Blessed are the clean of heart. (Matthew 5:8) [click HERE for Spanish]
First, what does the Lord mean by heart? Does He mean the muscle? If you suffer from coronary artery disease, or mitral valve prolapse, or atrial fibrillation—does that mean that you have an unclean heart?
No. In the Bible, ‘heart’ means more than just the muscle. As the Catechism puts it, in the Bible the word ‘heart’ means the seat of moral personality. The heart has a spiritual dimension, involving our human search for truth and God.
That said, our hearts do, in fact, beat in our bodies. The Bible does not teach that we human beings have ethereal souls that just happen to find themselves trapped in clay. No. me, my heart, myself—it involves a mind and a body.
“Blessed are the clean of heart.” What then does He mean by clean? A ‘clean’ heart must mean: a mind and body perfectly united, and united with God.
Over the course of one 24-hour period this past week, I had a couple notable experiences which maybe will help illuminate this.
First: I marched for life, in Washington, D.C. Like all of us who made the trip, I wanted to bear witness to God’s love for every human being. Pregnancy and birth might sometimes cause a lot of pain, and they always involve a mess of some kind. But pregnancy and birth are never ‘unclean,’ in the spiritual sense.
Sometimes babies get conceived after people make wrong decisions, even evil decisions. But a baby him- or herself comes to the world with nothing but pure divine love. There’s never been a baby that God didn’t want. That fact, that love—it trumps all judgment when it comes to any pregnancy. A baby, and the baby’s mother, always demand our pure love.
The judgment we can make involves recognizing abortion for what it is. The words “reproductive rights”—they’re nothing but an empty, purely hypothetical slogan. But abortion involves real, brutal violence. A pure heart doesn’t judge a mother for being a mother, nor a baby for being in the womb. But good judgment always excludes abortion.
I bring this up because it teaches us this: Our being alive, our being ourselves—it’s fundamentally clean. The all-pure God has willed that we exist. Therefore, to obtain Jesus’ promised blessing for the clean of heart—it can’t mean that something gets erased, as if it never was. Like a mother suffers through a painful, bloody mess to give birth, Christ suffered a terrible, bloody mess, nailed to a cross with thorns in His temples and scalp—so that we could be made clean, without being erased.
Which brings me to the second thing I did. I gave a little talk explaining the Catholic rituals that accompany death. Yes–a day in the life of a parish priest, my friends: the March for Life and a talk about death.
The most-important concept for understanding our ceremonies for the dying and the dead is this: Jesus Christ died and then rose in the body. So we will rise in the body, too. Right now we find ourselves, mind and body, in a sinful and mortal state. But undying bodily life awaits us, on the other side.
Just one thing separates us from the clean, immortal life of the resurrected Christ. Purification, cleansing. Our dying and our death, when united with Christ through the sacraments, do not mean destruction. The Last Rites purify us as we prepare to die. Then after we die, the funeral Mass and the prayers and sacrifices of everyone grieving for us, and all the prayers we make for all the souls in purgatory—these help clean us up, to make us like Christ risen from the dead.
My fundamental point is this: God made us for purity of life, for the cleanness of a mind and body perfectly united–a heart living, loving, beating, united with God’s love. He did not make us for violence, nor death, nor oblivion. Who we are—fleshy creatures, walking around on two feet, male and female, full of life, guided by truth and love for everything really beautiful—who we are is clean.
But we live in this world under the sway of confusion, violence, and death. And all that confusion, violence, and death ultimately stems from our own human sins.
So we need purification; we need to be cleansed. We need discipline. We need to choose the more difficult and challenging path, to take up our crosses and follow the Lord. Let’s accept the plan that God has to purify our hearts, as it unfolds day by day. Because the path God leads us down is ultimately the path to pure love.