be to at least acknowledge the person standing on the corner of the street and even to engage in a conversation with them.

And please remember to be patient with yourself and others.  Lent is neither an endurance test nor a time to prove our Christian heroism. Rather, Lent is a time to slow down and ponder what is essential to our faith and thus to our life as Christians. So please pace yourselves. Give yourself and others the necessary space. And above all be patient with yourself and others.

Blessed Lent,
Johan van Parys, PhD
Managing Director of Ministries/ Director of Liturgy & Sacred Arts