BITE-SIZE THEOLOGY (219): What do I need to keep my heart pure?

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

We have already seen that God wants us to be chaste in our actions (cf. BST 211-213). Chastity, however, also includes our heart: our imagination and memory; our feelings, sentiments, and emotions; our innermost thoughts and desires.

Remember how Our Lord upbraided the Pharisees? “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity” (Matthew 23:27-28).

On the other hand, Jesus also praised those who struggle to keep their hearts clean. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Everyday, let us beg the Lord with the words of the Psalm: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

The Compendium (no. 527) teaches: “The ninth commandment requires that one overcome carnal concupiscence in thought and in desire. The struggle against such concupiscence entails purifying the heart and practicing the virtue of temperance” (CCCC 527).

This struggle to keep out all uncleanness begins with our external senses and the imagination and memory. That’s why Our Lord says, “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

St Teresa calls the imagination “the madwoman of the house.” We are not saying that we should suppress it, but we should guide it and manage it properly. They are meant to lead us to God. The imagination feeds our emotions and feelings, as well as our thoughts and desires. When left to itself, the imagination will lead us to sin against the ninth commandment, which “forbids cultivating thoughts and desires connected to actions forbidden by the sixth commandment” (CCCC 528).

St Teresa calls the imagination “the madwoman of the house.”

But how can we keep our hearts pure?

“In the battle against disordered desires the baptized person is able, by the grace of God, to achieve purity of heart through the virtue and gift of chastity, through purity of intention, purity of vision (both exterior and interior), discipline of the imagination and of feelings and by prayer” (CCCC 529).

The grace of God is given to us in the sacraments, especially in the Holy Eucharist and Sacramental Confession. Anyone wishing to keep his heart pure and focused on God must make a sincere and contrite confession and receive Holy Communion as frequently as possible.

What else do we need to keep our hearts pure?

Purity requires modesty which, while protecting the intimate center of the person, expresses the sensitivity of chastity. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their communion. Purity frees one from wide-spread eroticism and avoids those things which foster morbid curiosity. Purity also requires a purification of the social climate by means of a constant struggle against moral permissiveness which is founded on an erroneous conception of human freedom” (CCCC 530).

In one of his General Audiences (22 June 2016), Pope Francis said, “Let us think about ourselves, about our miseries – everyone has their own. Let us think sincerely. How often do we cover them up with the hypocrisy of ‘good manners!’ At these times we need to be alone, to kneel before God and to pray: ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean!’ (Matthew 8:2) And do this, before you retire to bed, every evening. Let us now say this beautiful prayer together: ‘Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.’”

One more time: “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.”