Purity, and the Grace to See God
By Griff Ruby
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," Jesus once said (Matthew 5:8). There it is, in the words of our Lord, in Sacred Scripture, the true and basic relationship between purity and our ability to "see God." What I wish to do here is first discuss purity and enlarge a bit on what purity actually means and how we develop it and seek it, and then discuss what it actually means to "see God," so that we may gain a proper appreciation for the virtue of purity.
So, what is purity? Many of us, when we hear that word, immediately think of chastity, or of sexual purity. That most certainly is a part of it. Indeed, I would regard that as the most crucial and central part of the virtue of purity. Anyone who will not willingly set aside all of even his or her deepest passions and longings for the Will of God is someone whose reasoning and intellectual faculties will necessarily be clouded and unable to see anything. The impure person, seeking the gratification to which he has no right will of necessity lie to everyone, either by denying that he or she is obtaining the wrongful gratification, or by denying that the gratification is really wrongful.
He who lies to others ultimately ends up lying to himself and is already most woefully deceived. Setting aside and refusing the gratification of such basic and fundamental passions may be difficult, but without it all other aspects of purity are impossible, and without purity, one does not "see God." One does not attain true purity in this brutal area without having cultivated a true love of chastity.
As a younger man, I eagerly sought to get married in order that the utterly complete celibacy required of those who are single would no longer be binding on me. I frankly resented the fact that something so intensely important to me was unavailable to me. As a result, I failed many times to live as I ought, and after each failure knew myself to have been utterly soiled and filthy.
The true love of chastity which finally brought me out of that miserable state was not something I could drum up myself, out of my own intellectual, spiritual, or emotional resources. Unlike some other virtues (notably, the virtue of kindness), chastity is not so much developed like a muscle, but caught like an infection. It really is a holy infection one gets only from others who are already smitten with this "holy infection." Sort of like getting the common cold, the only way to get it is from somebody else who has it.
The prospect of NEVER (or in some cases NEVER AGAIN) having any gratification of the physical sex desire is at once frightening (like the prospect of never breathing again) and yet as seen in the lives of the holy saints, frighteningly, shockingly beautiful. It is the beauty of our Lady, that particular "beauty as painful to behold as to become," which pierces us to the innermost places of our soul and kills us, and then gives us new life and unbendable purpose.
Only with this holy infection could I truly love and appreciate the totally celibate chastity required of my then single life, and finally overcome the enemy of fleshly desire. With this purity entrenched in the core of my being, I found myself truly in a place to cultivate all other aspects of purity. Let us now take a look at those.
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him for the first time, He said, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!" Being utterly without guile is another part of purity. So many people can get so caught up in some complex web of deceptions and lies simply because of some initial lie they refuse to repudiate, or as a way to get people to do things. They become so very learned in the arts of knowing exactly what to say to someone so as to get them to do something, even if what they say may not be true.
Honesty must be complete, or else it is dishonesty. He who lies to others will lie to himself, for no lie is convincing unless the speaker believes it as well, even while knowing that it is a lie. This behavior necessarily splits up the mind into pieces which do and donít know about the lie, and so again clouds the thinking.
A crucial part of honesty is fairness, and objectivity. Do we not tend to wish to believe the worst about our enemies and rivals? If we were to describe them, would we not be inclined to exaggerate their bad qualities so that our listener can better appreciate just how bad they are? Yet this tendency runs against holy purity by being unfair and not objective. We must look at our enemy, not as ourselves who have been wronged by them, but as an outsider who does not know them but who looks at them directly. We must not fail to see their good qualities, nor misrepresent them in any way.
For example, a number of years ago, one Christian writer lost a great deal of my respect when he wrote "five times a day the Moslems turn to face Mecca and pray to Muhammad." Mind you, I have absolutely no sympathy for the Moslem religion, owing to the misery and mass defection from the Faith it has occasioned (and neither did this "Christian writer" I was reading). But that was dishonest, misrepresenting the Moslems, since they most certainly do not "pray to Muhammad" as the man wrote, but pray to "Allah," the God of whom Muhammad preached.
It is easy to ask, "What difference does it make, since those guys are obviously in the wrong and we want no part of them?" But our refusal to be honest with ourselves and each other as to the nature of our enemy will cloud our thinking and prevent us from seeing God.
Objectivity means keeping a scrupulous honesty about everything we know and refusing any bias or favoritism, even for something we know to be good. Good will always prove itself; we need not bolster it up with deceptions. Once, I was giving a ride to a man who looked at my gas gauge and expressed concern over the fact that it showed "empty." I told him not to worry as we went on the highway to get to our destination. My guest continued looking worriedly at my gas gauge, hoping we would have enough gas to get there, and then the needle moved and began to show that I had some gas after all.
