“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
One of the most important thing to remember about the Beatitudes from which this line is taken, is that they are not external rewards. God does not look at a heart to see if it has attained a sufficient level of purity and then decides to reveal Himself.
Instead, the Beatitudes involve the consequence of an internal transformation done by God’s grace.
What does in mean to be “pure in heart?”
The obvious meaning goes to sexual purity. While this is true, we should probably go a bit deeper. The sum total of Catholic morality cannot be reduced to sexual morality. It is definitely more than that (thought it also definitely not less than it either).
To be pure in heart means to be innocent. This does not mean the same thing as childish naïveté. If that were the case, then Christ would be telling us to become more foolish instead of wiser. And while “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25) it is generally a bad idea to move towards something that makes us stupider than we already are. Innocence is not the gullibility of a child who believes their older brother or sister who tells them that the Boogeyman is waiting in the closet for them to fall asleep.
Innocence is instead an attitude of receptiveness and wonder. We associate it with children more than adults, because the world is a new and exciting place for the young. There are all new experiences and fantastic mysteries to encounter in this world. Think about the first time you realized that the Earth revolved around the sun. Or remember how you felt when you came to discover that a prism could break apart the colors of the spectrum. Those early child-like moments would often fill you with a sense of awe that was almost religious.
As you get older, the magic of these moments begins to dull. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps that is a bit too far. Instead, I would say that familiarity dulls wonder.
I used to hate walking. I would avoid it every chance I got. As a teenager I was a true couch potato, moving only when necessary. I carried this attitude for most of my life. I would literally grumble if I had to walk more than a few yards from one place to another. Then a few years ago I broke my back. I was in the hospital for a month, unable to stand on my own. It took a few surgeries and months of therapy (along with the amazing help of my most beloved wife) until I was completely healed.
Now, I don’t hate walking.
In fact, I love walking. As I take the steps up and down at work, I am in constant awe that I can stand upright and move the way that I do. It is so odd that we human beings can do so much balanced on these two appendages. And yet we do it all the time without giving it much thought. Since my accident, I do give it constant thought, I am in awe of what it means. This is part of what it means to look at things purely: to appreciate the gift that is in it.
But let us return to the common understanding of purity of heart. This attitude of innocence should also be taken in our relationship to our fellow human beings. The main problem with lust is that it causes you to see another person, someone who is made in the image and likeness of God, as an object of your pleasure. You may not use those terms, but when you focus only those qualities of person that excite your bodily pleasure, you reduce them to only the things which have value to your satisfactions. When that happens, you obscure that image of God in them because you can only focus on these superficialities.
Stepping away from the sexual component, we look at other people for many other superficial reasons. Perhaps a person at work approaches us and we cringe because we think that they have an annoying laugh. Or perhaps we cozy up to the boss because we really want to advance in your profession. In both cases, you are not looking at the person with eyes of innocence and wonder. In the former case, you relate to the person in terms of how they inconvenience yourself. In the latter, you see the person in terms of how they can advantage your life. Human beings are complicated and often we do not completely objectify the people around us. But the more we focus on our own reactions to them and not upon the person in himself or herself, we turn them into an object.
And this is not limited to persons, but to the entire world around us. I remember reading The Lord of the Flies when I was younger. Three of the boys who had crashed on the deserted island climb a mountain to look at the land. One grumbles about finding food and another spreads his arms as if he owns the land. Only one takes a moment to appreciate its beauty. The last one is the one who could see God in the island because he could see the beauty in it.
God is all around us. He is in our fellow man and He is in the world around us. If we look at the world with eyes of wonder and innocence, we will find Him wherever we look. This is what happened with many of the saints. Even in pain and suffering, they found God was with them.
CS Lewis probably put it best when he explained why this should be the case.
“It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.”
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson