Tag: catholicism

Nunc Dimittis

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In ancient Israel it was believed, and rightly believed, that no one could see God and live. Thus when old Simeon saw clearly in the infant before him the person of the Deity he knew that his time on earth was at an end. Yet he responded not with fear but with gratitude, ahead of him he saw light not darkness, joy was to be his portion in eternity however much sorrow he may have experienced in time.

It was with faith and by the power of the Spirit that Simeon was enabled to see in Jesus the Logos of God. Others who saw Him did not discern it. Even Cephas and the Boanerges on the Mountain of Transfiguration could not discern in the shining figure before them what Simeon had seen in Mary’s child, both the glory and the Cross. It is only by grace through faith that a person can see God. There is no effort we can make by ourselves alone, no straining of our spiritual eyes, which will give us the ability to see the Holy One. There are things, like prayer and fasting, which we can do to prepare ourselves for the encounter as Simeon and Anna did, but then we must wait in patience before the Lord whose good will may be to remain hidden from us in this life.

The Christ inaugurated a new covenant, to enter which we must be born again. This means that when we see Him for who He is we must die indeed but once we have died we will come to a new life in and through Him. Saul of Tarsus after his epiphany on the way to Damascus was buried in sightless darkness for three days, like his Master in the Holy Sepulchre he neither ate nor drank in all that time. Then the scales fell from his eyes and he could declare ‘And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.’ St John of Patmos saw the vision of a man-
The hair of his head was as white as white wool or as snow, and his eyes were like a fiery flame.
His feet were like polished brass refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing water.
In his right hand he held seven stars.
A sharp two-edged sword came out of his mouth, and his face shone like the sun at its brightes
t.’
In response the Saint ‘fell down at his feet as though dead.’ But he was brought back from death by the Alpha and the Omega “then he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not.” 

This cycle of vision, death and rebirth was not a phenomenon only of the biblical times but is an inheritance of the Church’s saints and will be until the end. St Catherine of Siena, for example, effectively buried herself in the tomb of her cell in the Benincasa household for three years before emerging to begin her public apostolate.  She thereby illustrated an important point. No Christian receives a vision of God (or of the Virgin) for themselves only. We are members of one another and the gifts we are given are for the benefit of the whole body. Even if called to the hermitage or the cloister the impetus that a grace-filled vision provides is for building up the house of God through prayer and contemplation or through prayer and active service not through private enjoyment.

Yet however active our life might be, however deeply we are immersed in the activities and needs of the Church-in-the-world, we are never of the world. Visionaries in particular retain a nostalgia for the transcendent throughout all their time in the mundane. A part of them did, in fact, fully and finally die to this life when they saw and understood Him for the first time. That part ever longs to return to Him and to be with Him forever. With Solomon it sings-
O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is oil poured out;
therefore the virgins love you.’

This mystical nostalgia always enjoys the final victory. The desire for the world and the things of the world is gradually slain, the flesh is conquered, the spirit reigns supreme. And in the end God calls His saint home. What seems like a final defeat to the worldly who observe it is, in truth final victory because Jesus triumphs through death.

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Christian Mysticism & the Incarnation

Simone dei Crocifissi Christ on the Cross with the Virgin the Magdalen and St John

Plotinus, a Neoplatonist philosopher, spoke for many different religious and philosophical belief systems when he described the vocation of the mystic as-
The flight of the alone to the Alone.
By which is meant the journey of an individual, particularly the spirit or mind (broadly defined) of that individual, towards God or the universal ground of being or the primordial Buddha nature or whatever label particular traditions apply to their goal. If successful this process culminates in a Union of Man (male or female) with God.

If most mystical traditions propose a pilgrimage from, as it were, Earth to Heaven Christianity with its doctrine of Incarnation reverses the direction of travel and offers a Union of Man with God achieved through the conception of the Logos of God in the womb of Mary. This Union grows and develops from its human side throughout the life of Jesus but is always supremely perfect in its Divine aspect. Christianity further proposes that what Jesus achieved by nature His followers can also achieve by Grace through participation.

