Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
– Jesus, Matthew 5:8
I once listened while my friend Fr. Dan Riley OFM was getting grilled by someone who was offended and/or weirded out by his being a Franciscan Friar (similar to being a monk). When the subject of his oath of celibacy came up she condescendingly asked, “Oh. So you can’t get married?” His response taught me a lot about maturity. After a quick laugh, he replied, “You know, I don’t look at so much as what I can or can’t do, but as what I get to do because of the choices I’ve made.” She and I were both humbled and inspired by his answer.
Brother Dan is purely devoted to a life after God. And that has got less to say about what is absent from his life than what it does about what gets to be present in his life.
The word “purity” insinuated “absence” to me for most of my life. It had more to do with what is not there (e.i. language, sex, drugs, rock n roll, etc.), rather than what is there. It was boring and completely unappealing and it is a fundamental problem at the core of contemporary Christianity; we’ve predominantly centered on a morality of absence rather than presence.
Is purity just the absence of sin? Is peace just the absence of anger? Is righteousness only the absence of vulnerability? In the eyes and hands of Jesus, all of these words become verbs, instead of just adjectives for absence.
Soren Kierkegaard changed my outlook on a lot of things when I read his quote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” It showed me that purity is about presence; the presence of something that simplifies a person, place, or thing down to one thing so powerfully that it shapes their life.
When I purely love Shawna, it shapes my life differently than when I love Shawna whilst I also worry about providing, get overwhelmed by responsibilities, put my feelings first, and so on. The presence of purity places my worries, responsibilities, and self-centeredness into perspective. They may not go away, but they don’t control me. Surprisingly, they regularly turn into avenues for expressing and experiencing my love more purely.
The same can (and especially needs to) be applied to my relationship with God. When my heart is purely given to God, my life infinitely expands in all directions because God is all and is in all. This kind of purity requires a freedom from expectations. The reason we don’t see God in all is because we expect that if God really were in “this” or “that” they would look differently than they do. That expectation taints our hearts and eyes from the clarity they are designed to see. We need purity; so that we can love, live and see deeply, limitlessly and fearlessly.
We need to focus on the presence of Christ in each and every one of our lives and not worry about anything else, because then the rest will be taken care of.
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and the rest will be given to you as well.
– Jesus, Matthew 6:33