The goal of Lent: Conformity to Christ

Jared Staudt

In my last column I looked at the need for conversion and repentance for sin. The goal of Lent, however, does not end there, but looks further toward our spiritual growth. Once we have broken with our sinful attachments, we become free and open to God’s grace, which conforms us to Christ. We are called to become Christ, embracing the adopted sonship bestowed on us at Baptism and entering into the love of the Father. Jesus offers us his own grace and virtues and calls us to live and love like him in the world.

The Beatitudes offer us as a portrait of Christ and a path of how to imitate him. The great spiritual writer and retreat master, Father Jacques Philippe, offers us a simple and profound reflection on how to practice them in his book, The Eight Doors of the Kingdom: Meditations of the Beatitudes (Scepter, 2018). Father Philippe has a gift for presenting the deep insights of the spiritual life in an accessible way and inspiring us to enter more deeply into prayer and communion with Christ. His book, rich in wisdom from the Scriptures and the saints (especially St. Thérèse of Lisieux), can serve as a great Lenten guide.

The beatitudes promise blessedness and happiness, in a seemingly paradoxical way, to the poor, mourning, meek, hungry for justice, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted. Father Philippe argues that the first beatitude, focused on poverty of spirit, serves as a foundation for the spiritual life as a whole: “Poverty of heart, then, is really the freedom that is present in receiving everything freely and of giving everything freely, setting aside ego, with its pretensions and demands. It means dying to self, a radical detachment that leads us to the perfect transparency of God’s actions, and to the joy of receiving and giving freely” (25). This poverty represents the littleness, abandonment to God, and receptiveness that we need before God and others that allows God to act in and through us.

The next beatitude, which focuses on consolation in mourning, draws us directly into Christ’s Passion: “The source of all true consolation is found in the mystery of the Lord’s Passion. Because of his suffering on the cross, there is no longer any human pain or suffering that cannot be consoled, provided we trustingly approach Jesus or allow ourselves to be visited by him” (86). Lent is a time to mourn and embrace sorrow for our sin: “When the human heart is touched by the grace of repentance, when it realizes the gravity of its sin, when it recognizes its pride, its hardness, its egotism, and begins to lament sincerely over its faults, it receives the grace of consolation and peace very quickly” (87).

Two other beatitudes stand out in relation to Lent. First, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, which Father Philippe uses to focus on the desires that shape our life. “What is my deepest desire? What do I really hunger and thirst for? What desire is the principle unity of my life?” (134). The “process of the spiritual life is a purification of desire in its object and its foundation” (135). Lent gives us an opportunity to fix our deepest desire on Jesus, his truth, and his righteousness. Lent is also a time of mercy, calling us to forgive others so that we can, in turn, receive forgiveness from God. Father Phillipe tells us that “God’s love is powerful enough to heal everything, but you must find the courage to decide to pass through the ‘narrow gate’ of forgiveness” (146).

The Beatitudes as a whole call us to a greater conformity to Christ. They provide us with concrete steps of how to become holy and can guide us to spiritual growth this Lent.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”