Christian mystical tradition looks in particular at three exemplars of perfect Union with the Divine. The Blessed Virgin who achieved perfection primarily through reflection, as a mirror of the Blessed Trinity. St Mary Magdalene whose primary path was intense devotional love of the person of Jesus (what Hindus might call Bhakti Yoga.) And the Apostle St John who primarily achieved Union through direct intellectual apprehension or noetic wisdom (Jnana Yoga.) In this context ‘primary‘ does not mean exclusive, each of the three shared to a degree the approaches of the others but one particular way predominated for them. It is no coincidence that each of these persons was intimately involved in the drama of Christ’s Crucifixion, a point to which I shall return.

It would, however, be too simplistic to suggest that non-Christian mysticism is about Man’s journey to God while Christian mysticism is about His journey to us. All the great mystical traditions affirm that, in this life at any rate, the ultimate destination is the same as the original starting point. That is, because God indwells each one of us we are already in a state of Union with Him. The pilgrimage to enlightenment is a process of stripping away the veils which prevent us from realising (making real) an already existing truth. This idea has been illustrated in numerous texts, perhaps most strikingly in the classic Sufi work ‘The Conference of the Birds.

Christianity does not deny this truth, once again though the Incarnation makes a crucial difference as to how we perceive it. In the other traditions His Spirit unites to our spirit and our liberation consists in us becoming all spirit and only spirit (or Mind) and leaving everything material behind. For Christians flesh as well as spirit has been divinised because the Logos became the Son of Mary as well as the Son of the Father. This means that the Union with God which we must realise involves the whole of who we are, our bodies, our emotions, our hunger, thirst, cold and tiredness as well as our spirit because God Himself by nature through Jesus is united to these things. If we by grace participate in what He by nature is then we cannot take flight from any part of ourselves, except sin.

A key illustration of the significance this has for mysticism is to be found in the phenomenon of suffering. The Divinity as Divinity, or ground of being or Buddha nature or whatever cannot suffer. Therefore in the path to realising the Union with God suffering is a thing to be bypassed or left behind or somehow destroyed. Yet the supreme moment of most perfect Union which the Blessed Virgin, the Magdalene and the Evangelist achieved with God was precisely during those hours they spent at the foot of the Cross fully entering into the agony and death of Jesus. It was there, where Christ experienced extreme suffering and death that His Union with Man arrived at its total consummation, perfection and completion.

In order to be fully united with God it is not necessary that the mystic herself experiences suffering; it is necessary though that God goes through that experience. This is because the capacity to suffer and the certainty of death are not incidental to our human nature, they are a part of its essence. Union consists of a fusion between our essence and His essence and without a God who suffers and dies such a Union is necessarily incomplete and imperfect. The Incarnation, then, may be characterised as a flight of the Alone to the alone (there are theological grounds to quibble about the word ‘alone’ in this context but that would require more space than I have here.) It is precisely this flight which opens the possibility of the fullness of Union and it is precisely those who, through Grace, most closely identify with the suffering Christ that can enter into it.

The paradoxical elements of mysticism, that it involves a journey to a point at an infinite distance from ourselves and that everything we require is already fully present within us, are resolved through the self-emptying of the Son. He it is who makes the infinite journey, and He it is, dwelling within us, who has already plumbed the depths and scaled the heights of all that it essentially means to be a fully human person. The task of the Christian mystic is simply to make real our ‘Yes‘ to Jesus.
@stevhep

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The painting, by Simone dei Crocifissi, is Christ on the Cross with the Virgin, Mary Magdalen and St John.

Mary: Strength of the Weak

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Recently I’ve been working a lot with this prayer-
O Mary, teach me to fly to you for help.
If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with Marian prayer you might prefer to use Jesus’ name. Since Our Lady is almoner to Our Lord the net spiritual effect is liable to be the same either way. However that may be, like many good prayers this one is multipurpose but for this blog I will focus on its helpfulness in relation to temptation.

