Sunday, December 21, 2008
Purity of Heart
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8)
Picture from Wikimedia. It is in the Public Domain.
There are several ways we can understand the word “pure”. In the realm of religion, the meaning takes on a moral slant. Purity in thought and deed usually involve the sixth or ninth commandment. We hear the importance of purity in the moral decay of the age.
However, I’d like to look at a more generic meaning of the word “pure”. Like the image above, purity can mean how perfect something is. The image is that of halite, what is commonly known as rock salt. In chemistry, the way a substance crystallizes reveals how pure that substance is. That crystal of sodium chloride in the picture is pure sodium chloride. Yet we can see specks of soil in the crystal. Somehow, the salt crystallized around those particles of soil. Whilst the crystal part is pure sodium chloride, the specks tell us that the crystal, taken as a whole, is not pure. Those specks are impurities. Most pure salt crystals allow light to pass through. You could say that they are transparent. We also gauge how pure something is by judging how clear it is. This is especially true for water. When someone mentions pure water, we think of clear clean water, with no cloudiness or particles, even though the water may have something dissolved in it.
When we consider a more generic meaning to what “pure in heart” means, we can use this idea of clarity. Someone who is “pure in heart” is someone whose heart is clear. Just as we can see clearly through pure water, we can see into the inner being of someone who is “pure in heart”. From the viewpoint of the person who is “pure in heart”, he/she can see things clearly. He/She can see everything as it truly is. If he/she can see Truth clearly, he/she sees God.
So what about the usual meaning for purity? Pope John Paul II uses Genesis 1 and 2 to refer to hearts that are not tainted and so the “pure of heart” refers to the original innocence found in humanity. (see the text of his Audience on 30 January 1980) I believe that if one’s heart is pure and clear, he/she can see the true purpose of his/her body in God’s plan. Gender expression or sexuality is, according to John Paul II and Genesis 1-2, dependent on God’s plan when he created humanity.
In my priestly ministry, I see a lot of moral ambiguity in the world today. The young are bombarded with many conflicting messages. The fashion changes quickly so that a profit can be returned more quickly as well. Hedonism has taken a new face and it is affecting people at a younger age. This means that the situations and problems that used to affect 16 year olds are now affecting 13 or 14 year olds. Adolescent angst seems to hit young people earlier, and girls and boys are engaging in sexual activity earlier than before. Whilst it was rare to hear of a 14 year old girl engaging in sexual activity twenty years ago, now more 13 year old girls are engaging in sexual activity. The world today does nothing but cloud the hearts of people of all ages. Hearts are are getting clouded earlier in a person’s life and God becomes harder to see as a result. This is the challenge of the pastoral ministry in the 21st century.