I know what you’re thinking. “There is no way I can practice this virtue. I’m not pure of heart like Mary is. My heart has been stained by sin and shame for so long. How the heck can I be pure and how the heck can I maintain having a pure heart?”
Well for starters, having a pure heart is not as impossible as you might think. Being pure of heart simply means that your greatest desire is to please God and to do His will above everything else. Put in even simpler terms, to have a pure heart is to put God first.
It sounds simple, but it’s not easy. During one Advent season, I heard a priest ask: “If Jesus showed up in your life, would there be any room for Him?” He was asking this question in the context of Advent, of preparing Jesus and setting a place for Him, but I think this question can apply to all the other seasons of our lives. Is Jesus with us when we commute to work or when we take care of those we love? Is He with us when we worry about things like our finances and what other people think of us?
As a Cradle Catholic, one thing I learned early on in my life was that Mary was conceived without sin. She was literally born with a pure heart. There are two instances in Mary’s life where I think the purity of her heart can be best seen: when she visits Elizabeth and during the Wedding at Cana.
Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth after the angel departed. She chose to act with immediacy as soon as she heard what God has asked of her. When Elizabeth greets Mary, she says:
“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Then Mary says: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
I think Mary’s proclamation says it all. Her heart is pure because she proclaims the greatness of the Lord and not herself, and she rejoices in what God has asked of her.
Mary’s purity can also be seen in her final recorded action in the Gospels, at the Wedding at Cana. She saw the plight of the newlyweds and interceded for them. Then Jesus tells her “How does your concern affect me?” But she doesn’t give up. She goes to the waitstaff and says “Do whatever He tells you.” She knew that God’s will had to be carried out and she took action in making sure it got done.
In both of those instances, Mary knew what was most important. Her greatest desire throughout her life was declaring God’s greatness and following His will. Her last words in the Gospels, “Do whatever He tells you,” applies to all of us.
We may not even realize it, but we can make an idol out of anything: politics, money, and even making sure we watch all the shows that everyone is talking about. Putting God first won’t make things easier, but it can at least help us remember what’s most important. All of the things we worry about fall very short when we remember that God will help us through all of it, and by making sure that everything we do is in line with God’s will.
Reflect: Read over the Gospel passage of the Visitation. Have you ever acted on God’s will immediately or do you have a tendency to put off important things?
Read over the Gospel of the Wedding at Cana and think of a time when you had to be an intercessor for someone. What was that experience like?
What do you put first instead of God? What do you give all your time to, all your thoughts and worries? What things or ideas do you try to turn to for comfort?
Act: If you want to know more about the idols we make, check out Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods.