For They Shall See God
Jesus Christ is our model, the model for every Christian. You are well aware of this because you have heard it and reflected on it so often. You have also taught this to many people in the course of your apostolate of friendship (true friendship, with a divine meaning) which by now has become a part of you. And you have recalled this fact, when necessary, when using the wonderful means of fraternal correction, so that the person who was listening to you might compare his behaviour with that of our first born Brother, the Son of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother also.
Jesus is the model for us. He himself has told us so: discite a me, learn from me. Today I want to talk to you about a virtue which, while it is neither the only virtue, nor the most important one, nevertheless operates in a Christian's life like salt, preserving it from corruption; it is also the touchstone of the apostolic soul. The virtue is holy purity.
We know full well that theological charity is the highest virtue. But chastity is a means sine qua non, an indispensable condition if we are to establish an intimate dialogue with God. When people do not keep to it, when they give up the fight, they end up becoming blind. They can no longer see anything, because 'the animal man cannot perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God'.
We, however, wish to look through unclouded eyes, encouraged as we are by Our Lord's teaching: 'Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.' The Church has always understood these words as an invitation to chastity. As St John Chrysostom writes, 'Those who love chastity, whose consciences are completely clear, keep their hearts pure. No other virtue is so necessary in order to see God.'
During the course of his life on earth, Jesus, Our Lord, had all manner of insults heaped upon him and was mistreated in every way possible. Remember the way it was rumoured that he was a trouble-maker and how he was said to be possessed? At other times, demonstrations of his infinite Love were deliberately misinterpreted, and he was accused of being a friend of sinners.
Later on he, who personified penance and moderation, was accused of haunting the tables of the rich. He was also contemptuously referred to as fabri filius, the carpenter's son, the worker's son, as if this were an insult. He allowed himself to be denounced as a glutton and a drunkard… He let his enemies accuse him of everything, except that he was not chaste. On this point he sealed their lips, because he wanted us to keep a vivid memory of his immaculate example: a wonderful example of purity, of cleanness, of light, of a love that can set the whole world on fire in order to purify it.
For myself, I always like to consider holy purity in the light of Our Lord's own behaviour. In practising this virtue, what refinement he showed! See what St John says about Jesus when fatigatus ex itinere, sedebat sic supra fontem, wearied as he was from the journey, he was sitting by the well.
Recollect yourselves and go over the scene again slowly in your minds. Jesus Christ, perfectus Deus, perfectus homo, is tired out from his travels and his apostolic work. Perhaps there have been times when the same thing has happened to you and you have ended up worn out, because you have reached the limit of your resources. It is a touching sight to see our Master so exhausted. He is hungry too — his disciples have gone to a neighbouring village to look for food. And he is thirsty.
But tired though his body is, his thirst for souls is even greater. So, when the Samaritan woman, the sinner, arrives, Christ with his priestly heart turns eagerly to save the lost sheep, and he forgets his tiredness, his hunger and his thirst.
Our Lord was busy with this great work of charity when the apostles came back from the village, and they mirabantur quia cum muliere loquebatur, they were astonished to find him talking to a woman, alone. How careful he was! What love he had for the beautiful virtue of holy purity, that virtue which helps us to be stronger, manlier, more fruitful, better able to work for God, and more capable of undertaking great things!
'For this is the will of God, your sanctification… Let every one of you learn how to make use of his body in holiness and honour, not yielding to the promptings of passion, as the heathen do, who do not know God.' We belong to God completely, soul and body, flesh and bones, all our senses and faculties. Ask him, confidently: Jesus, guard our hearts! Make them big and strong and tender, hearts that are affectionate and refined, overflowing with love for you and ready to serve all mankind.
Our bodies are holy. They are temples of God, says St Paul. This cry of the apostle brings to mind the universal call to holiness which Our Lord addresses to all men: estote vos perfecti sicut et Pater vester caelestis perfectus est. Our Lord asks everyone, without distinction of any kind, to cooperate with his grace. He demands that each of us, in accordance with his particular state in life, should put into practice the virtues proper to the children of God.
