Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
” Since purity of heart is a disposition of the heart, St. Augustine sees that the starting place to obtaining this virtue is taking a closer look at one’s own heart. What you want to see is pure, what you want to see it with is impure. God alone is pure; one cannot hope to see God with an impure heart.”– Gertrude Gillette, O.S.B
I observed something in a store recently. It could be an everyday occurrence. A young mother was checking out, while accompanied by her two little boys, both under the age of three. The boys were screaming at the top of their lungs and had tears running down their faces. Their obnoxious chant was, “I want that . . . (fill in the blank)!”
Mom was desperately trying to pay the cashier, wrestle the boys back into her grocery cart, and saying as forcefully as she could muster, “No!” It seemed like this episode played out for an eternity, although it was only about five minutes. I don’t think this was what Jesus had in mind when he told his disciples that we must be like children to get into the kingdom of heaven. I found myself making all kinds of judgments about the young mother.
And I realized that I wanted something desperately, too! I wanted stronger discipline for the boys and for them to be out of the store, so I could continue my shopping in quiet and I could check out my purchases. My desires were no less important to me, than those little boys’ wants were to them.
I yearn for the silence where God speaks to the pure of heart. I realize that sometimes the answer is a firm, “No!” I don’t always know what is best for me.
St. Therese of Lisieux said, “The value of life does not depend on the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place.”
When I consider Therese’s words in the context of the Ninth Commandment, Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife, three things come to mind; the Sixth Commandment against adultery, integrity and humility.
Is this about sex? It seems on first reading it could be, but I think it is a deeper reflection than our physical/chemical response to another person. These physical/chemical responses are powerful and can lead to exploitation and objectification of the other. This is a constant battle for us, as Catholics, to be counter-cultural, because of the overwhelming influence of sex in our society.
Purity of heart refers to the virtues of modesty, which are temperance, chastity and self-control. When ex-president Jimmy Carter revealed that he was guilty of lust in his heart, he was saying that he had sinned against the ninth commandment. It’s why we say that we must guard against impure thoughts. They not only violate the other person, but damage our spiritual core. Augustine used the word concupiscence to describe our human fault. Purity of heart allows us to see God and to live according to God. Prayer helps us to overcome the pull of carnal concupiscence.
Living a life of integrity helps to purify our hearts. Through the witness of the life of Christ in Scripture, we have a specific understanding of decency, patience and discretion. I am reminded of a personal instance in my life. My wife and I had been studying various spiritualities, philosophies and religions and we wanted to form a discussion group of like minded individuals in the hope of creating a small Christian community and a circle of trust. Two of the married people expressing interest in this forum showed up with people of the opposite sex, who were not their spouses. I found out that our sessions had become an opportunity for these folks to violate the sanctity of their marriage vows. I told my wife that, in my case, I could not support their actions because there cannot be a circle of trust, an arena for the Holy Spirit, when some of the participants were not living lives of integrity. She agreed with my assessment and we voiced our concerns, in private, to those involved and asked if they could support our understanding. They declined. I felt sad that this had occurred, but we carried on with those committed to creating this small Christian Community.
Humility seems to offer a different kind of challenge for us. If we are to stand as servant-leaders and to be people of integrity and to evangelize with our baptismal authority, we must cultivate a spirit of humility. As the Adult Catechism relates from St. Paul’s struggles, “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? He answered in praise, “Jesus Christ our Lord!”
1. How do we covet another person? What does that say about the one “coveting?” What does it say about the “coveted?”
2. In addition to Sacrament and Word, God often reveals Himself through the actions of others. Can you think of an instance where your beliefs and practices were challenged by the actions of others? How did you respond? How did they respond?
3. How are you being challenged by the Ninth Commandment and our mission to create purity of heart?
As a family, find a way to join into the life of Christ outside of Holy Mass. Witness to your children what it means to respect others, by visiting a homeless shelter, food pantry or other community social work. Help your children connect to the faith that is born within them through their Baptism. Help them to see the false truth of our over- sexualized culture.
I have been drawn to Simeon’s story since I heard a song by contemporary Catholic recording artist, Steve Angrisano called, “Simeon’s Song.” I literally get chills every time I hear it or sing it. It is Simeon’s tale of fidelity and faith in the face of suffering which draws me. The idea that he had a vision and knew that he would not die until he had seen the Chosen One is fascinating and deeply moving. I can only imagine his incredulity at having to suffer the ravages of time, in pain and in hope. His patient love is a model of integrity, hope and humility for me. Anna, the 84 year old widow and prophetess, also reflects these same themes of fidelity and awe.
“Do not seek answers which cannot be given you because you could not live them.” Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. Wow! To know what we cannot know is just as important as that which we can know. “The one truth is love; the one evil is to fear.” I have known this for the better part of my adult life.
Therese of Lisieux said, “The value of life does not depend on the place we occupy. It depends upon the way we occupy that place.” It is not the constant beating down of our spirit that creates change in our lives, but, it is our response towards goodness that has the most positive effect.
Just as Simeon raised the Child Jesus to the heavens, we come to the table with our hands outstretched to receive Him.
“For my eyes have seen,
And my hands have held
The God of Israel.”
From “Simeon’s Song” by Steve Angrisano and Tom Tomaczek, Published by OCP, Go Make A Difference. 2000. Based on Luke 2.
Bill Harper has been a lay ecclesial minister for over 18 years. He has served as a Catholic grade school music teacher, K-8. Music Director, liturgist, Director of Religious Education and currently serves as Pastoral Associate at St. Joseph Church in Marion, IL. He also is music minister for children’s liturgies at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, in Herrin, IL. Bill began his ministry at his home parish of St. Andrew Church, in Murphysboro.
Bill holds a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies/Liturgy degree from Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis, in 2008.
Bill is active in committee work, music ministry and religious education at the parish, cluster, deanery and diocesan levels. He is or has been involved with various national organizations, including; National Pastoral Musicians, National Catholic Education Association, National Association of Church Personnel Administrators, National Catholic Young Adult Ministry Association, National Association for Lay Ministry, North American Forum on the Catechumenate and National Conference for Catechetical Leadership.