“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8).
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. . . purity of heart is generally explained in terms of singleness of purpose, inner undividedness, freedom from radical inconsistency, not having mixed motives, single-mindedness. To progress toward this goal is is understood as growth in simplicity.
In this case the image is seen not so much as whiteness, as a matter of being true to one’s essential nature. Pure orange juice is devoid of additives and adulterants. Pure water is water and nothing else. A pure heart is a heart which is fully alive, with all its energies directed to a single end. The only object which has the capacity to hold such an intense outburst of energy is God; with anything less the energies are dissipated and concentration is lost. Purity of heart comes from being drawn to God.
It must be obvious that the perfection of purity of heart is not effected in an instant. It is the gift of grace and the labor of a lifetime. As a result one has to go through life with the burden of being subject to another law, of seeming to possess a “double soul.” The more conscious one becomes of a transcendent ideal [i.e., God and His will], the more one’s very nature seems to rebel against it.
In practical terms, too much attention to the correction of faults and the elimination of vice can prevent the formation of genuine virtue, substituting for a palid blamelessness that is not only barren but usually temporary. Too much vigor expended in bridling the wild energies of the passions can destroy all enthusiasm leaving a residue that is bland and boring. Sin is to be excluded only so that goodness may flourish, not for its own sake.
Purity of heart is not just a matter of deciding on a pattern of life and then resolutely refusing to compromise. There is more to a pure heart than a strong will. One needs prudence and patience to space one’s effort over a lifetime. One also needs to know how to endure. There is much energy within us which has the capacity to upset the balance of the heart and most of it is not amenable to willpower. . . . some problems go through a stage of latency. They emerge only with the passage of time, but when they do appear they are already well-established. We all know the practical utility of “nipping in the bud” destructive behavior, but this is not usually possible with regard to the deep roots from which such conduct grows. Although, theoretically, it is possible to limit the external manifestations of destructive tendencies, the tendencies themselves are intractable. If they were trivial little things which could be handled by a New Year’s resolution, they could scarcely be considered real problems or threats. But those problems which derive from deep inside us cannot be easily dismissed; we will have to struggle with them in various forms throughout our life.
This being so, it is likely that the crucial factor in checking their destructiveness is remaining continually conscious of their presence so that there is less possibility of their catching us unaware. This seems to be the meaning of . . . [the] first step of humility.
This consciousness of our tendency to sin is not a matter of self-depreciation, discouragement or excessive guilt, but just of keeping a wary eye on an aspect of ourselves which will eventually be integrated but which, for the moment, remains unruly and potentially harmful. It is realism as opposed to wishful thinking. The process of integration will take a lifetime; meanwhile it is not very wise to think that because a tendency is not causing any trouble it has entirely lost its sting.
Purity of heart is a matter of grappling with our tendencies to vice: anger, envy, greediness, timidity, melancholy, to name a few. Lust, however, has a special significance. There are a number of reasons for this: sexuality wields a powerful measure of our instinctual energies; sexuality is an area of repression for a statistically significant portion of the population; sexuality becomes especially sensitive in the case of those who dedicate themselves to celibacy and permanent continence. Whatever the relative importance of chastity to purity of heart, it must be seen that purity of heart is the absolute foundation for a chaste life. Only one who is moving toward singleness of purpose will have courage to pursue the virtue, despite temptation and failure.
Michael Casey, The Undivided Heart, 123-25.
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