Thus, when I remind you now that Christians must keep perfect chastity, I am referring to everyone: to the unmarried, who must practise complete continence; and to those who are married, who practise chastity by fulfilling the duties of their state in life.
If one has the spirit of God, chastity is not a troublesome and humiliating burden, but a joyful affirmation. Will power, dominion, self-mastery do not come from the flesh or from instinct. They come from the will, especially if it is united to the Will of God. In order to be chaste (and not merely continent or decent) we must subject our passions to reason, but for a noble motive, namely, the promptings of Love.
I think of this virtue as the wings which enable us to carry God's teaching, his commandments, to every environment on this earth, without fear of getting contaminated in the process. Wings, even in the case of those majestic birds which soar higher than the clouds, are a burden and a heavy one. But without wings, there is no way of flying. I want you to grasp this idea clearly, and to decide not to give in when you feel the sting of temptation, with its suggestion that purity is an unbearable burden. Take heart! Fly upwards, up to the sun, in pursuit of Love!
It has always made me very sorry to hear some teachers (so many alas!) going on and on about the dangers of impurity. The result, as I have been able to verify in quite a few souls, is the opposite of what was intended, for it's a sticky subject, stickier than tar, and it deforms people's consciences with all kinds of fears and complexes, so that they come to imagine that the obstacles in the way of attaining purity of soul are almost insurmountable. This is not our way. Our approach to holy purity must be healthy and positive, and expressed in modest and clear language.
To discuss purity is really to talk about Love. I have just pointed out to you that I find it helpful in this regard to have recourse to the most holy Humanity of Our Lord, that indescribable marvel where God humbles himself to the point of becoming man, and in doing so does not feel degraded for having taken on flesh like ours, with all its limitations and weaknesses, sin alone excepted. He does all this because he loves us to distraction! He does not in fact lower himself when he empties himself. On the contrary, he raises us up and deifies us in body and soul. The virtue of chastity is simply to say Yes to his Love, with an affection that is clear, ardent and properly ordered.
We must proclaim this loud and clear to the whole world, by our words and by the witness of our lives: 'Let us not poison our hearts as if we were miserable beasts governed by our lower instincts!' A Christian writer once expressed it thus: 'Consider that man's heart is no small thing, for it can embrace so much. Do not measure its greatness by its physical dimensions, but by the power of its thought, whereby it is able to attain the knowledge of so many truths. In the heart it is possible to prepare the way of the Lord, to lay out a straight path where the Word and the Wisdom of God may pass. With your honourable conduct and your irreproachable deeds, prepare the Lord's way, smooth out his path so that the Word of God may act in you without hindrance and give you the knowledge of his mysteries and of his coming.'
Holy Scripture reveals to us that the great work of our sanctification, which is accomplished in a marvellous hidden manner by the Paraclete, takes place in both the soul and the body. 'Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?' cries the Apostle, 'Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot?… Or do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in you, whom you have received from God, and that you are no longer your own? For you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God and bear him in your bodies.'
There are people who smile when they hear chastity mentioned. Theirs is a joyless and dead smile, the product of a sick mind. And they tell you: 'Hardly anyone believes in that any more!' One of the things I used to say to the young men who accompanied me when I used to go, so very many years ago, to the slums and hospitals on the outskirts of Madrid was: 'As you know, there is a mineral kingdom; then, on a higher plane, a vegetable kingdom, where we find life as well as existence. Higher still there is the animal kingdom, comprised of beings endowed, for the most part, with sensitivity and movement.'
Then I would explain to them, in a manner that may not have been very scientific, although it made the point, that we ought to establish another kingdom, the hominal kingdom, made up of human beings. This is because rational creatures possess a wonderful intelligence, a spark of the Divine Wisdom which enables them to reason on their own. And they also have the marvellous gift of freedom whereby they can accept or reject one thing or another, as they see fit.
Now in this kingdom of human beings (I would tell them, drawing on the experience gained from all my priestly work) for normal people, sex comes in fourth or fifth place. First come spiritual ideals, with each person choosing his own. