“Blessed Conchita, Part 1: ‘The Divine Word is Pursuing You’”
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
Conchita, as she began her annual retreat in 1935, prayed “Lord, grant me the grace to place my soul at Your feet in full and loving docility to Your divine action, and to act only under the motion of the Holy Spirit, giving myself without resistance to Your love.” Conchita’s wish was that this time of retreat be ‘God’s time’ and she be completely docile to Him.
This is a fitting prayer for us on this day of retreat, to open ourselves to whatever God wants of us. And we’ll take Conchita as a guide along this path as we continue “Praying with Conchita.” As we’ll look at elements of her spirituality, it’s worth noting how she may have a message for us today. Pope John Paul II declared her Venerable in 1999 and she’ll be beatified on May 4th of this year.
With Vatican II, came a renewal of the universal call to holiness. Conchita is a good model here for she lived all the states of life possible for a Christian woman. She was a single woman for 22 years. A married woman for 17 years, and a mother of nine children. She then lived as a widow for 36 years. During this time she helped found a religious congregation, which she made vows in on the day of her death.
There was also a great emphasis in her spirituality on the baptismal priesthood of all believers. We offer our sacrifices, good deeds, and whole lives to the Father in union with Christ the Priest especially at Mass. As very relevant to our present situation, Conchita took praying and offering sacrifices for ordained priests as an important part of her spiritual life. She lived a spiritual maternity on behalf of priests. The Vatican’s document from 2007 on Spiritual Maternity on behalf of priests profiles Conchita. And Kathleen Beckman who wrote a book in 2018 called Praying for Priests highlights the spiritual maternity of Conchita on behalf of priests.
Conchita offers a call to laity and priests alike. She’s timely for our Church today. And with her beatification happening this year, we can see divine providence at work in giving the Church a model and guide for our own day. Where is the Church to go in our day? To the foot of the Cross looking to the wounded heart of Jesus for our salvation. Conchita brings us to the Cross, to offer our lives there in union with Jesus, and for the salvation of souls. Yet through it all there’s a gentleness about Conchita. She shows us the beauty of the Lord and the beauty of imitating his way of life. She attracts and draws us by her words because she first has been attracted and drawn by the Lord to his open heart.
Well, what about her life? Conchita is the nickname of Concepcion Cabrera de Armida. She was born in Mexico in the city of San Luis Potosi on December 8, 1862. She died at age 75 in 1937. She was raised in a well-to-do devout Catholic family. She had a fairly normal childhood, playing games and being mischievous now and then. As a young woman she would attend dances, theaters, and parties. Throughout her life, she enjoyed playing the piano, singing, and going horseback riding. Yet within the normalcy of ordinary life, something deep was stirring within. She notes later, “When I was eleven years old I thirsted to love something infinite which could satisfy the aspiration of my soul, an emptiness which I could never fill and which I always experienced” (BJC, xvii). Conchita was a well-formed Catholic, so she knew only the infinite God could fulfill that longing in her heart and so she was fervent about practicing her Faith.
At age 22, she married Francisco Armida. At their wedding party, after a toast, she asked her new husband to promise her two things. With everyone looking on, she asked him to promise never to be jealous and to allow her to go to Mass everyday of her life. In this setting, how could he say no? And he was faithful to his promise and faithful as a Catholic husband. It was a happy marriage. They had nine children together. And in the midst of family life, she attended daily Mass, prayed much, and lived a very ascetical life. The mystery of Jesus Crucified attracted her throughout her life. Yet she also enjoyed the little things of life. When her children would hear people say she was a Saint, they would run home and say “Mommie, Mommie so-and-so say you are a saint, but we don’t believe it. You like sugar too much to be a saint!” (MM) So it was a rich and full home life she lived among her family. Her husband, Francisco died fairly young. So at age 38, Conchita was a widow and remained so until she died at age 75.
She helped found a religious institute with five branches called “The Works of the Cross.” The earliest was founded in 1895 the latest in 1914 (LHS 7). They include a branch of cloister nuns, missionaries, religious priests, diocesan priests, and lay people. “The Works of the Cross” sought to extend the salvific work of Jesus on the Cross into every time and place. There was also a special emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the missionary branch being called the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit. These congregations are still alive and well in Mexico. In the United States, they have a few houses in California but I don’t think anywhere else in the States.