Christian tradition identifies temptation as a process which goes through several distinct stages each of which is more difficult to resist than its predecessor. St John of Damascus outlines seven (count them, seven) such stages but for the sake of brevity I will use the model proposed by Hesychios of Sinai who mentions four phases-

(46) The provocation comes first, then our coupling with it, or the mingling of our thoughts with those of the wicked demons. Third comes our assent to the provocation, with both sets of intermingling thoughts contriving how to commit sin in practice. Fourth comes the concrete action–that is, the sin itself

Tradition also identifies the three great enemies within ourselves which prevent us effectively resisting temptation and these are: Ignorance, Forgetfulness and Laziness. Because of them we do not know, cannot remember or will not use the aids against temptation offered to us by the grace of God and by Holy Church. My personal experience is that Forgetfulness comes in the form of temporary amnesia. That is, before I am tempted by, and immediately after I have yielded to, sin I can remember perfectly clearly what I should do to resist it. During the actual contest with the tempter, however, it is like a thick veil has been thrown over the eyes of my mind and not only can I not see what I in fact should see clearly but I do not even look. Historically this kind of thing has been attributed to the work of demons, today we may say it is the effect of our unconscious Id baffling our conscious Ego. For all practical purposes it is a distinction without a difference.

It is because of this ‘forgetfulness’ of mine (which might also be laziness) that the ‘teach me‘ part of the prayer is so important. You may think that it is a tad redundant since I am asking to be taught something which I have evidently already learned. There is, however, a huge difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing about.’ The latter form is simply a bunch of words which exist in the conscious part of my mind and which I have access to, if forgetfulness or laziness don’t prevent me, the former is to all intents and purposes an integral part of myself gained through both experience and thought. I ‘know’ my parents and so they are always with me, although they have died, I ‘know about’ my cousins in Colorado but I seldom think of them, although they are alive. I therefore ask the Blessed Virgin through both her teaching office and her maternal role to truly make me know that I can and must turn to her in times of trial. In this way the demons of Forgetfulness and Laziness can be slain.

The words ‘to fly‘ are crucial because the earlier in the temptative process we seek help the more chance we have of success. The provocation essentially proceeds from a source external to us. An image or idea suddenly pops into our minds from we know not where, again we can nominate either demons or the unconscious for blame. Although we are aware of it our awareness has not produced it. At this point temptation is at its weakest and most vulnerable. Weak as it is though we are weaker still and can only defeat it if we immediately run for help to the one source who can help us, Almighty God, and He often chooses to act through spiritual agents like Angels, Saints, our mother the Church, and above all the Blessed Virgin Mary.

If Forgetfulness or Laziness intervene at this point we will engage with the idea or image, perhaps fantasising about it or working out how to carry it into effect. All is not yet lost because we have not given consent. If at this point the veil falls away we can rush to Mary and seek her help. Although the struggle and effort will be harder and last for longer than if we had acted immediately nonetheless by the grace of God it can still end with the head of the serpent being trampled underfoot.

