“Pure and Simple”- Pondering a commonly misunderstood Beatitude

082113One of the beatitudes taught by Jesus is often misunderstood today, largely due to the most popular translations of it from the Greek text.  The Beatitude is, “Blessed are the pure of heart.” Or sometimes rendered, “clean” of heart.”

While the word “pure” or “clean,” is not an inauthentic translation of the Greek word καθαρός (katharos). A more literal translation of the word is to be without admixture, to be simply one thing, and hence, on that account to be purely and simply that thing, with nothing else mixed in. Hence, another helpful way of translating the Greek μακάριοι οἱ καθαροὶ τῇ καρδίᾳ (makarioi hoi katharoi te kardia) is “Blessed are the single-hearted.”

The reason to suggest, as more descriptive, the  phrase “single-hearted” is that, in modern English, the words “pure” and “clean”  tend to evoke a merely moral sense of being free of sin, of being morally upright.  And this is good, and is surely a significant part of being single-hearted. But being single-hearted is it a deeper and richer concept than simply being well behaved, since to be well behaved is the result of the deeper truth of being one thing, not duplicitous, or with a divided heart.

To be single-hearted, means to have my life focused on what Jesus calls “the one thing necessary” (Luke 10:42).  It is to have my life focused on the Lord, and my one goal of reaching heaven and being with him forever.

The image of the Rose window that the upper right, which I have used before on this blog, is a good illustration of what it means to be single-hearted. It does not mean that there are not different facets to my life, but rather, that every facet of my life is ordered around, and points to Christ, is subsumed to  Jesus, and his heavenly kingdom along with the Father and the Spirit as the ordering principle of every other thing. And thus, career, family, marriage, finances, spending priorities, use of time, where I live, and any other imaginable aspect of life, is subsumed in Christ; it points to him, and leads to the Lord and his kingdom on high.

The single-hearted life, is a well ordered life. Each step, and each decision leads me in the right direction. St. Paul says, This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14). And hence, while Paul made many journeys to many places, he was really on one journey and heading to one place. This simplified and ordered his life. He was single-hearted.

We can see why the beatitude often gets translated as pure or clean of heart. As noted, to be pure or clean means to be the one thing, not admixed with lots of other impurities, or things which cause me not to be what I really meant to be.  And perhaps this is how we get the connection in the phrase, “pure and simple.”

Consider for example that the impurities of a copper wire, will reduce its effectiveness in carrying electrical current. When the copper is not pure, it is not its very self, the electrical energy which is meant to be directed through it becomes more scattered or hindered from its goal.

And this image of scattering or being hindered, unfortunately describes the lives of many Christians whose lives are not ordered on the one thing necessary, whose hearts are not single, whose hearts are not focused on the one thing they should be.  Such a one has a life which is often scattered, confused, disordered, and a jumble of many conflicting and contrary drives which hinder one from the goal of life. And thus the Lord Jesus says, He who does not gather with me, scatters (Luke 11:23). And the Book of James says, The double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).

Finally, being single-hearted, being pure of heart not only orders our life, but it also grants freedom. In modern, Western thinking, we often equate freedom with doing more, not less. So freedom is equated with being able to “do anything I please.” And this attitude has led to the kind of jumble that much of modern life has become, the kind of tangled web of many contrary wishes and desires, but with little unifying direction or purpose. We think of freedom in very abstract terms. And hence we tend to get very abstract and disconnected results

But biblically and spiritually, freedom is the capacity or ability to do what is right, best and proper. And thus, paradoxically, freedom often means doing less, not more.

Being single-hearted, helps to focus us and to pare away a lot of the excess growth and unnecessary baggage of modern life. And life gets simpler, and simplicity is a form of freedom, such that we focus on what is important more than what is urgent.  And we discover that what often claims to be urgent, is not really necessary or urgent after all.

Life, especially modern life, has many options. And not all these options are simply distinguished by being good or bad, moral or immoral. Many of them are altogether good options. But how to sort through, to choose, and to focus my life on the one thing necessary?

Being single-hearted is the beatitude which helps us to do this.  As St. Paul says, regarding the good options in life:  All things are lawful to me, but not all things are expedient (1 Cor 6:12).

