The Christmas Blessing of Purity of Heart
By: Robert McNamara, Franciscan University
In Advent we await the birth of the Saviour. We await the birth of a baby who is the Saviour. The idea of a baby brings before us thoughts of innocence and purity, but even more so, the idea of a baby who is the Saviour brings before us thoughts of sheer innocence and perfect purity. Innocence means being untainted by evil; the innocent is one who knows not the evil of sin. Purity means having a transparent heart, a heart that is not clouded over by evil but is turned toward the true good and in a true way. Such a heart is clear of all that pollutes love, such a heart sees the world in a true way and is bright with the presence of a love the knows the true good. Unpolluted by the disposition to grasp from the world, the pure of heart receive the good gift of the world as it pours forth from the Father who is Love and cooperates with His loving intent. In this way, the pure of heart live in the presence of the Love of the Father and are innocent of the evil of sin.
Of course, we recognise immediately that such purity is beyond our natural capability. Such purity is too high for a fallen humanity. A humanity that has experienced the fracture of original sin and is constitutionally disposed to personal sin cannot attain to this purity of heart. This leaves us with an apparently insoluble problem. On the one hand, we recognise the need to see the world truly as it is from the depth of a pure heart, to see and love each human person as they truly deserve, simply, to be lovers and beloveds. Yet, on the other hand, we find ourselves incapable of rising interiorly to see and love the human person in this way. To love the other in this personal way is to affirm his true good; first, by recognising the great good of the human individual, then, by being deeply moved by this personal goodness, and, finally, by striving to confirm this person in goodness by seeking his true good. We want this kind of personal love, we want to be lovers and beloveds in this very way. And yet, we find ourselves incapable of doing so, at least properly and consistently. We need help. We need a Saviour.
The Saviour comes in the form of a baby, one who is innocent and pure, vulnerable and dependent. This baby is divine Love incarnate, the centre of a radiant love that flows from the luminous depth of divine life. And yet, He comes to us in the form of a human baby entrusted to the love of ordinary human parents, Mary and Joseph, giving Himself over to their everyday human care. He comes into a simple rural community and loves in a humble child-like way. In this way, the child Jesus is not merely the centre and source of a radiant and pure divine love, but He also seeks to be loved in an ordinary human way, and precisely in everything that comes along with the radical dependence of being a human child. In the same way, He entrusts Himself to our ordinary human love, as a child, seeking our love and care while similarly bestowing His tender child-like love upon us. The child Jesus is the very epitome of innocence and purity, and it is in responding to this divine gift that our own hearts are purified of the evil that ensnares them.
Throughout Advent we await the coming presence of the birth of our Saviour while our hearts grow and deepen in hope-filled expectation of the child to be born. At Christmas we take the child Jesus into our arms and experience the intimate presence of divine Love incarnated as a human child. In the presence of the innocent and pure baby Jesus, in His child-like embrace, the human heart is purified of all that clouds and obscures the presence of divine life. The human heart is healed of its fallen disorder and returned to the kind of unpolluted purity that is transparent to divine love. The bright light of the love of God can then illuminate the dark depth of the human heart and give to the human person an expansive freedom that enables him to respond again to divine love—to be beloved of God, and to respond to Him with love from the innocence of a pure heart. In Advent we await this great gift; at Christmas we will rejoice in this gift. Ocome, o come, Emmanuel…