Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blessings For The Poor And The Pure

We were created by God for one purpose - to live forever in His presence in heaven. There we will be content to gaze on His face and worship Him. God’s purpose in creating us is that we may one day see Him face to face in all His beauty and glory. Our hearts long for this more than any other pleasure this world can give.

In the gospel reading, Jesus lists for us the blessings of God’s Kingdom set aside for the poor and lowly. Only one of them has as its promise that we will see God. That is the sixth beatitude: “Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God.” If we want to fulfill our ultimate purpose and look upon the face of God, then Jesus teaches us that we must be clean or pure of heart.

Like most Bible teachings, purity of heart can be understood in several different ways. Today we will look at three possible meanings for the term so that we can apply them to our lives and come finally to see our God. They are keeping ourselves pure from the world, keeping our intentions pure and keeping ourselves pure from lust.

First of all, purity of heart means keeping ourselves unpolluted from this world and its disordered values.

Jesus and his first disciples, being good Jews, would have followed strict dietary laws such as not eating pork or the meat of a strangled animal. These laws were meant to set them apart from others and ensure that they had little contact with outsiders. It helped them maintain their Jewish identity as the chosen people of God through many centuries of exile and persecution.

As Christians, we do not have the same restrictions about what we should eat and how our food should be prepared. However, we are meant to keep ourselves clean from the distorted values and priorities of the world around us. We are to separate ourselves from the greed that exploits and impoverishes the weak. We are to walk away when the people around us are gossiping or speaking ill of others. Purity of heart means cherishing the forgiveness that we have received through the blood of Jesus and making every effort to avoid soiling our souls with the grime of sin.

Secondly, purity of heart means that, in everything we do, our only intention is to give God glory.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus is very critical of the Pharisees because their religion is for show. Their intention in praying out loud in the temple is that others may praise them for being holy and righteous. This outward show of holiness earned them respect and places of honor at banquets. In acting this way, they are not seeking glory for God but for themselves. Though they are performing good deeds, their intentions - their hearts - are not pure.

To be pure of heart means that everything we do should be motivated by the glory of God. Every good deed we perform should have as its purpose not to draw attention to ourselves but to point to the goodness of our Heavenly Father.

This is very important for us as a parish community. How much of what we do here is meant to give glory to ourselves rather than to God? How many times in our parish planning are we seeking to make our community what we want it to be rather than what God wants it to be? If each of us - myself included - could put aside our personal agendas and preferences and truly seek to give God glory in everything we did, then we would see Him work in powerful and unmistakable ways among us.

Thirdly, purity of heart means avoiding lust in all its forms.

To be pure of heart means that we have respect for our bodies and the bodies of others. We do not look upon ourselves or others as objects of pleasure. Knowing that God has given us the beautiful gift of sexuality as a sign of love and a means of participating in His creative power, we set aside our bodies only for the one we are given to in marriage. Out of respect for ourselves, we do not dress or act in a way that will draw undue attention to our physical features.

The greatest danger to purity of heart in today’s world is the abundance of pornography. It is becoming increasingly available on television and on the internet. A recent study found that one out of three children is exposed to pornography before starting kindergarten. Unfortunately, many people think that it is harmless. However it gives young people a warped idea of what sex is. It teaches young girls that their only value is in being able to arouse men. Those who become involved in the pornography industry end up becoming ravaged by disease, drug addictions and abusive relationships. And addiction to pornography has lead to many losing their jobs when they are caught accessing it at work and has resulted in the break up of many families. Pornography is far from harmless. Christians must never participate in this activity and should fight to ensure that our young people are not exposed to it.

Jesus promises many blessings to those who are poor and who seek only God and His Kingdom. We are blessed because we are gathered here today with a hunger for righteousness and a longing for peace. That longing is rooted in our souls which have only one overwhelming desire  - to see God in all His glory. The hope of His glory motivates us to keep our hearts pure by avoiding what the world holds up as important, by striving to give God glory in all that we do and by living chaste lives whether we are married or single.

We keep our hearts pure also so that they will be a proper dwelling place for Christ who comes to make His home in us. The promise that we will see Him will be fulfilled this day as bread and wine becomes His Body and Blood through the mystery of the Eucharist. With hearts renewed, we will leave this place so that others may see Christ in us and come to believe.

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