To be single-hearted is to become more free, not (paradoxically) by doing more, but by doing less, by becoming more focused on the Lord, hearing his voice, and basing my life simply on what he says and teaches me,

Pray for the gift to become more single-hearted. More than ever, in our modern age, with its distractions and endless possibilities, we need to learn the lesson of the Rose window, and center our lives increasingly on Christ, the one thing necessary.

I have used this clip in other posts before. Pardon a brief profane word, but it does help emphasize the point being made:

Why "Religion" is a good word that we need to defend.

071413It is “chic” and, I would add, a “cliche” to hear many people say today, “I am spiritual but not religious.” There is a kind of self-congratulatory tone that often goes with this self description as well, and certainly a lot of cultural approval in the secular West for such dissociative talk.

There is even some acceptance of this notion among more theologically conservative evangelicals who, on account of their “low ecclesiology” also favor a kind decentralized and highly personal notion of faith, and entertain a kind of cynicism to “organized religion.”

The Washington Post had a column on the “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon this past Saturday by Michelle Boorstein entitled simply Religion. I would like to present a few excerpts and then discuss why I think we should not only retain the words “religion” and “religious,” but also be suitably proud of them.

First, a few excerpts from the article, along with a few very brief comment by me in plain red text. The full article is HERE.

We’re no longer “religious.” We’re “holy.” We’re “faithful.” We’re “spiritual.”….Diana Butler Bass, author of last year’s “Christianity After Religion,” who says the word “religion” is laden with negative, hurtful and political baggage. (Perhaps, but so is everything: Government, schools, medicine, science, etc. It would seem this is not unique to “religion” but is the human condition).

The 20 percent of Americans who now call themselves unaffiliated with any religious group see religion as much too focused on rules….(but rules and accepted practices are part of life. I wonder if these same Americans would be so pleased if their dentist or doctor threw rules, protocol or accepted medical practice to the winds? There is a place for “rules” that enshrine the collective wisdom of the ages!) 

On the other side are people such as super-popular shock pastor and writer Mark Driscoll, an evangelical conservative whose sermons have such titles as “Why I hate religion.” He preaches that the institutional church has wrongly let people feel good about themselves for their actions (such as going to worship services) instead of what they believe (which should be the Bible’s literal truth, in his view)….(Yes, here is the “dark side” of  evangelical Christianity and its “americaninst” designer-church mentality. At the end of the day, its extreme form is little different from any other modern deconstructionist, iconoclastic, existentialist, and nihilistic movement. The thinking is “away with anything I don’t like, away with anything that limits me in any way with “rules” that look to balance my little vision with the bigger picture. Away with anything I don’t like or think limits me from being…me”).

Polling shows that young Americans are considerably less apt to have religious affiliations than earlier generations were at the same age. (OK, but polls reflect what is, not what ought to be, or what is correct). They attend religious services less often, and fewer of them say religion is important in their lives. (OK, we have work to do! But that doesn’t make us wrong). But more than nine in 10 people believe in God, according to a recent Gallup poll, a statistic unchanged for decades….(but at some point we must ask if this means anything at all. It is good that they are not outright atheists, but sometimes indifference is a worse enemy than hatred). People are walking away from institutional expressions of church. They’re trying to renegotiate man’s relationship to God,” said David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, a major research firm on religion….Now more and more people look to their conscience, however it’s formed, to decide for themselves.” (more on this attitude below). Although some reject the word “religion,” others simply ignore it.

OK, a tough read. Not surprising, but still disturbing.

I want to argue that the very word “religion” so widely rejected by moderns, is the very word that we need to recapture as an antidote to the self-referential, self-congratulatory modern notions that fuel the “I’m spiritual but not religious” ideology.

Frankly, the attitudes expressed in the article and in our culture are not noble or praiseworthy. The increasingly pervasive attitude is a kind of Nietzsche-like nihilism, and existentialism that says, in effect:

“I will create my own reality (existentialism) and design my own god (idolatry). I will do what I want to do and I will decide if it is right or wrong (the pride of original sin). The world revolves around me and what I think, I am the center! (Anthropocentrism and egocentricism). It is really all about me, and what I think, and what I want, and what I say.”

Now if this seems harsh, I ask you, dear reader to tell me what is inaccurate? What we are really dealing with here is a collection of tired old heresies and apostasies. This is not a tall, intellectual argument at work here. It is not a brave new world at all. It is a rehashed collection of notions already tried and found wanting. It is a set of notions that tie in easily with Americanism, and an excessive notion of liberty, detached from truth or any moorings at all. It cannot sustain, or result in anything but further dilution of a sense of community or common ground, and it leads only to the further fractioning of our communities and nation into ever more isolated cells.

