I want to begin this reflection with two contrasting images:
First, the statue of Mary, serene and peaceful, standing on the snake she has vanquished.
Second, my grandmother, hoe in hand, beating the living daylights out of a snake, while she hollers in desperate tones, "Gene! Jack! Somebody help! There's a snake!"
I actually picked this beatitude to write about, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God", and subsequently remembered that "pure" has been a huge challenge to me. I saw Mary in the statue mentioned above as the very essence of purity. And, in fact, the distinction is made that Mary is described as pure, not chaste, because chaste implies a struggle with temptation, which Mary was considered to be above. I, on the other hand, am much more like my grandma, flailing madly, hollering for help; only the snakes keep putting themselves back together and presenting themselves for fresh battle. I don't know if I can fully articulate this, but I am wanting to say something to you about the contrast between pure as a noun, and a state of innocence; and becoming pure of heart as a process of change in which we are both active participants and passive recipients of grace. When I think of "pure," I think of children...the purity of innocence, the purity of Adam and Eve in the garden before the fall, the purity of virginity...all of which suggests something already gone, long gone. In my earliest memories I was already not pure, already aware of things a really pure child would not know, assailed by feelings that a pure child would surely have been above. Only 4 and already jealous and greedy and a little sneaky. I was drawn to the purity that I imagined Mary possessed, and lived in hope that confession could restore me to purity. Maybe it did, but my humanity would resurface quickly. In high school it seemed particularly cruel to me that confession was only available on Saturday, leaving me to navigate cautiously through Saturday night, that most treacherous of adolescent nights, if I hoped to arrive at Mass on Sunday still pure. Now I am more drawn to "purifying", the verbiness of that versus the static, nounness of pure, and I think that I am in a constant state of being purified...and that the process of being purified will always be continuing. In the fire of honest engagement with my heart I see all my messiness, and if I acknowledge it and bring it to God with humility, through the fire of that painful admission, I can become more pure of heart, more single in purpose. The first step of this (and the one I seem to be always engaged in) is simply the willingness to acknowledge that the snakes are there. This purity is more about aligning myself over and over again with Christ, than it is about some elusive perfection. If I am like my grandma, flailing madly, then I need to acknowledge this and not try to pretend I am Mary, standing on a snake that I am pretending is dead while in fact it is crawling up my leg. Fr. Kramer spoke recently about rooting out all that is contrary to the Gospel of Christ. Amen. But first we have to acknowledge what is contrary, not hide the fact that it is there. Paul Tillich spoke about false faith which is putting our absolute concern in something less than the Absolute. True purity of heart is putting our deepest concern in line with the deepest call. When I am aligned with that deepest call, the call to love without reserve, I can feel that flow of love, that generosity of the Holy Spirit and my life does flow on "in endless song". In that flow it is absolutely true that I see God. I am far more receptive to His presence all around me, and I am empowered by His presence within me.
~by Lou Ann Horstman