What, concretely, does flight to Mary entail? Well, if, for example, we have reached stage three and given our assent to the provocation but our conscience has kicked in before acting upon our intention we can take ourselves urgently to prayer. We may use whatever words come to mind and most suit our current need. Or, being Catholic, we may more likely turn to prayers we have often used and are familiar with. The Sub tuum praesidium is a handy emergency prayer- “WE fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.” The desperate straits we find ourselves in will impel us, no matter how often we have spoken such prayers before, to say them with great urgency, or as the English might phrase it ‘put some Oomph into them.’ Also or additionally we can turn our eyes to an image of the Virgin and in gazing upon her be reminded of all that she is and represents, this too may draw us back from the brink. And, of course, if we have a rosary to hand (as we should) we can take that up and immerse ourselves in the Mysteries, particularly in the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the help that Mary can provide us with? A great deal, and that at every stage. If it should happen that we have fallen and feel a desire to rise again then we should fly to her every bit as urgently as we should have done before we fell. Our Lady is Mediatrix of All Graces, the healing balm of the Holy Spirit flows through her hands and can descend into us if we invoke her aid. Less obviously but no less potently she enables us to not just ‘know about’ her but to actually know her as Mother, Friend, Sister, Fellow Pilgrim. Which means we can make her a part of ourselves, she lives in our mind and heart at all times whether she be present or absent. And from her strength we can draw as from an inexhaustible resource. Her virtue can become our virtue, her patience in times of trial our patience and above all her love of Jesus can become our love of Jesus than which there can be no surer  foundation.
@stevhep

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The picture is the Toulouse Schutzmantel a 15th century painting “Pope and king, clergy and laity, rich and poor gather under Mary’s mantle. An angel tries to shoot arrows of justice at the crowd, but they break on her mantle.” 

 

Imageless Prayer

Divine Mercy by Eugeniusz Kazimirowski

 

The 4th century Christian monk and mystic Evagrios the Solitary wrote-
The divine splendour only appears to the intellect during prayer, when the intellect is free from conceptions of sensory objects
Does this contradict or complement the idea of using images in prayer, about which I recently blogged? It is, I think, one of these things like ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom‘ (Sirach 1:16) and ‘perfect love casteth out fear‘ (1 John 4:18) where we need to bear in mind that the Christian life is a pilgrimage, a process of transformation, not a single conversion event where everything becomes fully clear and wholly resolved in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye.

The insight of Julian of Norwich “to focus on the goodness of God is the highest form of prayer” helps us to understand something about this pilgrimage as it relates to how we could or should pray. God in His essence is goodness itself, He manifests that goodness throughout His whole creation and He incarnates that goodness in the person of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully Man.

It is through His incarnated life that this goodness is most easily accessible to, and understandable by, us. Therefore it is with our eyes on Jesus that most of us, when led by grace to pray, will begin. This is illustrated by the saint of Lisieux who chose for her name in religion Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Her prayer life began because her heart was drawn to the Divinity who made Himself a tiny vulnerable infant, protected only by the loving arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also by the suffering Christ whose image was preserved during His Way of the Cross by St Veronica.

Jesus did all things well because of His hidden inner Divinity and perfect goodness. Sometimes our eyes will be drawn beyond His outward actions to His inward Sacred Heart, the source from which everything He did flowed. This is illustrated by, for example, St Faustina who’s vision of the Divine Mercy which pours out from Him to us always invites us to a form of prayer based more upon who He is than upon what He has done during His earthly mission.

Behind God who acts in His creation is God as He is in Himself, that is, His essence. He dwells in inaccessible light, a light so bright that it appears to us as darkness. He has no shape, or form, or structure that we can grasp with our minds and envisage. All we can do is empty ourselves of ourselves and wait for Him, if He so wills, to imprint His imageless image on our minds. The challenge we face, as philosopher Simone Weil put it, is that ‘The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass’ Our limited, physical brains abhor a vacuum and when nothing real exists to fill it will make stuff up (or permit demons to do so in the traditional formulation) and try to pass it off as being God. ‘The imagination, filler up of the void, is essentially a liar

So, to practice the form of prayer described by Evagrios we must, again in Professor Weil’s words, ‘continually suspend the work of the imagination filling the void within ourselves.’ This is an incredibly difficult task and only an extraordinary grace united to a very particular ascetic religious life has any chance of succeeding. Which is to say that this kind of contemplative prayer may be objectively superior to all other forms of prayer, in that it draws a person into the internal life of the Blessed Trinity, but it does not at all follow that this is the kind of prayer which all Christians are called upon to perform. Focussing upon the goodness of God in the way which best suits our talents and most fully responds to the particular individual vocation we have received from the Spirit is the best form of prayer for us. To aspire to forms of prayer to which we are not suited is as great an error in its way as to refuse to accept a way of prayer when grace opens a path for us into it.

Even if we believe ourselves to be drawn to contemplative, mystical prayer it is important not to confuse the end with the beginning. That is, we must start with what, or rather Whom, we know which is Jesus Christ and Him Crucified. If He wishes to draw us beyond gazing upon His Passion and His Five Sacred Wounds then He shall but we cannot decide for ourselves that such devotion is for little people and we ourselves are too grand for it. God has a preference for little people, for the foolish, for the humble. Before we can be great we must be small, before we can fly we must lie at the foot of the Cross, before we can see the ‘Divine Splendour’ we must adore the Son of Mary in His humanity as much as in His Divinity.
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The painting is Divine Mercy by  Eugeniusz Kazimirowski

Jerusalem Allegorical

the doors of moria detail by jeshannon

The walls of Jerusalem are in ruins
And its gates have been burnt down
(Nehemiah 1:3)
The verse literally refers to a time of exile when most Jews had been deported to Babylon while the Holy Land was left, to their minds, desolate. Allegorically though it can be read as a reflection on the near universal human condition. Jerusalem stands for that citadel which is our inmost self and where we keep a guest room more or less fit to receive the Holy Spirit. The walls are our defences against outward attack and the gates are the entrances and exits over which we should be able to exercise control. For most of us most of the time we are in exile from ourselves, our guest room is unfitted for its intended purpose, our defences are easily overthrown and we willingly engage in commerce which we would do better to shut out of our lives.

In what sense can we speak of an inmost self? Buddhists, who engage themselves in the task of entirely disproving the existence of a self as such, frequently resort to the evidence provided by our capacity to observe the transient nature of everything within the internal realm of our bodies and minds. It is true, that which we can observe is transient, that which does the observing, however, is the inmost self. It is the platform from which we view objects, persons, our own existence and God, our Creator. Or, at any rate, it is the platform upon which we should take our stance but too often we allow it to be overwhelmed by the passions and desires of the moment. We exile ourselves from the peaceful haven of stillness not by being busy per se but through accepting the business on which we are engaged at, as it were, its own valuation of itself. That is, a film on Netflix or an urgent piece of work or a demanding portion of chocolate cake insist that they are the most important thing in our lives at this moment and demand our full attention and energy. When they have finished with us they pass us along to the next damn thing and so we are hustled from urge to urge, action to action and our inmost self knows us no more and we do not know her.

Our walls should be the psychological and physical barriers we erect to keep out this endless onslaught of distractions, worries and irrelevancies. The good habits we form, the company we keep, the acts of will which we make, renew and adhere to day by day. This is not only a difficult work of construction but a trying and sometimes tedious business of maintenance. It is easier to allow a breach to be made than it is to repair it afterwards, and the repaired section may have been permanently weakened. We can say that these walls are thoroughly ruined if our daily experience of life consists of total exile from the citadel of our inmost self because we are so totally absorbed by the transient and earthly without giving thought to the eternal or the transcendent. After the second Temple was destroyed Jews were allowed back into Jerusalem one day a year so that they could mourn and weep over the ruins. Our own occasional (very occasional) remembrances of that most real, most vital part of our inward existence resembles these annual days of grief.

Even the most unsociable of humans (meaning, of course, me) are designed by our Maker to be creatures of relationship. By which I mean that it is intrinsic and necessary to our nature to both give and receive love. Therefore our walls, when we have them, require gates. Through these flow our relationships with the objects of our love and their relationships with us. Through them too flows the necessities of everyday life, work, leisure, trade. Yet they have the potential to close as well as to open and if we will it to be so they can remain, like the doors of Moria, shut to anyone or anything unable to say ‘friend’ in the language of peace and love. All too often though the fires of lust and desire which burn within us destroy these gates and they are left open so that even the most hostile of persons, ideas or things can enter into the heart of our city to freely indulge their passion for destruction.