This then sets up as a perfect recipe for the cultural anarchy, and power struggle we already have, and will only cause it to deepen. It is ushers in the the “tyranny of relativism.” For if there is nothing outside of us (or “me”) to which we can all look to and agree, the only way to resolve differences is power struggle. At the end of the day, the one with the most power, money, influence, and access wins. Without truth to which we bind ourselves, there is tyranny.

And sadly it all marches under the banner of a kind of self congratulatory “tolerance.” Many people actually give themselves credit for saying, “It’s all about me, and what I think. Truth is what I say it is.” A steady diet of existentialism and nihilism has actually deluded people to the extent that they do not even perceive how vain and egocentric they sound. The majority just nod and say “Amen.” “Power to the People” etc. But its not really even “power to the people,” its really just “all about me.”

But the chic “respectfulness” that such ego-maniacal talk generates also sets the stage for why the words “religion” and “religious” are so important to recover and insist on.

The word “religion” comes from the Latin religio which means to bind oneself, to constrain,  or to be tied to another. As such, the virtue of religion calls us  to look outside of ourselves, both upward to God, and outward to the great accumulated wisdom of our revealed faith.

One of the foolhardy presumptions of modern thinking is that the accumulated wisdom of some 5,000 years of human history and tradition in the Scriptures have little or nothing to say to us today. This is not only foolhardy, but prideful.

The virtue of religion acknowledges the experience of our ancestors as an important source of wisdom for us. And it is not merely their excellencies to which we look, but also their sins and struggles. The virtue of religion also acknowledges that God was in the conversation with our ancient forbearers and revealed important things to them; truthful things which withstood the test of time, and transcended cultures, nations, and empires. Yes, all those nations, culture and empires came and went but the faith perdured.

The virtue of religion recognizes that this ancient wisdom, both of human experience and divine revelation, is something to which we owe a humble hearing, and having heard it, that we should bind ourselves to it; to be tied to it in humble acceptance, such that we learn its wisdom and why it makes sense. It need not remain a simple blind obedience, but of a growing, thoughtful, careful, and humble acceptance. Religion and being religious accepts that there is a wisdom and knowledge that is bigger simply than what I think. And being open to this truth, to this teaching, and having thoughtfully assessed this wisdom, I bind myself to it, I base my life on it.

So, religion is rooted in the humility that there is something and someone bigger than what I think. It is a humility that says I should not necessarily believe everything I think. Religion is “other-centric” and it is Theocentric. By the virtue of religion we bind ourselves to the ancient, venerable and tested truths of God, in our holy Catholic, Christian and biblical faith.

More than ever in this prideful and egocentric modern age we must uphold the dignity and humble insight of the word “religion” and the reality it represents. There is someone wiser, more noble, more holy than I. And that someone we call God. And hearing his voice, we rightly bind ourselves to Him. And He, in a holy embrace binds himself to us.

This is religion. This is the embrace of  the mutual binding of covenant love.

How different, more humble and noble is this, that the prideful attitude of so many in the modern world today who say, God is whatever I say he is, and he says what I say he says. In other words, I am God.

Religion looks to God as he has credibly revealed himself in the ancient and testified sources of the Old and New Testament. And listening at his feet we discover who He is as  He has revealed himself,  not merely as we wish him to be.

Finally, to those who say “Well I’m not really against religion, just organized religion”, this is a false category. There’s no such thing as unorganized religion. True religion is ultimately a communal summons by God for people to walk with Him, not just individuals living in separate stovepipes, but in communion with others. God establishes faith to be the organizing principle of a people, of a culture, even a nation.

We moderns maybe petulantly down on “institutions,” but there are very few entities that are not institutions, it is just which institution we’re down on that we like to dis.  For those who sniff at the “institution” of the Church, still join the “institutions” of political parties, or work for large firms, or government entities,  and get services from medical institutions such as hospitals and medical practicums. So the claim that “I’m spiritual, not religious” just means a person is down on “institutional religion is neither credible nor does it comport with reality. Religion, by its nature is institutional.