"It is a miracle!" he exclaimed. How easy (and tempting) it would have been to say, "Yes it is! Praise God! Hallelujah!" but I knew that to be the peculiar functioning of my gas gauge, and that I still had a quarter of a tank left when I started that journey (which is why I was not worried). Perhaps if I had it might have done wonders for his faith, as he goes through life telling people about the time he saw the Lord multiply my gasoline. But it would have been faith based on a lie, since I knew fully well that the gasoline was already there, just not showing on the gauge until the car warmed up.
Just as we must not invent miracles where they are not, neither can we afford to refuse to see them where they do exist. We must also not play favorites for any other reason, of race, nationality, skin color, eye color, hair color, or any other demographic category. "God is not partialÖ" writes Luke in Acts 10:34.
Another part of purity is to be altogether unconcerned as to "What do I get out of it," or "Whatís in it for me?" The whole reason people cultivate lying is to get something they would not otherwise get. All of the begging, cajolery, pressuring, scheming, and so forth we do is for that impure purpose of getting something, so the very desire to do so must be rooted out of us. Otherwise we are just substituting one form of impurity for another.
This is part and parcel of having our eye simple, for as Jesus said (Matthew 6:22-23) if the eye is not simple (or single) we become filled with darkness and cannot see God. He is talking here of having only one real interest, namely of pleasing God. For if we attempt to please anyone or anything else than God, we do a poor job of both, "No man can serve two mastersÖ" He goes on to say (Matthew 6:24), and indeed the very attempt is necessarily impure. Just as a manís matrimonial love is pure if directed solely at his wife, but impure if divided among more than one women, or even any one woman other than his wife, so it is that our devotional love is impure if directed to any other gods than our One true God.
Martha was concerned and bothered about many things, but Mary concerned herself with only one, her Lord, and because she chose that better portion, it was not to be taken from her. (Luke 10:38-42) For the pure, only one thing matters, and all other things almost seem to disappear, as oneís priorities are set straight since they are all indexed relative to the one real priority.
Having discussed what purity is, I would now like to move over to what purity rewards us with, namely what it is to "see God." What "seeing God" is not, however is not to get some pointless vision of some bearded old man wearing sandals and sitting on a cloud, armed with lightening bolts. We did not go through our difficult exercise of purity simply for that.
Jesus said, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." To see God is to be able to see what God is doing in your own life, in the lives of others close to you and not, in society at large, and what He has been doing and is doing for all humankind throughout all history. To see God is to see how He is answering our prayers. Even more basic, to "see God" means to "see," to be free from having to wonder what the right thing to do is. Even when everyone else is stumbling around in the dark, the pure person is not blinded from seeing the right and true path by foolishness or pride or bias or favoritism or prejudice.
To see God is to see what God is doing, to see His divine hand in all that takes place in His divine Providence. It is one thing to believe or trust that "all things work together for the good of those who love God," (Romans 8:28), but to see God means neither having to believe or trust in that saying since one can see what God is doing through all the things that happen.
For example, we frequently say that God sends us our trials so as to purify us. Often in the midst of these trials we have no idea WHY this is happening to us and then we must have faith that it is "all for the best." However, later on we may look back on the trial and then we see what important lesson we learned from it, or what greater disaster was averted by our endurance of the lesser inconvenience, and then we truly "see" once again, the hand of God working lovingly in our lives. Being purified (in this case by trial) causes us to "see God."
To see God is to recognize the significance of Godís presence here on earth. For example, to most of the people crowding into the Temple the day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to be presented, Jesus was simply some adorable baby in the arms of his mother, but to the pure and prophetic Simeon and Anna, Jesus could be seen (because of their ability to see God) as Godís "Salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel."
Many people saw Jesus preaching all across the Jerusalem countryside, but only the pure could see that it was actually God who was speaking to them. That is what it is to see God.
When the heretics began denying that Jesus was God, it was because in their worldly impurity, all they could see was the man Jesus, not our Lord and Savior and Second Person of the Trinity. They did not see God.
When our Lady at Fatima says that many are losing their souls due to unchastity or impurity, I think it is a great deal more than hemlines that she is concerned about. So many, by choosing to see what they wish instead of what they find, are wandering about in a tremendous moral darkness. Their own wile and guile, deception and sniveling, selfish concern for what gains they can make or how to exploit any situation, and finally (but at the core of all of that) lack of concern for sexual purity, cuts them off from seeing which way is up or down, and from seeing any evidence of God though He meets them everywhere.
Many receive the Eucharist unworthily, eating and drinking judgement against themselves, because they are "not discerning the Lordís body." To see God is to "discern the Lordís body," to know what the Eucharist is. To see God is also to see His mystical Body, the Church, to be able to identify it by its fruits, and to recognize its godly authority.
And finally, to see God is to see Christ in each person we meet, as St. Francis did, and to be therefore able to give the respect to which every creation of God is entitled. Only with such seeing as that can we practice that perfect love which casts out all fear, and against which there can be no law. As Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," a most tremendous privilege. Thank you.
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