Although it is at its best and most suitable in the midst of the citadel our guest room has, by the grace of God, one quality most necessary to our fallen nature. It can travel with us into exile. Which is to say that wherever we are in life’s journey, however much we have become alienated from our inmost self, we still retain the ability to turn, to experience conversion of mind and heart and to invite the Blessed Holy Spirit to visit us at this present moment. However shabby and dilapidated that room has become He will not disdain to enter it if we sincerely invite Him. When He comes He can make all things new. It may be a long and sorrowful journey back to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of walls, gates, citadel and Temple may be the painful work of decades. Yet He will be with us, His rod and His staff will comfort us, surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
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The painting is a detail from The Doors of Moria by Jeshannon

Of Empty Crosses & Crucifixes

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Catholics, generally speaking, are happy to use either empty crosses or crosses which have on them an image of the crucified Christ (a corpus) known as crucifixes. Those Protestants who have had their ideas formed to a significant degree by Calvinism tend to reject absolutely the use of crucifixes. Some evangelicals say, with what might be interpreted as malicious smugness, that they use empty crosses ‘because my Christ has risen from the dead.’

Is this one of these seemingly trivial sectarian differences that give unnecessary scandal to the world or is there something substantive at stake here? (I use the word ‘stake’ in its non ‘burnt-at-the’ sense.) Probably a bit of both really, the differences lie at a profound level of belief and it is good to be clear about what these are but the issue is not important enough to warrant bitter polemics or violent destruction.

The first point I’d make is more practical than theological. Insofar as these objects are used for purposes of devotion rather than as items of jewellery a crucifix works with the grain of the human mind. By contrast an empty cross runs the apparently paradoxical risk of encouraging what Aristotle would call excess and/or defect. That is, unless you are a hardcore ascetic the starkness of a bare cross will starve your mind of material with which to work or else it encourages your imagination to run riot and project all kinds of fantastic images onto the shape in front of you. A crucifix makes it easier for the mind to focus immediately and to stay focussed on the object of contemplation which is Christ and Him Crucified.

It is certainly possible to contemplate an austerely empty cross with great profit or to fritter away time spent in front of a crucifix. It is just, on average, easier for most people to pray appropriately in front of the latter than the former. I suspect fear of idolatry is at work in the Calvinists here, that people will end up worshipping the object itself rather than the thing which it represents. Again my response is practical rather than theological. If such a thing was going to happen it would have happened by now and if it hasn’t then it isn’t going to.

A second and more palpably theological point is that the Redemption was won for us not by Christ’s resurrection but by His death, specifically His execution as an innocent man condemned to a criminal’s death by hanging from a tree. If it was the Resurrection we wished to recall our symbol would be the empty tomb not the empty Cross. Certainly the Cross as such calls to mind that Divine sacrifice but more as an abstraction, as an event which is passed and done with. Yet it is not so, we crucify Him anew with every sin we commit. The corpus brings to mind not only the historical occasion it commemorates but our own living involvement in this drama which has not yet ended.

Related to this is a third point, namely that the Cross is not simply about Him, it is also about us in relation to Him. In contemplating the crucifix we see the nails we have driven, and are driving still, into His hands and feet. We see the wound we have made in His sacred heart. We see too the Crown of Thorns we have driven into His skull causing His sight of us to be obscured by the Precious Blood which we have shed. The corpus draws us into a truth about ourselves, we are sinners, we have made the innocent suffer and we will continue to do so unless we be converted, repent and accept that poor battered man hanging before our eyes into our hearts as our Guide, Teacher and Master.

The final point I would mention is about total love and total abandonment. The greatest possible distance in the universe is that between God in heaven and a man wholly forsaken by God dying the shameful and agonising death of a criminal. Only the greatest possible love can form a bridge over that greatest possible distance. The image of Christ Crucified is not that of mere anguish or mere death. It is an image of love at its highest possible point, it’s most perfect expression.

So to that (possibly) smug evangelical I would say ‘my Christ has risen too, it is His love for us which I remember most of all.’ The love stronger than death is what we see on a crucifix. It is for us to make it not simply an object for contemplation but also a mirror through which we are transformed into the likeness of Him whom we behold hanging there.
@stevhep

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The picture is a Tabernacle with Crucifixion Scene – wood mid or third quarter 14th century Made in probably the Veneto, Italy

An Immaculate Assumption

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In the Douay Rheims version of the Gospel Our Lord’s sixth Beatitude is given as-
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God
We are perhaps more familiar with the translations which render it as ‘pure in heart.’ You may think that contrasting ‘clean of‘ with ‘pure in‘ is making a distinction without a difference; and maybe you would be right.

For me, however, it serves as a reminder that the word ‘pure‘ has come to have more than one meaning. When applied to people we usually understand it as a synonym for virtuous. In relation to other things though- pure gold, purebred- it means without admixture of elements which do not properly belong to it. ‘Clean‘ has something of the same implication, things which are alien to a body have been washed away so that it is uncontaminated by what should not be attached to it. In that sense, then, the heart which can see God is the heart which is all light having no darkness in it, the heart, that is, which resembles the pre-lapsarian human condition.

The saints while still on earth can, to a degree, see the Lord because the action of grace together with their willing cooperation has washed away much of the dust of sin which attached to their pre-conversion heart. And the more that this is so the more perfectly can they see God. Yet it can never be a completely perfect vision because the wounds inflicted by Original Sin still leave their mark on even the most exalted of the saints. And this is a wound that none of the children of humankind have ever escaped. Except one.

Immaculately conceived in the womb of St Anne the blessed Virgin Mary was free from the stain of Original Sin and, through her cooperation with the Holy Spirit of God, all the days of her life she committed no actual sin. If any heart could be said to be pure or clean it would be hers. And it was precisely this that enabled her to see the Son, the Logos of the Father, within her breast during her dialogue with St Gabriel. The Word became flesh within Our Lady because the Immaculate Heart of Mary saw Him as He was in the bosom of the Father. He took His flesh from her because she, as it were, took her heart from Him.

The Beatitude is both a description of the present and a pledge for the future. What the clean of heart see through a glass darkly now they will know in full hereafter. The vision of God enjoyed by the Theotokos in her mortal life was the fullest that could possibly be. ‘He who sees me has seen the Father’ Jesus said. Who saw Our Lord more fully or for longer than His Blessed Mother? ‘Hail, full of grace’ said the Archangel, who was more united to the Holy Spirit than the Lady who was filled to overflowing with His grace? ‘You have found favour with God’ Gabriel added, who was closer to the Father than His favoured daughter Mary?

It is an article of the Catholic faith that the fullest possible happiness we can (and hopefully will) enjoy is to be in the presence of God while we are possessed of body, soul and spirit. That is, the resurrection to eternal life is the essential condition to our total fulfillment. The joy of the saints in heaven now is but a prelude to that which will come later. Then we will see Him face to face and know Him even as we are known. It is wholly fitting then that Mary, who because of her cleanness of heart saw God with the greatest possible clarity in this life, should become the first of us to see Him with the greatest possible clarity in the life to come.

To that end therefore ‘ the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory‘ (Munificentissimus Deus) We rejoice with Our Lady because we have joy that one whom we love so much and whom God loves infinitely is experiencing that total blessing which her Immaculate Heart leads her to. We are glad too because we have hope that Mary is now what we shall become later. And we have faith that it will the more likely be so because the Blessed Virgin intercedes on our behalf to make it so the more ardently we unite ourselves to her in prayer and petition. And so we have these three, faith hope and love and of the three love is the greatest. Rejoice and be glad Immaculate Mother, we your children love you now and forever!
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The painting is The Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin by Fra Angelico