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.