In his continued examination of the Beatitudes, Hugh Bates discusses the meaning of purity and the nature of its reward
How can a heart be pure? How can anybody see God and live? Nevertheless, the Psalmist could write, ‘One thing have I desired of the Lord and that alone I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord…to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to seek his will in his temple’; and again, ‘My heart tells of your word, ‘Seek my face’; Your face, Lord, will I seek.’
Similarly, Hezekiah laments that he may never again ‘see the Lord’ in the land of the living. Isaiah tells how he ‘saw the Lord high and lifted up’. ‘Seeing God’, or ‘appearing before the presence, the face, of God’, are circumlocutions for worship. It is in worship that God is both known and seen.
Orthodoxy, we need to remember, is not holding the correct opinions, but the right worship. ‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth’.
Ascending the hill of the Lord
‘Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord?’ asks the Psalmist, ‘or who can rise up in his holy place?’ ‘Those with clean hands and a pure heart,’ is the answer. ‘Such is the company of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob. They shall receive a blessing from the Lord.’ Put the other way round, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart. They shall see God!’
Unfortunately, purity sometimes carries negative and forbidding overtones. Hear no evil, see no evil, think no evil. Alternatively, it may be largely limited to those topics that are covered by the obscenity laws.
How many have felt themselves disqualified from worship because they have failed to reach the required standard of purity! Worse, the authorities may sometimes use purity taboos to refuse or restrict access to those who are ‘seeking God’s face’. King David cursed the blind and the lame: ‘the blind and the lame may not enter the temple.’
The Son of David lifted this curse on blind Bartimaeus, who was thus enabled to follow him along the rest of the journey to the Holy City.
Purity of heart would seem to be more about the fixed and steady determination of the will rather than the achievement of a clinically sterile soul.
Keeping the heart pure
Being the kind of people that we are and living in the kind of world that we do, we cannot help but see, hear and think things that, in our better moments, we would rather not. This is distressing and infuriating, but not a reason to despair. Never having had to wash is nothing to be proud of!
There will always be distractions and temptations, worldly cares, not to mention the old familiar sins and failings that so easily beset us.
A constant struggle
They will not go away, but they are not to be allowed to interfere with the primary object of the exercise, which is ‘to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek his will’. The purity of heart that sees God is no blessed static condition, but rather the constant struggle never to lose sight of him. Now you see him, now you don’t. If practice may not exactly make perfect, it will take us a very long way.
We will never be able to claim that we have arrived, nor may we hope to dine out on what we believe to be our past achievements. But, in the end, there will be more than the continual uphill effort.
This is best shown in the well-known story of the old countryman whose delight and joy was to spend some time each day sitting in church before the Blessed Sacrament: T looks at him, and he looks at me’. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart. They shall see God’.