14 March 2012

Blessed Are the Pure of Heart

This installment in the ongoing series on the Beatitudes was delivered last Sunday by Canon William Avis of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest:


In the conclusion of today’s gospel [Luke 11: 27-28], a woman in the crowd praised the Mother of Our Lord.  “Blessed is the womb that bore Thee, and the breasts that nursed Thee.”  To this Christ replied, “Rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”  Many who lack understanding have interpreted this reaction of our Lord as a denigration of the Blessed Virgin.  How far from the truth! For if there be anyone who has heard God’s word and kept it to the utmost, it is Mary, who even before conceiving the Word Incarnate in her blessed womb, conceived in her heart God’s Word and fulfilled the commandments. From her unspotted purity came the greatest fecundity—the salvation of the world. And for that she is evermore blessed, because she is pure of heart and does see God. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” [Matthew 5:8]

What does Christ mean when He says “pure of heart?” Saint John Chrysostom, a father of the Church, has given an explanation: “Now He here calls pure, either those who have attained unto all virtue, and are not conscious to themselves of any evil; or those who live in temperance. For there is nothing which we need so much in order to see God as this last virtue.” [Homily 15 on Saint Matthew]  It is in temperance that we find the virtue of chastity whose aim “is to check whatever is inordinate in voluptuous pleasures.  These pleasures have for their principal end the perpetuation of the human race through the right use of marriage.  They are lawful only between married persons, and then only when they further or at least do not interfere with the primary end of marriage which is the procreation of children.” (Tanquerey, The Spiritual Life, no 1100) All the virtues have as their goal that we act according to right reason. It is most reasonable to reserve within marriage the conjugal act which by its own nature is apt for the begetting of humans, whose dignity greatly surpasses that of the rest of the material universe, so in that stable and permanent relationship of father and mother, the child may receive what is necessary for his physical, mental and spiritual well-being.  It is chastity of the body that holds in check the concupiscence of the flesh that we may act justly and reasonably.

In this beatitude however our Lord asks not just for the purity of the body, a mere external conformity with the natural moral law, but that we be pure in heart.  That is, not only with the body, but also in our thoughts and desires, we be chaste and honest. “For which cause,” expounded Saint Augustine, “Our Lord Himself also with His own mouth says, ‘Cleanse what are within, and what are without will be clean.’ [...]The inner man has an inner mouth, and this the inner ear discerns: what things go forth from this mouth, go out of the heart, and they defile the man. Then having left the term mouth, which may be understood also of the body, He shows more openly what He is saying. ‘For from the heart go out,’ says He, ‘evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are what defile the man.’ There is surely no one of those evils, which can be committed also by the members of the body, but that the evil thoughts go before and defile the man, although something hinder the sinful and wicked deeds of the body from following. For if, because power is not given, the hand is free from the murder of a man, is the heart of the murderer forsooth therefore clean from sin?” [On Continence, #3]

A heart attached to iniquity finds itself at odds with God, whereas a heart purified from such wickedness allows the light of God’s grace to shine therein. “A heart which is free from thoughts and affections alien to God” says Saint Thomas Aquinas, “is like a temple consecrated to the Lord, in which we can contemplate Him even in this world.” [Commentary on St. Matthew] The pure of heart are truly blessed because even in this world they are able to penetrate the divine mysteries which give a foretaste of heaven.  Their intellects are not bound by base considerations or shaken by the violent movements of passion, which often cloud the mind and darken the understanding. Their minds are free to ascend to the heights.  “To Thee I lifted up my eyes, Who dwellest in heaven [Ps. 122:1],” they sing.  With hearts totally given to God, they are given an abundance of divine grace and consolation. It is purity that make men resemble the angels in heaven, as Saint Francis de Sales once said, “Purity is the lily among virtues—by it men approach to the Angels.  There is no beauty without purity, and human purity is chastity. [Introduction to the Devout Life, part 3 chapter 12]” Being already angelic here on earth, when these blessed souls leave here for the hereafter they will enjoy the Beatific Vision in heaven.  Like the clearest crystal hit by a ray of light, these souls glow with the greatest splendor.  “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God.”

What a disparity between the blessedness promised by the ever-Truthful God and the false pleasures offered by this faithless world?  Everywhere it seems vice is extolled and virtue ridiculed.  The world laughs at honor and reveres cowardice.  Self-control is derided, and decadence indulged.  Even those whose charge is the common good use abusively their power to compel others to participate in evil, heaping abominations upon abominations.  What sadness to see also some redeemed by Christ in holy Baptism who go along with this.  They are like the Hebrews of old, being delivered from Egypt’s bondage, who throw themselves down in adoration of a golden calf [cf. Exodus, chapter 32], who “exchange their glory for the semblance of a calf which eateth grass. [Ps. 105: 20]” It should be no surprise to us if they should lose the Faith for of the ugly daughters of lust are named blindness of mind and hatred of God [cf. Saint Gregory the Great, Morales, XXXI, 45. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, IIa IIæ q. 153 a. 5].  This vice weakens their minds to ignore the truth of the evil they do. Eventually their lust will make them despise God for He is Holy.  And then as many a case will prove, they abandon the Faith preferring debasement by sin than elevation by grace.

Living in the world as we must, let us keep ever in our hearing the words of today’s epistle: [Ephesians 5: 1-9] “But immorality and every uncleanness..., let it not even be named among you... For know this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean person, or covetous one... has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one lead you astray with empty words; for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the children of disobedience. Do not, then, become partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk, then, as children of light.”

Let us safeguard the virtue of chastity, and this by four things [cf. Tanquerey, The Spiritual Life, nos 1104-1126]:

Distrust of self—do not throw yourselves into dangerous situations and temptations; do not think yourself too strong as not to fall; be humble.

Mortification of the senses both exterior and interior—flee from looks, hearing, or touches that are impure; expel unwholesome imaginations and memories from the on-set.

Apply ourselves well to our state of life—idleness is the devil’s playground.  It is most often when we are not about that which we must do, that the devil finds us ever ready to listen to his evil suggestions.

Ardent love for Jesus and His blessed Mother—we are moved by love more than anything else, and so our love must be well-ordered and not dysfunctional.  God has the primary place. For us to be pure of heart so that we may reach heaven, we must have a strong love of God, desiring Him above all else.  We must clear out from our affections all that would lead us astray.   True Devotion to our Lady helps us grow in that love of God. Let us implore the most Blessed Virgin Mary to assist us.  May she lift us up should we fall, catch us if we stumble, guide us through the true path to happiness, so that we too may be blessed hearing the word of God and keeping it in a pure heart.  

 “Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place?  The innocent in hands, and clean of heart, who has not taken his soul in vain...  He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and mercy from God his Savior.” [Ps. 23:3-5]  Amen.

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