Thus, Religion, both the word and its  practice is noble, it must be insisted upon as a magnificent description of what faith really is. Is a clinging to God as he has revealed himself; it is a binding of oneself to the revealed truth of that loving God who embraces us and clings to us in the mutual binding of covenant love. It is a humble submission to one who is greater and wiser, who is indeed the Creator and Sustainer of all things;  it is a wise and reasonable accepting of the fact that there is someone greater than I, to whom I ought to be bound in a and loving and humble submission.

I am spiritual, but I am also religious,  and you can quote me on that.

In this video, Cardinal Dolan reminds, “You can’t have Jesus without his body, the Church.

Do we need to set aside the Word "Marriage" and use "Holy Matrimony" exclusively?

062713In the wake of the supreme court decisions of this week, I would like to return to a question I have Asked before: Are we coming to a point where we should consider dropping our use of the word “marriage?”

It is a simple fact that word “marriage” as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “Marriage” (i.e. Holy Matrimony)  in the following way:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC # 1601)

The latest actions by numerous states and the hat-tip that the Supremes gave Same sex unions mean that increasingly, the secular world’s definition of marriage no longer even remotely resembles what the Catechism describes.

To be fair, as we have previously noted, this is not the first redefinition of marriage that has occurred in America. The redefinition has actually come in three stages:

  1. In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
  2. The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspring as integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional at the will of the spouses. Having sown in the wind (where we redefined not only marriage, but sex itself) we are now reaping the whirlwind of deep sexual confusion and a defining of marriage right out of existence.
  3. This final blow of legally recognizing so called gay “marriage” completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships “marriage”.

Proposal: So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word “marriage” is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.

I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as “Holy Matrimony.”

According to this proposal the word marriage would be set aside and replaced by Holy Matrimony. It should be noticed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this Sacrament formally as “The Sacrament of Matrimony.”

The word “matrimony” also emphasizes two aspects of marriage: procreation and heterosexual complementarity. The word comes from Latin and old French roots. Matri = “mother” and mony, a suffix indicating “action, state, or condition.” Hence Holy Matrimony refers to that that holy Sacrament wherein a woman enters the state that inaugurates an openness to motherhood. Hence the Biblical and Ecclesial definition of Holy Matrimony as heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from secular muddle that has “marriage” for its nomen.

Problems to resolve – To return to this phrase “Holy Matrimony” is to return to an older tradition and may sound archaic to some (but at least it isn’t as awkward sounding as “wedlock”). But clearly a new usage will be difficult to undertake. It is one thing to start officially referring to it as Holy Matrimony. (Which, by the way I have done in my parish – we no longer prepare people for marriage, but for “Holy Matrimony”) But it is harder when, for example, a newly engaged couple approaches the priest and says, “We want to be married next summer.” It seems unlikely we easily train couples to say, “We want to enter Holy Matrimony next summer.” or even just to say, “We want to have a wedding next summer.” Such dramatic changes seem unlikely to come easily. Perhaps you, who read this blog can offer some resolutions to this problem.

Perhaps, even if we cannot wholly drop the terms “marry, ” “marriage” and “married” a more modest form of the proposal is that we at least officially discontinue the use of the word marriage and refer to it as the “Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”

What do you think? Do we need to start using a new word for marriage? Has the word been so stripped of meaning that we have to use different terminology to convey what we really mean?

When I proposed this two years ago this very time, many of you we rather unconvinced and some were even perturbed that we were handing on over our vocabulary to the libertines. That may be, but we already know that “gay” will never mean what it used to, and it would seem that  “marriage” will never again mean what it did.

A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

Frankly, I am uncomfortable signing DC Marriage licenses, and do so only because my Ordinary has indicated we should continue doing this. I am happy to obey him in this and defer to his judgment in the matter. There is a reason his is the Ordinary and I am not. That said, I have told him what I think. But for now, it seems clear we must stay the course and still sign them until the Bishop says, no more.

If we did stop signing civil licenses, we would surely need a strong catechesis directed to our faithful that reiterates that civil “marriage” (what ever that means anymore) is not Holy Matrimony and that they should, in no way consider themselves as wed, due to a (meaningless) piece of paper from a secular state that reflects only confusion and darkness rather than clarity and Christian light.

Here too, what do you think? Should the Catholic Bishops disassociate Catholic clergy from civil “marriage” licenses?