Also very important in Conchita’s life was her relationship with her priest spiritual directors. Most famous of these was probably Luis Martinez who was Archbishop of Mexico City. She was in contact with him the last 12 years of her life and went on an annual retreat with him. Some of these retreats have been published and a few are in English. There is a daily reflection given by Fr. Luis Martinez and then Conchita reads it, prays, reflects on it, and writes her own reflections. Martinez adds theological precision and depth, and Conchita builds on this with further insights and experiences. It’s a beautiful mix, back and forth, with Martinez and Conchita building on one another. These published books are, Loving with the Holy Spirit, To Be Jesus Crucified, and Under the Gaze of the Father.
All included, about a dozen of Conchita’s works are translated into English. There is much that is unpublished. There are the retreats. Conchita’s spiritual diaries, numbering 66 volumes. Some autobiographical volumes. Over 6,000 letters. And various other types of writing. Conchita wrote an incredible amount in her life. If you add it all up it amounts to over 70,000 pages! (BJC, 12) So as she is beatified this May 4, we will have plenty to reflect on in the coming years as more and more is published and translated into English. In these conferences we will touch on only a few of her major themes.
Before we dive in we should note something about her style of writing. Conchita often writes from the perspective of Jesus. Like it is Jesus himself speaking. Were these direct words she was hearing from the Lord? Perhaps sometimes, but she makes clear that this isn’t usually the case. In her book called “I AM” which include words as if coming from the lips of the Lord Jesus, she says in the introduction, “These meditations, whose insights are given to us by Jesus, will help us appreciate more the Sacrament of the Eucharist” (I AM, ix). So perhaps that’s a good word to use: insights given by the Lord Jesus that she does her best to put into words.
It’s more than a literary device. It’s lights and insights inspired by the Lord that she’s trying to communicate to us. Elsewhere Conchita says, “Sometimes [the Lord] dictates to me, more or less, with phrases or words; other times not so, but all at once He imprints a stream of things inside of me…sometimes little by little, and other times, all of a sudden…I receive an inference of interior words, or already ordered concepts; let us say that I understand all of a sudden” (CSJ, 115-116). So it seems best to see the bulk of these words from the Lord as lights and insights given to her that she’s trying to put into words.
Conchita has also had some extraordinary mystical experiences in her life. We should say a word about that too, very briefly. In the early 20th century there was a movement involving Dominicans especially that saw the mystical life as the full development of the ordinary life of grace. The mystical life here refers to the theological virtues and the predominance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is distinguished from extraordinary phenomena of the mystical life such as visions, levitation, or bi-location. Our current Catechism has a beautiful passage about mysticism that reflects this understanding of the mystical life as the ordinary unfolding and flowering of the life of grace. It shows us how we should read a mystic like Conchita. Catechism paragraph 2014 says, “Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called “mystical” because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments – “the holy mysteries” – and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all” (CCC 2014).
There’s a lot here. But note what is says about the “special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life.” It says “they are granted only to some [but] for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.” Even the most extraordinary of Christian mystics has a likeness to the ordinary Christian life. This is important in reading the mystics. Even if they have an extraordinary experience, there is still a kinship with the ordinary unfolding of the mystical life in the ordinary Christian path. For instance, a Padre Pio who bore the wounds of Christ manifests externally what is true of all of us internally. Every baptized Christian has a share in the Passion of Christ. So what Padre Pio says about his extraordinary share in the Cross is still helpful for us. We can read with profit his letters to his spiritual director describing the stigmata because we too share in the Passion of Christ even if in more ordinary ways.
With respect to Conchita, what’s specifically important here is her powerful experiences of what she calls the mystical incarnation. We will say much more about this but it’s important to realize that however extraordinary her experience of Christ living in her was, Christ lives in all Christians in a state of grace. So we can learn from Conchita, even from the extraordinary favors she received.
What can we say overall about Conchita’s spiritual doctrine? Clara Labarthe has given this brief summary of her teaching: “Conchita’s spirituality is a call and a method to transfigure daily life in Christ, with all of its joys and sorrows, to sanctify the profane and ordinary through divinization by faith, love and the spirit of sacrifice linked to the wounded Heart of Christ, and so attain to holiness.” (LHS, 7-8). In other words, Conchita put common ordinary life within the context of the supernatural and in the light and presence of God. Dolores Conrey says something similar of Conchita, “Through her simplicity, the everyday life of this mother—like any of our own mothers—blossoms forth, enhanced by the impact that her intense spiritual life confers. The warmth that the love of God communicates to her sets her on fire, and grants her light and power that makes her very close to us and allows us to see small, everyday things with the splendor derived from the profound purpose of every human happening: its divine origin and its equally supernatural goal.” (Ltrs, xvii). Overall we see that Conchita helps us elevate our daily lives to the divine realm and to offer everything through the Cross of Jesus and his loving heart.
