Blessed are the Pure of Heart
Blessed are the Pure of Heart for they shall see God
Ezekiel 36, 23-27 & Luke 10, 38-42
We are told that Saint Catherine was at one time very devoted to the verse from Psalm 51, “create in me a clean heart”; and one day she had a strange experience in which it seemed that the Lord came to her and removed her physical heart. Later he inserted a new heart into her, his own heart saying, “I am giving you my heart so that you can go on living with it forever.” Now whatever else we may want to make of a story like this, it is at least a dramatic representation of the teaching of St Paul. “I live now not I but Christ lives in me.” (Galatian 2, 20). Our deepest identity is Christ.
The age and culture in which we live is very conscious of identity and sometimes the lack of it. An “identity crises” is not uncommon. Personally, I think this is what gives rise to great deal of patriotism and a new kind of nationalism across the globe. Language is big part of this. I suspect this is why there is so much sad political turmoil between the English speaking and Spanish speaking peoples among us.
Our identity, however you choose to look at it has one source, our Creator. Made in God’s image. There is only one source of life, and the source of it is within us. The more life, the more of God; and the more fully human we become in this life, the more we become divine. To me in this way of thinking, the most fully human and the most perfect human was and is, Jesus Christ. Consequently, the more perfectly human we become, the more divine we become. God is the heart of our heart. To think and believe this way puts us deep into the mystery of God. To have a pure heart then is to have a heart that is rooted in the mystery of God. The mystery of God and the mystery of the soul belong together. There is a little story of how an early Christian responded to the demand of a powerful pagan: “Show me your God”? He said, “Show me your man and I will show you my God.”
To have a pure heart is to have a heart that is not just created by God and then abandoned to us for us to make the most of it; it is to have a heart which is constantly being created and sustained by the newness of the life of God. If our life is rooted in God, so that the source of life in us is God, we shall see as God sees. And what God sees is God. This is why those who are pure of heart will see God. God does not have two different kinds of vision, one for seeing himself and another for seeing his creatures. It is within his eternal and blissful contemplation of himself that he sees all that he has made. That is why what he sees is very good.
If we have a pure heart, a source of life welling up from the eternity of God, then what we shall see is God. In his letter to Titus, St Paul says: “Everything is pure to the pure.” (Titus 1, 15) Those who have a pure heart cannot see evil, and it is said that God he is too pure to be able to see evil. To have a pure heart means that wherever you look, whatever you are looking at, what you see is God. God, revealing himself in myriads of different ways, but always God. This does not mean that when you look at butterflies, you have a “Hallmark” moment and hear violins playing inside your head and sing out, “How beatific!” It means that you can look at a man on a cross, broken, his wounds streaming with blood, and know that you are looking at God. To have a pure heart is to be capable of that. Origen, and early Church Theologian thought that it is in learning how to see things properly that we fist begin to be enchanted by the beauty of God. We are led by the beauty of things we can see to an awareness of what cannot be seen.
The Greek word Katharos that Matthew chooses for this Beatitude can mean clean in sense of clean laundry or clean hands, but just as often it is used to describe something that is pure or unmixed as we might describe a wine that is not a blend. When used to describe a person, it describes the simplicity of a single motive. There are no mixed motives. For instance, a charitable donation is made because of the great need without a single thought that it might also be a tax deduction or make us feel good that we did something for someone. If we do some fine work of kindness, it means we have no care at all about whether anyone noticed or whether anyone says, “thank you.”
Purity of heart clarifies things, so that we can be humble in our view of others seeing them as good. It also clarifies things so that we can see even sin in the context of a whole vision of God and of God’s providence and his creation. An opportunity for compassion then is what we see from a pure heart. It makes us sensitive to the good that is truly present even in what is evil. Ancient Fathers of the Church (Pseudo-Dionysius) thought it inconceivable that anything or anybody could be totally devoid of good. Even a person who opts for the worst possible kind of life is at least desiring life and the life that seems best to him so far as it goes is good. To have a pure heart is to enter into the very drama of God’s creating. It is to have a heart like the heart of Christ, taking into itself all the anger and hatred of men and consuming them in and into a fire of infinite love. Purity of heart is in fact one of the ways in which God actually makes himself present in our world. To have a pure heart is to become a person renewed, a person restored to our original calling and purpose. And that person, in the image and likeness of God, shares in the creativity of his creator.
Finally, Jesus himself speaks to this concern with Luke’s story of Martha and Mary with which we began just now. Martha’s complaint receives the comment, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. Only one thing is needed.” Martha’s anxiety is the issue. An anxious heart is a divided heart. The divine guest urges her not to stop cooking, but to stop being anxious. It is an interesting challenge to those of us who sometimes think we are being efficient and productive by “double tasking.” The message is, all of what we do must be for one purpose. All of what we do must somehow be focused on God. This calls for a practiced kind of attentiveness. When our heart is focused on the One, Jesus, we will be able to see God.
Blessed are the Peace Makers
Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Romans 14, 17-19
There is an intimate connection between this beatitude and the previous one, because purity of heart and peace belong inseparably together. True peace in ourselves is a product of purity of heart, and without true peace in ourselves we stand little chance of being peacemakers for anyone else.
The word SHALOHM describes wholeness. Used as a verb it described the mending of a net. It has to do with putting back together whatever is broken. As Jesus used the word it was a greeting that announced that he was present in their midst again, and that the relationship he had with the apostles was not broken by his death. The first step toward peace is the acceptance of the truth, the truth about our brokenness, the truth about our lives broken by emotions and passions that are not in union with our goodness.
Peace is not something that we can produce for ourselves. It is something given and proclaimed by God in Christ. This peace that we seek is a wholeness that does not exist simply in ourselves, it is in Christ who is perfectly and always at peace with his Father. Because this peace is in him, and we are in him, our acceptance of ourselves as we are, with all the upsets and tensions becomes less of source of anxiety as long as we remain in him.
If we are in Christ, we can be in peace even when we feel no peace. For as I said on Tuesday of this week quoting Meister Eckhart: “A spiritual man does not seek peace because he is not hampered by the lack of peace.” The beginning of peace must be the acceptance of lack of peace just as the beginning of relaxation must be the acceptance of tension. This peace is something that enfolds us rather than something which we can grasp. This peace is something declared not something we work at or work for. It is not negotiable. It is the complete tranquility of God’s presence.
With that understood, the peacemaker is then not someone who comes to patch things up, arrange a settlement with balanced concessions all around, or try to find a compromise. The peacemaker declares the truth of God announcing that a fallen world can be remade. So, there is no room for give and take, no room for concessions and compromise. There is only room justice which knows nothing of compromise. I am old enough to remember the day when Pope Paul VI stood at the General Assembly of the United Nations and shouted emphatically: “If you want peace, work for justice.” That work is the labor that tills the soil and prepares our hearts for the seed, the gift, the promise of peace. It will bring about a unity among us that reflects the unity of God. Understanding this is why I find this rise of “nationalism” so curious and in some ways so uneasy. It is taking us in the wrong direction. Instead of finding our common unity in God, we are continuing to fragment and individualize our identity. If left unchecked, we will hardly be able to recognize that we have a common “father” and therefore hardly be children of God. The peace that springs from the truth of our unity is not achieved by paring down or ignoring the complications of life, but by entering into the magnetic pull of God’s unity.
Within the heart of every person, and in the memory of every society there exists a profound nostalgia for paradise. The creation and origin myths of every people describe our beginnings as a time when God and humanity dwelled together as one. Our own primordial tale in Genesis speaks to us of the peace of Eden and it describes the relationship that existed between the creator and the creature. In those days, God spoke to his creature face to face, and there was no fear. The Bible tells us that God strode in the garden in one evening to converse with his beloved creatures. From this oneness man experienced peace within himself and with woman. From that moment, in the primal paradise, the longings of the human heart were properly ordered, and there was peace. The significance of that order remains for us: The basis of human peace is peace with God.
In the mythology of nearly every people there is also an account of how the human creature fell from this state of peace. It does not matter whether this took place at one moment in history, because for us all it takes place at every moment. There is something flawed in our hearts. There is a tragic misdirection of freedom which we inherit, reaffirm, and pass on. The Genesis story speaks to this condition. First is the break with God. At the sound of his coming there is fear, hiding, deception, evasion, and shame. But the even more saddening effects of this are seen most clearly in the way the man and woman turn on each other with anger or blame. He blames the woman. She blames the serpent. Here at the beginning it is the same as at the end, division between human beings. The story goes on with anguish and progressive alienation. There is murder with Cane and Able. There is the treachery of Noah’s son who exposed his father’s nakedness. Then there is the story of the tower. It is all about man seizing by force what has been offered as a gift.
Then there is a shift from universal to particular with Abraham. It is a new beginning in the story of our people, and the start of God’s plan to restore peace between himself and his human creature. It unfolds slowly, but as we proclaim in one of the Eucharistic Prayers: “Again and again you offered a covenant to human beings, and through the prophets taught them the hope for salvation.” The purpose of covenant was to bring about a state of shalom between the parties. It was God’s choice, and God’s right to establish the covenant and terms. As the people failed to keep the terms of the covenant, they failed to be at peace with one another. Oppression and the perversion of Justice was the consequence. The prophets of Israel not only called the people back to covenant, they looked forward to the coming of one in whom the promise might be realized. Psalm 72 tells of this hope.
Jesus came. The very first announcement of his coming was a proclamation of Peace: “Peace on earth and good will to men” say the angels. In his life among us, he reached through and across every barrier by the simple gestures of acceptance and speaking the truth. He showed us what divine peacemaking was all about. It was his “atonement” with the Father that enabled him to bring that unity to humans for one purpose: “That they may be one as we are one.” The great mystery of his peacemaking is that it was accomplished by an act of violence. In this foolishness was the wisdom of God’s way revealed; in this weakness was his power to save. In this violence by which his body was torn apart, the man of peace handed over his spirit. Before his death he told his followers, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” And when he appeared to them alive after his death, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. We are to continue that peacemaking of Jesus by manifesting effectively the same attitudes of forgiveness and mercy, of acceptance and reconciliation that he showed toward us. In this we shall be called children of God.
To do this, we must be at peace with ourselves. The peace Jesus leaves with us has little to do with feeling good inside, much less with assurance of a calm, unruffled. The peace given by a crucified Messiah would not manifest itself in trivialities. The peace of Jesus has to do with fidelity toward the Father, with the awareness that we are loved and accepted by God. Once grounded in this, we are able to reach out to others in peace. Because we need not find our center in pleasure, possessions, or power, we have no conflict with others over the world and the things of this world. Not needing to possess or use others as assurance of our own worth, we are able to freely see them for what they are, God’s children and place ourselves at their service.
Without this basis in God, all the world’s attempts at peace-making are futile. They all eventually break down because of the conflicting idolatries of humans. Without peace with God, there can be no peace among us. What is different now is that peace has been given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed are the Persecuted
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
John 15, 18-20
Asked about the growing secularization of the world and increasing violence against people of faith, Cardinal George once said: “I expect to die in bed. My successor will die in prison. His will die a martyr in the public square. The next one will pick up the shard of ruined society and slowly help to rebuild civilization as the church has so often in history. As this culture falls away or destroys itself from within, the Church will always remain to rebuild the civilization of love.”
Dealing realistically with persecution is a delicate business. It is so easy to become paranoid or masochistic or develop a messianic complex “Everybody hates me; therefore I must be right.” These delusional systems have been a part of our story too. But authentic Christian witness does not seek out persecution or seek to justify itself by the opposition it receives. On the other hand, authentic Christian witness seldom has to seek our persecution. There is something about the truth being lived boldly which draws it out. People are just not prepared to come to terms with the truth of what they are – either the truth of their total dependence on God or the truth of their actual, sinful and painful condition. They are likely to be offended by a message which will have no truck with their defensive “face”. They are likely to react with hostility.
A world defining itself by darkness does not want the light. A world built on a system of lies will have little patience with the word of truth. Based on what we have seen in Jesus, we can estimate that the more authentically and powerfully the Gospel is preached, the more it will stimulate rejection. This, should make us consider our own degree of acceptance by the world. We ought to wonder sometimes why we are liked in this world. Is it because we are indistinguishable from this world? Personally, I get really uncomfortable when I hear people say: “Father is just like the rest of us.” Is there nothing in my life which might make people question the way they are living? Or have I just made people comfortable because the Gospel we have grown so comfortable with offers them no threat?
This suffering, insists the Beatitude, must be for the sake of righteousness. It is for the sake of doing the right thing: not the safe thing, the easy thing, the popular thing, or the convenient thing. Today we can count the persecuted because they defend the unborn, the stranger, the immigrant, and the poor because it is the right thing. Not all of us are called to be social activists; not all of us are meant to take prophetic stances; not all of us can march and picket, lobby and debate. But all of us are called to do the right thing and live lives that express truly if implicitly a judgment on the standards of a world seperated from God. One of the surest signs of how far we have come from the standard of right is the way people respond who get caught doing the wrong thing. They are always more upset over getting caught than over the fact that they were doing something wrong. Instead of wondering if they should have done that in the first place, they wonder how they made the mistake of getting caught.
We suffer persecution not to fulfill some need to be punished, or out of self-righteousness, but “for holiness” sake, that is, for God’s sake. That is “holiness.” We are able to suffer creatively only because God suffers with us in the wounds of Jesus, which remain even in his risen life as the testimony of God’s participation in the anguish of his world. Those wounds are important for us. Bcause we suffer persecution for holiness’ sake, our suffering is for the sake of those who persecute us. It is as servants that we suffer, handing over our lives for the sake of their lives. Suffering persecution in this way is an act of peace-making in the world; an ultimate act.
