I have mentioned here before that my mentor and teacher, Fr. Francis Martin, once asked, “Do you know what is the biggest obstacle for us in understanding the Word of God?” I was expecting him to answer his own question by saying something like, “We don’t know enough Greek,” or “We haven’t studied the historical critical method carefully enough.” But he looked around the room and then said, “The biggest obstacle we have to understanding the Word of God is our sin.”
He went on to encourage us in the discipline of study but warned that all the study in the world could not be of great help, indeed could be of harm, if we did not have a clean heart. I have respected him ever since and listened (on tape) to probably two dozen other priest conferences and courses he preached and taught. Though I was never formally enrolled in one of his classes, he became one of my principal teachers through his tape ministry. He now has a great YouTube ministry here: Fr. Francis Martin Ministries.
Scholars, academicians, and even some unbelievers can tell you to some extent what a particular biblical text is talking about, but only the holy, the saints, can tell you what it means. Toward the end of his life, Fulton Sheen commented that in modern times we have tried seemingly every possible way to build up the Church: committees, study groups, task forces, seminars, and advanced degrees in every sort of religious study; the only thing that we have not tried is holiness. He went on to recommend that every priest make a daily Holy Hour.
There is a passage in the Breviary that also shows the correlation between holiness and seeing:
If you say, “Show me your God,” I will say to you, “Show me what kind of person you are, and I will show you my God.” … God is seen by those who have the capacity to see him, provided that they keep the eyes of their mind open. All have eyes, but some have eyes that are shrouded in darkness, unable to see the light of the sun. Because the blind cannot see it, it does not follow that the sun does not shine. The blind must trace the cause back to themselves and their eyes. In the same way, you have eyes in your mind that are shrouded in darkness because of your sins and evil deeds. A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God. But if you will you can be healed. Hand yourself over to the doctor, and he will open the eyes of your mind and heart. Who is to be the doctor? It is God, who heals and gives life through his Word and wisdom … If you understand this, and live in purity and holiness and justice, you may see God. But, before all, faith and the fear of God must take the first place in your heart, and then you will understand all this. When you have laid aside mortality and been clothed in immortality, then you will see God according to your merits (From the book addressed to Autolycus by Saint Theophilus of Antioch, bishop).
So there it is; holiness together with a fear of the Lord is really the only way to see at all.
There is also the great gospel of the man born blind. At a pivotal moment, Jesus smears the man’s eyelids with clay and sends him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man returns able to see. When asked how he came to see, he replies, in effect, “I went, I washed, and now I see.” This is baptismal theology even if in seminal form. We cannot see until we are washed. In the end it is baptism, confession, and a holy life by God’s grace that give the greatest light. One of the great theologians and Fathers of the Church, St. Cyprian, experienced the vision that baptism and holiness bring:
And I myself was bound fast, held by so many errors of my past life, from which I did not believe I could extricate myself. I was disposed therefore to yield to my clinging vices; and, despairing of better ways, I indulged my sins … But afterwards, when the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the waters of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man. And then in marvelous manner, doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened … and what had been thought impossible was able to be done (Letter to Donatus, 4).
Only after baptism did some things make sense and seem possible for Cyprian.
I, too, have come to understand some things only after many years of prayer and growth. Daily Holy Hour, daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, weekly confession … only then do some things become clear, only then does that which had been in darkness come to light. To be sure, study has had its place in my life, but only the path to holiness (combined with study) can ever really bring light.
We’ve tried everything else, how about holiness? …Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).
Here’s a video I put together on the beauty of prayer, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. It is set to the words of a beautiful Eucharistic Hymn, “Jesus My Lord, My God, My All,” directed by the late Richard Proulx.
17 Replies to “Purity of Heart is Needed to See God”
Beautiful writing; beautiful video.
Yes, Lord, make us love You more and more.
Oh my, how I wish to have the purity of heart. I always answer my friends when they ask me, ‘How are you?’, with ‘I am trying to be good.’ Really I am trying very hard, it is as though, yes, like going through the eye of a needle yet I am not even rich. How can I become childlike again with all the innocence I could get back? I know my LORD redeemeth me and by continually living my life to learn of HIS Will to be my will also. Little by little JESUS is changing me. Thank you, Monsignor. Thank you, LORD, my ALL in all.
I desire and strive for holiness, too; but as soon as I find myself in frustrating situations, I see much of those holy feelings slipping away.
I have been on the phone each morning with various state employees about correcting my 1095a form (average wait time – 1 hour) so I can file my taxes….. every day I get the same responses, same inaction. I find myself complaining, raising my voice, and telling my husband how inept these people are. These real-life problems can really get to me, and afterwards, all I can see is that less-than-holy person, Donna.
I like the quote from St. Cyprian. However, he was baptized as a repentant adult, not as a baby like the rest of us. My children were baptized when they were babies, and although I believe it was necessary and has made a difference, I can testify that they have struggled with sin throughout their lives. This journey is indeed a difficult one, fraught with snares of every kind.
Amen. Jesus lead us, through this Lent, to You, at Easter.
Msgr said of Fr. Martin, “The biggest obstacle we have to understanding the Word of God is our sin.”