Archbishop Luis Martinez once said, “Conchita is among the greatest mystics in the Church” (MM). Hence we would do well to listen to her. So let’s begin to look at some key aspects of her spiritual teaching and learn from this woman of God.
The spiritual life begins and ends with God. God takes the initiative and we respond. He speaks, we listen and respond to God. So our spiritual life is very much marked by who God is. Since it is all a response to him, who God is marks it all. Our concept of God very much determines much of our spiritual life. If we see God as a harsh judge watching and waiting to punish our missteps, that will affect how we relate to him. If we see God as just an indifferent, apathetic source of creation, that will affect how we relate to him. If we see God as primarily one to reward us for all the good things we have done, that will affect how we relate to him. If we see God as primarily one to serve our needs, wants, and preferences, that will affect how we relate to him. There may be shades of truth to much of these views of God, but they fall short of the Christian view of God. And so the types of spiritual lives these views of God produce also fall short.
“God is Love” we read in 1 John 4:16. This is Conchita’s view of God and it shapes her spiritual life through and through. She says, “How should I, poor me, correspond to this God, Charity in essence, who has overwhelmed me? My God! My God! I die on seeing my nothingness [in comparison], and I love You!,…Yes, I hunger for love, I thirst for love. I desire to love and my heart is so little a thing to hold this immensity of love which overflows within and outside of me!
It is impossible for me to hold the Love of God in my poor soul. What I do is plunge into this boundless ocean…hurl myself into this fire…into the boundless depths of the infinite essence of God. I know no other thing than to lose myself like an imperceptible point in the immensity…of God” (MSD, 178)
God’s love has overwhelmed Conchita. And she longs to make an adequate response to the immense love of God. But of course she can never measure up to the measureless love of God. And she’s okay with that. She accepts her littleness and receives it all as a gift from God. God’s immense love fills Conchita with gratitude. And it’s something she came to appreciate more and more as time went on and in moments of prayer. Conchita says, “I do not know how I understood the essence of God who is all Love. I heard and said this a thousand times. But no, this was something supernatural, a movement which made my heart shake, a light which, like a flash of lightning, illumined the hiddenmost and innermost depths of my spirit…I saw how God is Love. Not only does He possess love, but He is Love itself, eternal Love, uncreated Love, infinite Love” (172).
Conchita is right, we can hear that God is Love and even repeat it over and over again. Yet to really let is have a profound effect on our lives, we have to go deeper. This happens in prayer. This happens in a day of retreat like today. To open ourselves to God and let his love penetrate into our being more and more.
Conchita’s view of God is not a soft view of God, like a soft Teddy Bear in heaven. No. She understands God primarily in terms of being crucified Love, that complete self-giving love of God that is made manifest in Christ’s death on the Cross. She says of God, “Love is He, and He is nailed to a Cross.” She says to missionaries and evangelists, “Show them the Cross. Show them Love” “I would want to raise aloft the standard of the Cross and traverse the world, announcing that here is the pathway of Love” (174, 5). So we see that God’s love is not a soft love, the love of a Teddy Bear. No. It is a strong love, a self-giving love, a love that is willing to offer itself in sacrifice.
Conchita looks to Jesus to know what God is like. The life of Jesus reveals to us God. This culminates in the Passion, death, and Resurrection, but Christ’s whole life is a manifestation of the God who is love. Christ’s life manifests Trinitarian love. In a long passage, Conchita says, “In this love with which Jesus loves us is the very Love in which the thrice holy God burns. It is an efficacious, fruitful love. An unquenchable Fount of blessings. He pours forth this love into us with incomprehensible generosity. A love solely conceived and perpetuated by God himself…The love of Jesus is superior to the wildest dreams or desires of our souls because, besides being inexhaustible, it is unique and it possesses at the same time all of the loves that have ever existed. In the Heart of Jesus we find the tender love of a mother, the generous love of a father, the sweet love of a spouse, the intimate love of a friend and a great deal more that we cannot begin to find the human words to explain” (WJL, 24-5).
