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Purity of Heart

August 2, AD2017

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

The kingdom of God is where God’s will is fully done by us and everyone else. Our goal and God’s goal for us is full unity with Christ. The kingdom of God and our unity with Christ are what we reference when we use the word “heaven”. The essence of heaven is our participation in the Beatific Vision. The Beatific Vision is God’s infinite self-knowledge. It is His “vision” of His own being, goodness, truth, beauty, love, everything He is—and of everything He has created.

The Beatitude about Beatitude

In heaven, we will share in this vision. Here is some heavy-duty theology from the old Catholic encyclopedia:

The blessed see God, not merely according to the measure of His likeness imperfectly reflected in creation, but they see Him as He is, after the manner of His own Being. That the blessed see God is a dogma of faith, expressly defined by Benedict XII (1336):

“We define that the souls of all the saints in heaven have seen and do see the Divine Essence by direct intuition and face to face in such wise that nothing created intervenes as an object of vision, but the Divine Essence presents itself to their immediate gaze, unveiled, clearly and openly; moreover, that in this vision they enjoy the Divine Essence, and that, in virtue of this vision and this enjoyment, they are truly blessed and possess eternal life and eternal rest.”

We will share God’s vision in a limited degree. It will have to be limited because we are limited. If we could comprehend God, we would be God, which we are not! We will be as happy as we can be by what we will “see.” Christ promises us in this sixth beatitude that if we are pure in heart we will be able to see Him in this way.

What is Purity of Heart?

Those who are pure in heart are able to see God even in this life. But what does that term mean?

Purity of heart certainly includes sexual chastity. Clearly we cannot be pure in heart of we are committing sexual sins. We live in an anti-culture that seems to extol every form of sexual coupling except normal matrimony entered into by two virgins who are faithful to each other for life and whose every intimate act is open to life.

But purity of heart is more than this. It is actually more akin to right intention or sincerity.

Some people exclude God from their vision of what will make them happy. We can, instead, make our goal in life pleasure, or being admired, or making money, or a thousand other things. If we pursue these things for their own sake in an honorable way, that is, without sinning, we would be acting for a wrong intention in the sense that we would be making a big error. These things will never be able to satisfy us.

If we were to pursue these kinds of things through sinful means we’d be doubling that error. Our means—for example—stealing, lying, cheating, killing—would be immoral. Our ends—for example wealth or fame in itself—would be erroneous.

Rectitude of Intention

But there is also another kind of wrong intention or insincerity we Christians can fall prey to practicing. We can be Christians, at least in name, but lead double lives. That is, we can be divided between our desire for God and our desire for something else we really want. Christ warned against this double vision or divided heart in his Sermon on the Mount. He said,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt 6:19-24).

Correct purity of heart, then, is being devoted to only one thing, God. Practically speaking, this means being devoted to God’s will. This does not mean we won’t enjoy pleasure, or want and need to be held in esteem by others, or experience success. We will and should. However, they are all secondary. God comes first and everything else comes after Him. Their value, importance, and how we deal with them will be subordinated to God’s standards. In a very cool way, when we subordinate one of these to God’s will, it becomes better.

Jesus Christ was Pure of Heart

Christ’s own perfect purity of heart or singular focus can be seen in His first words recorded in Sacred Scripture. When the twelve-year-old Christ was lost to His parents for three days and they finally found Him in the Temple, He said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49)

Christ’s right intention is evident in His temptation in the desert when He chose His Father’s will rather than something which might have benefited Himself. All of His public activities tied directly to His divine mission. He often went off by Himself to pray to His Father. He also spoke about His intimate relationship with the Father, as when He said, “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30).

A Christian’s Purity of Heart

What does purity of heart mean for a follower of Christ?

According to the Catechism, “Pure in heart refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness,” chiefly in charity, chastity, and truth (CCC 2518). Charity means putting God first and acting according to the true good of our neighbor. Chastity means living holy purity in terms of sexuality. Truth means holding the orthodox faith.

What does purity of heart mean in relation to our neighbor?

If we have a heart that is simple, open, and good, purity of heart means that we don’t hide who we are from other people, as if we are ashamed of God or of the faith. The pure of heart are like little children in this openness (CCC 2517). It also means we treat others the way Christ would, as persons with great dignity, not reducing them to objects of personal pleasure, which would be the case if we made them objects of lust or greed. It also means we will want to share the truth with others, the truth of the true Catholic faith. As St. Paul put it in his epistle to the Ephesians, we should speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

If we live purity of heart, is there any commandment we are not fulfilling? And don’t we need God’s help to be pure in heart? This is an essential virtue that makes every area of our lives holier.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Kevin lives with his wife and seven children in Springfield, IL. He is currently doing freelance curriculum and research projects and teaching. In his free time he writes screenplays, TV pilots, novels, and non-fiction books and articles. His homiletic lectionary-based blog is Doctrinal Homily Outlines. He is also pursing a MA in Theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary via distance learning.

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  • Thanks for a great essay and especially for the quote of Benedict XII, in which he lucidly defines heaven. The only difficulty we moderns may have with the definition is mistaking eternal rest for inactivity. In the context of heaven, eternal rest is the full possession of the act of being all that we can be.