I have long been convinced the grain of truth that fueled the Gnostics was this fact. The idea that Scripture is often obscure, or deeper meanings are *hidden* in a sense from the casual reader, allowed Gnostics to claim superior secret knowledge not given to everyone. Yet, with God’s grace and deep intent to know Him through His Word, along with removal of what displeases Him in us from our lives, does indeed open His Holy Spirit to come to us with illuminations via the Word. Bless His Holy Name!
BTW, how I LOVE that song (Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All). We sang that at my First Holy Communion way back in the 1960’s (pre-Vatican II Mass). I wish I had thought to use it for my mother’s recent funeral Mass! At her Mass, the organist sang Panis Angelicus at Communion, but I think all of us, her kids, would have loved to have sung Jesus My Lord, My God, My All. It brings back such a flood of memories and fills my heart!
Thanks for reminding me of it, Msgr.
If we pray for a pure heart God will pour out his grace upon us to help us in our struggle, and our struggle becomes so much easier. Ask, and you will receive.
My Lord and My God Create a New heart in Me
The equation is so simple: love and fear of God plus frequent Confession, Mass, and praying always in humility. Yet so many ignore that sure path to holiness. What part of that equation are they avoiding or find difficult? God’s Grace will support us if we truly want to pursue this path. All we need to do is to take the first step and persevere in the walk with God… right now, not tomorrow; not next week; NOW.
Servant of God, Fr. John A Hardon, SJ put it this way: “A pure heart, a sinless heart, is connected to a perceptive mind. A mind that can penetrate mysteries that the highest intellect cannot begin to understand.”
Then how to get there…frequent confession! Through the confessional we find Sanctifying Grace which he defines as Divine power that allows human beings to do that which is humanly impossible.
Remember God did not make sin a part of human essence. Originally we humans had control of the blind faculty we call the will. Pray for control your mind first than you will control your will and the sin that starts with a thought will leave your life. He will take it away by the transforming power of His Grace.
BTW. Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. This also means that chase people are happy people and no one else is happy (Joyful hope no funny happy) and no one cheats. Conversely, those with pure hearts steeped in obstinate sin will not see God. Dear Jesus, we beg you strengthen us to remain chase and pure in our lives. Amen
Sorry, I meant to write chaste. .
Sorry, I meant to write chaste. .
Monsignor, I very much love your reflection on purity of heart, and at the same time I am discouraged by this: “Daily Holy Hour, daily Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, weekly confession … only then do some things become clear, only then does that which had been in darkness come to light.”
I am a married mother of many young children. I can’t make a daily Holy Hour, though I can go to adoration a couple times a week. I can’t make daily Mass, even though I know how profitable this would be, because of my husband’s work schedule. I usually say the rosary instead of the Office, which I think is suitable for laypeople. And if I went to confession weekly the priest would accuse me of scrupulosity! I’m not whining: I’m just asking for a clarification for laypeople, if you are willing. What are the absolute essentials for laypeople who are not single or retired? I mean this in earnest.
Thank you for all you do for us through your blog.
JMJ Pope John Paul ll went to confession every day of the week, He was not scrupulous. I don’t understand your statement “I can’t make a Holy Hour, through I can go to adoration a couple times a week”, Holy Hour Is adoration! . And if your confessor didn’t say you were scrupolous (since you don’t confess every week, then he did’t say that) that is a sin of assumiing something that is not true, it’s a sin against the priest but against God himself. It seems that you have many difficulties (Trials, some thing to be Very grateful for) When in doubt or ignorance about the church’s teaching, Talk with you Priest/Confessor. Be careful about assuming thoughts, emotions,fears. About Sunday Mass, Pray, asking God for his help, (He will answer your prayers, Promised) maybe if you talk to some of your parish friends or a relative you may be able to resolve the difficulty of missing sunday Mass. Is it possible you could go Saturday evenings instaed of sunday, It is permissable. The Liturgy of the Hours, their is a manual that explans about the praying of the, Also it would be Very helpful to talk with your Confessor/Priest about the Liturgy of the Hours. It is a Complicated Prayer at the same time it’s Highly reccomended by the GOD and the USCCB! Loving and taking care of a number of children I think is much harder then learning, Praying the LOTH. God bless you and your family and all your hardships, Remember to persevere and You and your Family and Friends will be blessed.
JMJ Maris (forgot to put your name in ,my first post) Didn’t mean to write Complicated prayer. Meant it difficult because it’s prayed though the starting at 6AM then 9 or 10am at noon i believe 3pm, 6pm etc. Manual Will teach with your priests Help you will learn. LOTH consists of Psalms, poetry, songs, praise, petition our God,etc. Remember it’s not what we accomplish, it’s about the trials we suffer doing God’s will.
“..the atheist has a consciousness of God; otherwise he would not even know what to deny. ”
“The religious man exercises his faith in twofold manner: 1. entrusting humbly in a divine authority and 2. believing into the truth of what this autority is saying. Also the atheist has a consciousness of God; otherwise he would not even know what to deny. But he denies God’s existence and the divine character of his revelation, on the ground of materialistic thoughts.”
Monsignor, did you post this on your Facebook page? Beautiful truth..
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