Conchita shows us something important here. Sometimes when people think about a life with God it can seem a bit boring or one-sided. The life of a monk or nun, in many people’s eyes, seems to lack so much. They go without so much and it’s hard for people to see how God alone could satisfy their deepest longings. But God does. God’s love is rich and variegated. God’s love contains the symphony of all other loves. As Conchita points out, ‘God’s love is unique and possesses all of the loves that have ever existed: the tender love of a mother, the generous love of a father, the sweet love of a spouse, the intimate love of a friend’ (25). Right? All that is good in this world exists in God in a higher and more complete manner. That is how God satisfies those in heaven and he can begin to do so even in this life.
At one time in the life of St Thomas Aquinas, the Lord spoke to him saying, “Thomas, you have written well of me. What do you want as a reward?” Aquinas replied, “Nothing except you, Lord.” (Non Nisi Te, Domine). The Lord is the source of all goodness, so he contains all goodness in himself in a higher manner. This shows us what the monks and nuns are about. But it also has implications for the rest of us. All the good things we experience in this world can lead us more deeply into God.
Conchita draws this out, she who lived the family life for so many years in her life. She found in every holy love a glimpse of the God who is Love. She says, “I felt how all there is of good, descends from [God] and how souls and all nature bear the imprint of the divine seal. I saw how every legitimate and holy love, filling man’s heart, is a drop from this soundless Ocean [of God’s being], a luminous ray from this immense light! I experienced how love flares out from this infinite hearth of charity which [God Himself is] and how [God is] pleased to set in the heart of man this insatiable thirst for loving, which neither the perishable or finite can quench but only the imperishable and the infinite” (MSD, 172-3)
For Conchita, all the experiences of holy love in this life should lead us to God who is infinite love itself. And only this will ultimately satisfy. All other holy loves lead us further into this great quest of the God who is love. So we can see how in her daily life, her duties as a wife, mother, and grandmother would have all been suffused with the love of God. In caring for others, in serving them, in making sacrifices for them, she saw herself as entering more fully into God’s love through these created gifts from him. It is far from a sentimental notion of love for as she says, “Worldly loves are supernaturalized with sacrifice” (Ltrs, xiii). It is a love that involves her whole being, as she says, “My fiery heart flings itself with passion to love Him Who is Love itself” (Ltrs, xiii).
Jesus is the prime manifestation of God’s love, and we see him living a full human life. He spends time in fellowship with others, at banquets, travelling around with his disciples, living a communion of love with those around him in day to day life. So also in our day to day life, we are able to find Jesus, and the love of God. In a long passage, Conchita says, “We need not [only] do a great deal of thinking to appreciate what Jesus has been for us! We need only recall some of the happy memories of our lives and, full of gratitude and love, we shall realize some of what we owe Him.
How much He has loved us at every stage and at every moment of our lives! With what ineffable gentleness He has treated us! With what patience He has endured us! With what solicitude He has cared for us! With what tenderness He has led us, not by the hand, but in His arms and in His heart! What finesse He has shown us! This is how Jesus is! This is His Infinite Charity. This is the way He knows how to love us…We have the assurance that He loves us despite the fact that He knows our lack of beauty and our deficiencies. With the clearest Light, He sees us as we are and this is the way He loves us. He loves us because we are weak and small! How fortunate we are that this is the way He is…God’s grace is not measured by what we are. Nor is it given in proportion to our merits. Undoubtedly, there is such an admirable contrast between our littleness and God’s generosity. God grants His grace to souls not because they merit it, but because He wants to.” “These very weaknesses draw [God] so that [He] might remedy them. For they are the emptiness—the hollow spaces—into which the ocean of [God’s] Goodness is poured” (WJL 58-60, 51).
Conchita wants us to see how much God’s love has overtaken our daily lives. God pours out his love and goodness into every nook and cranny our lives and even into our weaknesses and littleness. God’s love and mercy is glorified in filling these empty spaces of our lives. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” for the kingdom of God can fill their empty souls. Conchita loves to marvel over her littleness being overtaken by God’s immense love. And this leaves her humble and filled with gratitude.
And what she says about God’s grace not being limited to our own measure, by our littleness or by what we deserve, echoes what we find in the Scriptures. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them.” God’s grace must go before us. If we are going to go forward in the spiritual life toward God, His grace must go before us. We then cooperate and respond to God’s grace.
Conchita says, “I often heard these words when I was recollecting myself, [‘The Divine Word is pursuing you’], and I used to tremble, feeling the irresistible attraction to the Holy Trinity. … ‘The Divine Word is pursuing you’” (UGF 26). And isn’t that the case with us. The Divine Word pursues us. Maybe we have strayed for years but the Lord continues to pursue us. He keeps drawing us with his grace. Conchita hears the Lord say, “If you would only recognize the gift of God! If you could understand My [loving] predilection for you. If you were only able to comprehend the infinite love with which I follow you everywhere. If you could see My fervent desire to do you good. If you could see with your eyes the mountain of graces that I have bought with My Blood and that hang over you, longing for you to open your heart to receive them” (I AM, 19-20). Conchita often emphasizes the grace of God like this. We need God’s grace to go before us if anything good is going to happen in our spiritual life.
1 John 4 puts the same thing in terms of love. 1 Jn 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.” And even more simply, 1 Jn 4:19 says, “We love because God first loved us.” God’s love is primary, it goes before us; and our love is but a response to the infinite love of God. The more we place ourselves under the light of God’s love, the more we let God’s love soak into our bones, the more we will love in return.
The Life-Giving Gaze that Produces Saints
So this brings us to another movement of Conchita’s thought. God is love and this in turn calls forth something in us. It calls us to love in return. Almost as an expression of our gratitude for God’s love, we love in return. But we have to open ourselves to God’s love. As Conchita puts it, We have to “let ourselves by loved by Jesus. What do we mean by ‘letting ourselves be loved by Him’? It is to receive His approach of love even if it [humbles] and embarrasses us. Letting ourselves be loved by Him is to open ourselves to all the demands of love. It is to give Jesus pleasure in His most intimate desires…In a word, letting ourselves be loved means losing our soul in Jesus and being a flawless mirror that reflects His Glance. It means being flexible to His will as if our own had neither life nor being, except that of receiving His love and accommodating ourselves to His desires” (WJL 44-5).
Conchita helps us see that we love because God first loved us. It’s by letting ourselves be loved by Infinite Love that we in turn will be able to love. She also mentions here God’s Glance, His loving gaze. In prayer, we gaze at the Lord and He gazes at us. In this communion of love we grow in holiness and are transformed. This brings us to one of my favorite themes in Conchita.
We might ask the questions, How do we become saints? Conchita’s answer is that it is “the life-giving gaze of Jesus that produces saints.” “The life-giving gaze of Jesus produces saints.” This is a good description of the life of prayer and contemplation. To look at the Lord who looks at us. It’s especially a good way to approach Eucharistic Adoration, like we will have following this Conference. To look at the Lord as he looks at us. This is essential in our path to holiness. How do we become saints? Conchita says it’s the life-giving gaze of Jesus that produces saints. In this contemplative gazing, grace comes to us and we come to the Lord.
Speaking about gazing into the face of Jesus, Conchita speaks from the perspective of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “I saw the face of my Jesus, so delicate and pure, every day…I found ever-new delights in my Jesus; and with me the pure soul also takes pleasure in meditating on Him, studying Him in His different mysteries. His face was so beautiful that no one can look at it and not be consoled. Everyone felt a lightening of their sadness while they held their eyes fixed upon Him. So it is that the afflicted would say, ‘Let us go to the son of Mary,’ in order to feel a moment of relief, and rightly so.” (Roses and Thorns, 138-40)
Conchita says that after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven and His departure from this life, Mary would contemplate the same face of Jesus especially in the Eucharist. She says of Jesus, “He is the magnet that attracts me, drawing me into the infinite abyss of His beauty, of His enchantments and of His glory” (154-5).
So this is about Our Lady’s gazing on the face of Jesus and in fact our own gazing upon Him as well. And yes, how consoling, refreshing, and enchanting it is to gaze upon our Lord! To remember events from his life, words from his lips, dispositions in his heart. And to encounter him present now, especially in the Eucharist.
