“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8
Why would Pope Saint John Paul II devote an entire section of his Theology of the Body to the human heart, specifically this Beatitude about purity of heart, if he was teaching about the body? Well, according to him and many others, the heart is the deepest layer of the human person. Some argue it’s where the soul resides, the crossroad between the soul and the body, between inward and outward. It’s where our soul and flesh are fused into one, inseparable, to make us human. It is the ultimate battlefield between good and evil, love and lust, purity and blindness (TOB 55:7). So any teaching on the meaning and proper use of the body has to involve the heart.
But this isn’t a new idea. It came from Christ himself. If you read further down in the Beatitudes, He says that anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5:27-28). Instead of only looking on external actions, Christ “sees in the heart, in man's inner self, the source of purity” (TOB 50:2). This was in direct opposition to the Jewish customs of the time, which placed the emphasis on external purification rituals. Jesus constantly reproached the Pharisees, telling them to “cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside may also be clean.” (Mt 23:26) Jesus came to show us how to take the external law and apply it internally, where it matters more.
The pure of heart shall see God.
Purity of heart is so much deeper than just sexual purity - it encompasses all that is good andall that is honorable. It means living in the Light and allowing this Light to allow you to see. Christopher West, in his book Theology of the Body Explained, summarizes Pope Saint John Paul II’s teaching about purity of heart as follows: “Only the pure man is capable of seeing God. That is the very definition of purity. Hence, impurity can be defined as the inability to see God.”
Adam and Eve had this undivided “harmony of the heart” (TOB 55:6) in the beginning, allowing them to see everything clearly without the fogginess of sin. Particularly, they could see God’s image in all of creation, especially in each other’s bodies. They had no need to cover themselves because their bodies led them to God. After the Fall, they covered their bodies because their hearts were no longer pure. Instead of seeing each other in the image of God they saw each other through selfishness, lust, and use (TOB 27). This purity of heart is what Christ came to restore in us.
Purity of heart allows us to see God’s image in each other, both inside and outside the spousal relationship. What does this mean practically for us? Before marriage it means guarding your heart as well as your body, including emotional chastity. Within marriage, while chastity is no longer required, there still needs to be a purity of heart to keep lust, sin, and selfishness out. It also means guarding against emotional adultery of the heart, which women tend to fall into easier than lust. My relationships with my male friends had to change when I got married. I need to make sure my husband knows the depths of my heart before any other male (aside from a priest or spiritual director), and that I don’t get more emotionally attached to any male friend more than him. This doesn’t mean I can’t have male friends, but that I need to place them in the proper order in my heart. And above all, whether married or single, purity of heart means living in the Light with all of our thoughts and actions.
How does purity of heart come? According to Pope Saint John Paul II and Christopher West, it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit, not something we can attain on our own. We must be open to receive this freedom and let it be done unto us - much like Our Lady’s fiat. Mary, the most perfect human, had the ultimate purity of heart. This means her body was also the most pure and suitable place for our Lord to grow. St. Augustine wrote that she conceived Jesus in her heart before she conceived Him in her womb, through her yes. May she be a model and an intercessor for us, to help us to see.
Reflect: Do your outer actions match the inner environment of your heart? Is there an area of your life where you need more purity of heart? Do you see God and others clearly, or are you bogged down in the fogginess of lust, pride, or woundedness?
Act: Christopher West writes that “regaining purity, then, is not first a matter of ‘doing’, but a matter of ‘letting it be done’. Like the Immaculate One - that is, the woman totally pure of heart - we must offer our fiat to the Holy Spirit. Only then will Christ be ‘conceived’ in our flesh.” Give the Holy Spirit your fiat and ask Our Lady to help you in this transformation of your heart. Seek out confession if you feel you have sinned in the heart, and allow the Holy Spirit’s grace to cleanse and strengthen the inside of your cup.