We begin another Lent this coming Wednesday, which is Ash Wednesday.
In these next 40 days, we share the desert time of Jesus. We share in his fasting, in his prayers, and in the trials he endured as the Son of God.
Every Lent reminds us that our Christian life is a journey, that we are all following the call of Jesus in our lives.
Lent reminds us that we are walking with him. Companions in his mission of bringing all men and women to know his salvation. Striving for his Kingdom, until the world is filled with God’s glory.
In these 40 days, we are preparing for Easter when we renew the promises of our Baptism. The traditional Lenten practices — fasting, prayer, almsgiving and penance — are meant to strengthen us in our identity as children of God and followers of Jesus.
Following Jesus means two basic things. It means being disciples — people who are always learning from the words and example of our one Teacher and true Master. And it means being missionaries — people with a life-mission to spread his teaching and the love of God in everything we do.
Jesus shows us the way we should approach our lives and he invites us to find joy on a journey of daily conversion, trying to grow every day a little more in our likeness to him.
This Lent, I want to invite all of us to deepen our journey of conversion by reflecting on the Beatitudes. I’ve found myself reflecting on the Beatitudes since my pilgrimage to the Holy Land late last year. There was something powerful about being in the place where Jesus first spoke these words to his disciples.
Jesus gives us the Beatitudes at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount, the great program of life we find in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5, 6 and 7. They are familiar to us:
Blessed are the poor in spirit ...
Blessed are those who mourn …
Blessed are the meek …
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …
Blessed are the merciful …
Blessed are the pure in heart …
Blessed are the peacemakers …
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake …
Blessed are you when men revile you … on my account.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus isn’t talking about different sorts of people — such as people who are poor, or people who are meek or merciful.
If we notice, Jesus is really describing himself in the Beatitudes.
In assuming our human condition, Jesus made himself poor for our sake, with no place to lay his head. He wept for sin and death and was merciful to sinners. He was meek and pure in heart. He made himself hungry and thirsty for justice and our salvation. Reviled and persecuted for his righteousness, on his Cross he made peace, reconciling all things to God.
The Beatitudes show us the face of Jesus. And his face should be like a mirror in which we see ourselves. When Jesus looks at us, he wants to see us living the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are what a child of God looks like.
Beatitude means “blessedness” — perfect happiness. So the Beatitudes are the summary of the path of Christ, the way of love that leads to the happiness that every human heart desires — the holiness and eternal beatitude of God’s Kingdom.
God’s ways are not our ways. The way of life that Jesus calls us to follow is a way the world calls foolishness. How can we find happiness in being poor and powerless, persecuted and mourning?
In his Beatitudes, Jesus turns the world’s expectations inside out and upside down. The challenge for us is to have the courage to believe him, and to really follow the path he sets before us.
Lent is a time for doing that.
During my columns this Lent, I want to keep reflecting on the Beatitudes. And let’s try to use this Lent to help us deepen the attitudes and actions of the Beatitudes in our lives.
Our fasting can help make us poor in spirit. Our almsgiving can help us to hunger and thirst for justice, to be peacemakers. Our penance can help us mourn our sins and be merciful to others. Our prayer can help us to become meek and willing to suffer for the sake of God.
So, as we begin Lent next week, let’s pray for one another. May we set the Beatitudes before us as a path for our own lives and for our Church. We cannot change the world without the spirit of the Beatitudes.
So let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to help us grow in this spirit, in the joy of living as God wants us to live.