That’s our gazing on Jesus. But what about his loving gaze on us? Elsewhere, Conchita says, “Jesus’ gaze, when He walked the earth, would cause a profound awakening in others. When He passed by, the eyes of the blind were opened. Paralytics threw away their crutches. Those who were sick sprang from their beds completely cured. Jesus had a divine attraction about Him which tore at hearts that were thirsting for love and truth. He satisfied their longing because He Himself was Love, Truth and Life.” (What Jesus is Like, 39)
What happens when Jesus gazes on us? Let’s say when we pray before the Blessed Sacrament and we know Jesus’ gaze is penetrating into our hearts? Reflecting on Conchita’s words, one thing I’ve come up with is this. When God infuses grace into our souls, it’s an invisible, spiritual act. And isn’t there a look of love before that? An invisible, spiritual connecting with us through a gaze of love. Isn’t the whole time God is infusing grace into our souls also a time of Jesus lovingly gazing upon us? That divine gaze penetrating into our hearts is also divine grace penetrating into our hearts.
Conchita says, “Let us ask Jesus to look at us as He looked at St. Peter [who then repented with tears]. As He looked at Mary Magdalene [whose sadness then turned to Easter joy. Let us ask Jesus to look at us]. With this life-giving gaze that produces saints. Let us beg for those Divine Glances that open the soul to holy expansiveness. And let us allow ourselves to be bathed in those Most Holy Glances that purify, sanctify, unite and intimately bind the Divine Heart to our own.” (40). Let us open ourselves to “this life-giving gaze that produces saints.”
So that’s Conchita on the powerful effect the glance of the Lord Jesus can have on our lives. Jesus’ loving gaze caused Peter to repent; it turned Mary Magdalene weeping outside the tomb into a joyful apostle. And Jesus’ loving gaze can transform us too. That’s what we do in prayer. We reflect on the life of Jesus and catch of glimpse of his beauty and we let him gaze upon us with this life-giving gaze that produces saints.
The Mystical Incarnation
This gaze of love Conchita also links to a central theme of hers, what she calls the mystical incarnation. The mystical incarnation is about us becoming another Christ, an “alter Christus” as it has been called in the Tradition. It’s also been described by Saints like St John Eudes as Christ re-living the mysteries of his life in us. Conchita describes the same thing in terms of the mystical incarnation. The Word continues to take flesh in us mystically as he lives in us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” “Abide in me and I in you.” (Jn 15) Or St Paul expresses it this way in Gal 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” There’s so much contained in these words. So it should not surprise us that Saints throughout the ages have described this mystery in different ways.
And Conchita does so in terms of the mystical incarnation. She herself experienced the mystery in an especially powerful way, but it applies to all of us as well, as baptized Christians in the state of grace (UGF, xvii). She shows forth “the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life…for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all” as we heard from the Catechism (CCC 2014). When she was 35 years old, in 1897 she sensed the Lord telling her something big was going to happen to her on the feast of the Annunciation. The day came and passed with nothing remarkable happening. Then our Lord pointed out, he didn’t indicate what year he had in mind. So it was 9 years later in 1906, on the feast of the Annunciation when we celebrate the Lord becoming Incarnate in the womb of our Lady that Conchita had an intense experience of this mystical incarnation.
Conchita links this grace of the mystical incarnation to the loving gaze of the Father. It’s primarily God’s work that he accomplishes in the soul, while we are receptive to growing in it more and more. In 1935, an entire 35-day retreat of hers was dedicated to this theme, entitled “Under the Gaze of the Father.” In this text she adds her own daily reflections to those of her spiritual director, Fr. Luis Martinez. In these retreat reflections, Conchita says, “Jesus told me that the [seed] of the mystical incarnation had already been growing in my soul due to the fruitful gaze of the Father. [Wow] the Mysteries of God!” “In that gaze of the divine Father, the [seed] of the mystical incarnation was communicated to me. How could one imagine such a thing? I used to wonder: “Why is the Father gazing upon me?’ (UGF 29, 26). She hears the Lord say, “Everything in the Father is fruitfulness” “The Father is gazing on you [and] from that very moment, Jesus [is] germinated in your heart by the power of the Father’s fruitfulness, which was in that gaze” (17). “Then [over the years] Jesus made me relive interiorly all the stages of His life, from His birth until His crucifixion and death” (30).
In Conchita, we see a beautiful unfolding of the life of grace that is given to all Christians. She is conformed more and more to the image of Christ because he himself has taken hold of her and lives in her. The Dominican Marie-Michel Philipon describes Conchita’s mystical incarnation in this way, “Christ invaded [and] filled her soul. [Christ] wanted in her a sort of extension of his incarnation, and a renewal of his mysteries, especially that royal priestly offering of Christ crucified for the salvation of men and the glory of the Father, under the impulse of the Holy Spirit” (MM). Philipon uses the powerful image of Christ invading the soul, but that is what grace does to us too as we open ourselves to God and are more and more receptive and yield to Him.
