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Blessed Are The Pure In Heart

May 26, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By DON FIER

In our treatment up until now of the eight Beatitudes, it has been demonstrated that the first three, in keeping with the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, are mainly associated with “flight from and deliverance from sin. The next two…are the beatitudes of the active life of a Christian who, freed from evil, engages in the pursuit of good with all the ardor of his heart” (Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, Christian Perfection and Contemplation [CPC], p. 333).
Moreover, we have seen that one’s hunger and thirst for righteousness or justice in the active apostolate “should not become a bitter zeal with regard to the guilty” (ibid.).
Rather, the Beatitude which we examined last week: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7), enables one — through a more intense activation of a particular gift of the Holy Spirit, that of counsel — to be an instrument of assistance which corrects yet encourages others rather than judging and condemning them.
“This union of justice and mercy,” asserts Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, “is one of the most striking signs of the presence of God in the soul; for He alone can intimately harmonize virtues that are apparently so contrary” (CPC, p. 333).
The reward promised to those who are merciful, who forgive those who have unjustly hurt them, is nothing less than mercy from God. On the other hand, “if we do not forgive those who have hurt us, our hearts remain closed to Jesus,” states Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ. “Their hardness renders them impenetrable to the merciful love of the Father” (Basic Catholic Catechism Course [BCCC], p. 105).
To be carefully noted, however, is that the mercy we grant others cannot be shallow and exterior—it must be from the heart if we are to obtain God’s mercy. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) declares, it is “in the depths of the heart that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession” (CCC, n. 2834).
We continue now with the sixth Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8), or as translated in the Douay Rheims version: “Blessed are the clean of heart: they shall see God.” Its special emphasis is “having a will that is open to knowing and to being transformed by God’s will”; it directly opposes the way of the world which “idolizes creatures and scoffs at chastity, true charity, and orthodoxy of faith” (BCCC, pp. 105-106).
According to St. Thomas, the purity of heart of the sixth Beatitude corresponds to entrance into the contemplative life. As expressed beautifully by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, a truly pure heart “is like the limpid waters of a lake in which the azure of the sky is reflected, or like a spiritual mirror in which the image of God is reproduced” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life [vol. 1], p. 169).
The “pure in heart,” according to the Catechism, “refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness, chiefly in three areas: charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (CCC, n. 2518).
The Catechism cites a work by St. Augustine to show that the connection between purity of heart, of body, and of faith is predicated by one’s sincere belief and adherence to the twelve articles of the Creed: “In believing they may be made subject to God; that being made subject, they may rightly live; that in rightly living, they may make the heart pure; that with the heart made pure, they may understand that which they believe” (De fide et symbolo 10, 25).
To unpack the meaning of the sixth Beatitude, it is crucial to understand the meaning of two words: heart and pure. In the language of Scripture, the very center of man’s affective, moral, and spiritual life is symbolized by the heart. In slightly different terms, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible defines the heart as “the hidden center of the person where one’s thoughts, words, actions, and emotions are said to originate” (p. 14).
In the biblical sense, then, the heart signifies “the depths of one’s being, where the person decides for or against God” (CCC, n. 368).
The Greek word for “pure” is katharos. According to William Barclay in the first volume of his commentary on The Gospel of Matthew (TGM), it “has a variety of usages, all of which have something to add to the meaning of this beatitude for Christian life” (pp. 105-106). The basic meaning is clean, unmixed, or unadulterated, which is why it is such a demanding beatitude (cf. TGM, p. 106). In its essence, true purity of heart means that the motive for any act — whether it be almsgiving, fasting, or prayer — must be untinged by any trace of self-interest, that it be totally devoid of any hint of hypocrisy (see Matt. 6:2-4).
“Such supernatural purity,” Fr. Hardon reminds us, “is the pre-condition for the vision of God” (BCCC, p. 106).
It was stated earlier that purity in heart refers primarily to three areas: charity, chastity, and orthodoxy (cf. CCC, n. 2518). Let us look at each area briefly, beginning with charity. The Psalmist tells us that true holiness is characteristic of the person “who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false” (Psalms 24:4).
In essence, this entails the radical living out of a life of virtue, of generously fulfilling the dictates of the two Great Commandments: “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…[and to] love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). The human person becomes more “pure in heart” as he matures in charity — he “finds his perfection ‘in seeking and loving what is true and good’ (Gaudium et Spes, n. 15 § 2)” (CCC, n. 1704).
The second area, chastity or sexual rectitude, is perhaps what most people first think of when “purity in heart” is mentioned. This is not surprising since we live in a time that Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen describes as “an era of carnality which glorifies sex, hates restraint, identifies purity with coldness, innocence with ignorance, and turns men and women into some sort of gods…thinking only of themselves” (The Cross and the Beatitudes, p. 39).
Where does this lead and what is the remedy? “Because impurity has the capacity to darken our minds, weaken our wills, and pollute the senses,” declares Fr. Hardon, “all the baptized are obligated to practice chastity according to their state in life” (BCCC, p. 106).
Because we continue to be plagued by concupiscence as the result of the original sin of our first parents, the battle to live chaste lives demands constant vigilance, especially with regard to our senses, above all the eyes. Why? Simply stated, nothing is in the mind of man that was not first in his senses.
What enters the heart leads to impure desires, and desires lead to actions: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).
Fr. Hardon forcefully insists that “the battle against impurity is won through prayer, self-denial, and recourse to the Sacraments” (BCCC, p. 106). We absolutely need God’s grace to be victorious in the battle we wage against the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

The Beatific Vision

Lastly, let us consider love of truth and orthodoxy of faith. Keeping in mind the earlier-quoted maxim from St. Augustine, we are called “to give an intellectual assent of the mind to the truths which Christ teaches us through the Church” (BCCC, p. 107).
The more firmly our intellects and wills are conformed with and devoted to the Truth, the more clearly we will recognize sin for what it is: an offense against our all-loving Creator and an abuse of the freedom with which He has endowed us. As we become increasingly pure in heart, we become more and more free of all that is not God, who is Purity.
According to the thought of St. Augustine, the gift of understanding corresponds to the sixth Beatitude. Quoting St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas writes: “The sixth work of the Holy Ghost which is understanding, is applicable to the clean of heart, whose eye being purified, they can see what eye hath not seen” (STh II-II, Q. 8, art. 7).
The pure of heart permit their minds to be cleansed of all error, of all heretical thoughts. They are able to receive the truth of God in all its purity. Outside of the Beatific Vision, which will not be experienced until the life to come, they are most able to perceive God as He is.
What is the reward promised to the pure in heart? It is twofold: “At the end of time, they will attain to the Beatific Vision, the eternal joy of seeing God face-to-face. Even during their sojourn on earth the pure of heart . . . will experience even now aspects of beatific joy by means of an increase in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit” (BCCC, p. 107).
In other words, the truly “pure in heart” are enabled even in this life “to catch a glimpse of the divine beauty in proportion to the growing purity of our intention” (CPC, p. 333).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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