The goal of Lent: Conformity to Christ

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: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”