The first Beatitude and the Last offer the same thing: The Kingdom of Heaven. The first Beatitude and the Last offer the same thing in the present tense while the other Beatitudes speak of things to come. The persecution is happening now because the Kingdom is not something for the future. The Kingdom has come, and the Kingdom of this world stands in opposition. The Kingdom of truth meets the Kingdom of lies. The Kingdom of freedom meets the Kingdom of slavery and bondage. The Kingdom of Life meets the Kingdom of Death. The truly blessed, those who bear witness in glory to the one who is Blessed and whose life is Beatitude, do so for the sake of righteousness. They do so for the sake of the one who is poor, merciful, meek, hungry, mourning, pure, and making peace. Only in God is there Beatitude. In as much as we conform ourselves to him, then we shall expect to be persecuted, but we shall do so with joy which is that inner delight that never changes no matter what the circumstances.
It is surely no accident that the people who do get martyred are often precisely the people who have been shown the most love. We are sometimes bewildered when we hear, for instance, of devoted missionaries being killed by those whom they have served for years with unfailing generosity. “Why them?” we ask. Could it not be that it was precisely their devoted service which draws martyrdom towards them? Is it because the love they show is so beautiful and so real that it must be tested? Having been seen to love, they give confidence to those who are unsure of love; but this confidence eventually becomes a need to probe further. Their final sacrifice is very much a sacrifice of love, and who can say what its fruit may be?
Christ came to make us great, not make life easy. From the times of the Roman Empire to this day, the only crime of a Christian is that they put Christ before all others. Suffering persecution makes things easier for those who follow. We ought not forget that truth. We enjoy the blessing of liberty and freedom which we possess because men in the past were willing to buy them for us at the cost of blood. They made it easier for us, and by our own steadfast witness for Christ we may make it easier for others who are still to come. It has always seemed to me that those who suffer for Christ are the closest to Christ, for they suffer with Christ, and Christ suffers with them. There is always one question: “Why”? “Why does the church suffer at all?” The answer is that suffering is inevitable because the church is the conscience of the world. Where there is something great, the Church must praise. Where there is something wrong, the Church must condemn, and inevitably there will be an effort to silence the troublesome voice of conscience.
For most of us, being persecuted for the sake of Christ is not going to mean anything very public or glorious; it is going to mean an endless and boring array of petty harassments. And the “they” who persecute us will, in all probability not be obvious enemies, but our friends and neighbors who pick and criticize, ridicule our Gospel values and choices in life. This is the persecution that is real and the persecution that is ours, and because it is so subtle, so petty, and so little, it may not seem to measure up to what people like Archbishop Romero, the Sisters in El Salvador, or Stan Rother have experienced, but it will always be in the measure of our capacity for bearing that persecution and facing it with Joy because of the company we keep in that experience.
For three evenings now we have opened ourselves to the light and the wisdom of Matthew’s Gospel. The first beatitude promised the kingdom to those who were poor in sprit. The last promises the kingdom to those who are persecuted. And so, at the end, we learn again how the Kingdom of God is rooted in the mystery of the One who proclaimed it, proclaims it still, the Lord Jesus himself. He, the poor and persecuted, the suffering servant, was alone among humans, kind, meek and pure of heart. He above all others hungered and thirsted for his Father’s holiness. He alone touched the depths of both the human and divine sorrow, and alone showed perfect mercy. It is only because we share his spirit that we can hear his words, accept them, and being slowly and painfully transformed manifest them in our lives. It is always through him that we utter Amen to the glory of God the Father.
Having reached the end of the Beatitudes, we ask ourselves if there is any place on this earth for the community they describe? There is only one place and that is where the poorest and meekest of true humans is found, on the cross of Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the crucified. With him his followers have lost all and with him they have found all and from the cross there comes the call: Blessed. Blessed. It is there we see the ultimate expression of Beatitude. It is there we see the poor the meek the merciful the peace possessing and the persecuted once there we see the ultimate blessing/beatitude. His Son giving everything for us in an ultimate act love. Die to self. Make our lives a Beatitude, a full and free gift of ourselves to be the blessing of God to the world.
Perhaps the best way to conclude this week together is to recognize that we have all gotten into the boat and set sail for the other side. Along the way, the storms come up and we get frightened and discouraged and are not too sure that we are going to make it to the other side. It is easy to forget who is in the boat with us. As the story is told, he sleeps some of the time. As the story is told, when they wake him up, he does not rebuke them at all, but turns and rebukes the wind and the waves. My best guess is that he turned and looked at them with a smile, rolled his eyes and shrugged shaking his head and went back to sleep. The real heart of this story and the thing to remember is that every now and then, we need to remember who is with us and wake him up. Wouldn’t it be foolish to sink the boat because we never woke him up?