Blessed Are the Clean of Heart
by Fr. Peregrine Fletcher, O. Praem.
Jesus makes it clear in the beatitudes that there’s a lot riding on the state of our hearts; and with the approach of the celebrations of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart, I thought it now might be a good time to consider what’s going on in ours.
We hear a lot about the heart from the world. Many, even without a supernatural perspective, realize the great importance of what’s going on within us. The world encourages us to follow our heart, to do what our heart tells us; yet, with so many following their hearts why do countless people wind up in terrible situations and in repeated cycles of heartbrokenness?
There’s no doubt that both God and the world consider the heart to be of utmost importance. In the Scriptures, the Lord presents a very thorough picture of the heart as the very epicenter of man’s interior life: his thoughts, decisions, feelings, judgments, etc. But before ever following the heart, there are things the Lord wants us to know about it, things which the world may not like to consider. From prophecy, we learn that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Ecclesiastes teaches that “the hearts of people… are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live...” In the days of Noah, God saw that man’s “heart was only evil continually” and so sent the Deluge, the great Flood to blot out mankind and start over with Noah. In the Gospels, Jesus Himself teaches that “out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” When we follow a heart like this, there’s no wonder we find ourselves in terrible situations and in repeated cycles of heartbrokenness.
The fact of the matter is that there is sin in the heart of man, and the Psalms reveal just how deep down sin has rooted itself, saying: “sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.” Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart. What an awful conversation to occur in the epicenter of one’s thoughts, decisions, feelings, judgements —it’s a dark interior dialogue that we are all too painfully familiar with. If having a clean heart is prerequisite for seeing God, then the Evil One knows his target location, where he must root sin in order to prevent our divine destiny—a destiny which he can never have.
The Gospels confirm Satan’s plans for sabotage of the heart. In the account of Judas’ betrayal of Christ, St. Luke writes that Satan entered into Judas and “put it into his heart” to betray Jesus. Sin spoke to Judas in the depths of his heart and turned it from the Lord; a fate all the forces of evil want for each of us. For from within man, sin can spoil our supernatural destiny for seeing God—sin can even reverse God’s plan for us, so in the end we don’t see God, but only Satan.
My brothers and sisters, there is indeed something very sobering in the scriptural perspective on the heart, but while necessary to understand, it’s not all the Lord has to say—it’s not where the story ends. For the Psalms proclaim that the Lord Himself “fashioned the heart”—it’s His territory. And though sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of the heart, there is another conversation which is happening there of greater importance—another word spoken by most welcome friend. St. Paul writes that “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So while sin speaks, the Spirit cries, and His word of choice is the most beautiful name “Father.” In your heart, that most beautiful name echoes and resounds through all the tortuous chambers once burdened by the dark conversation of sin speaking there.
So now the Spirit speaks and the Spirit sows; and what does such a Spirit sow in the heart, but the fruits for which He is so renown: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” The heart, once so full of sin, now overflows with the Holy Spirit. This is the overflowing Spirit which Jesus promised, saying that, for him who believes, “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” The greatest rivers on the earth would blush at the sight of such a river sourced from a clean human heart.
Furthermore, this powerful water from the depths of man’s heart drowns out that awful the conversation begun by sin. God, who once was so disappointed in the sinful heart of man and sent a destroying flood, now sources from man’s very heart another Deluge, another flood—“water welling up to eternal life” says the Savior. If from the heart of every person this river flowed, sin would indeed be forever undone on the Earth; and one day it will be.
So yes, there’s so much riding on the state of our hearts. With sin speaking from the depths, the heart is not worth following. But with the Holy Spirit there, with the water pouring which Jesus promised would well up to eternal life, the heart is finally worth following, because it leads to God Himself. Blessed are the clean of heart indeed, for they shall see God.
The name “Martha” is a Greek translation of an Aramaic word meaning “the Lady”—which is the feminine form of their word for “the Master”—but the Church doesn’t elevate saints to its calendar merely because they have an impressive name—so we look elsewhere.
Moses went up Mount Sinai to speak with God. When he came down the mountain, his face was brilliant, literally shining. It was so dazzling, in fact, that when the Israelites saw it, they were so terrified, that Moses had to veil his face.
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