Another theologian, Ignacio Alfaro, gives a description of Conchita’s mystical incarnation in terms of the experience of it in her interior life. He says, “In the Mystical Incarnation, God takes possession of a human person and unites her to Himself, not in a personal [ontological] order, but in a dynamic one, with the dynamism of love. Love unites, transforms, understands, affectionately identifies, in such a manner that, without repressing the personality, the person wants only to love like Jesus, to feel and to act like Him, and to offer herself to the Father, suffering like Him, associating intimately with the crucified Redeemer and reproducing His image” (CSJ, 66). So that’s a good description from Alfaro of what happens on the human side of things. Grace has come to us, Christ dwells in us and wants to expand his life more and more. And this is how we respond and cooperate with this grace. In the dynamic relationship of love, we affectionately identify more and more with Jesus to love like Jesus does, to feel and act like Jesus. Conchita speaks of “paint[ing] Christ in her heart” with “the fine paint brush of the virtues”; for “in the perfection of the virtues there is a real transformation into Jesus” (BJC, xxv, xxiii). This is why Conchita has a whole treatise on the virtues and often returns to the need to practice the virtues, because that is part of our response in allowing Christ to be formed in us. But even with her fervent efforts, she is most often overwhelmed with gratitude over what the Lord has done.
Conchita would exclaim, “Jesus is mine! Is it possible? Jesus is mine! Jesus is truly mine! Mine, that God Whom we bear in our soul and Who has surrendered Himself to us in a thousand excesses of love? Very well, then, let us offer ourselves to be His, all His, ever His. With all sincerity, all the ardor, and all the effusion of our affection. All Yours. In that word ‘Yours’ let us place our being and our life. Yours for whatever You might wish, my Jesus. Yours to immolate myself. Yours for life, for death and for all eternity” (WJL 14). Conchita’s point is that in the mystical incarnation Jesus is truly ours, yet this also means we are totally His, to be available and docile to Him as He sees fit. To yield to the Lord.
She says of the Lord Jesus, “He is the sacred source from which life and love constantly flow. He is my sustenance, my breath, my life….I feel like this, my Jesus: my desire is Your desire; where You go, I go; where You are, I am there” (BJC, xxiv). Jesus opened to Conchita His Heart and invited her to make His Heart her cloister, saying, “Now you really live in Me…and within Me, and I will be your atmosphere; you will inhale and exhale Christ, your Spouse….Try to think within your Jesus…You should not only live, but also think and feel within your Jesus, inside your Cloister and close to Mary” (BJC, xxiv-xxv). We might think here of St Paul’s words about having the Holy Spirit living within us, “But you have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2: 16). In Conchita’s mystical union with Christ she so lived the life of Christ that she came more and more to share the thoughts and attitudes of His mind and the sentiments of His heart. Since it was clearly the work of grace in her life, Conchita could remain humble despite the spiritual riches poured out upon her. She would say, “I am a donkey laden with gold” (LHS 17).
Even though Conchita had a powerful experience of this grace, it still took her 30 years to come to terms with it and live it out fully. Even with such profound experiences of this grace, she still second-guessed herself at times. And there was always the need to confirm, renew, and go deeper into this grace of the mystical incarnation.
So in the retreat of 1935, her director helped her see that, as she says, “the mystical incarnation has not passed but is operating, which frightened me and moved me profoundly. My God, my God! Is it still possible to doubt, to stop, and not want to look directly at that grace, to evade it? Should I not cry over all these years I had kept the grace in the closet because it seemed to me impossible?” “I promise to fully accept the grace with gratitude, and I hope my accepting will be total in this retreat, forgetting myself and living only from this central grace” (32).
Like Conchita, we too have this grace primarily by baptism. It is a grace in us too that has not passed but is still operating. Christ is still at work in our souls to expand his life in us. We have to yield and respond to this work of Christ. Have we too been keeping this grace in the closet because it seems impossible to us, as Conchita says? Will we follow her lead as she says “I promise to fully accept the grace with gratitude, and I hope my accepting will be total in this retreat, forgetting myself and living only from this central grace.” Have we kept it in a closet or are we dedicated to living it out more and more? As St Paul says in Colossians 1:26-27, it is “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Amen.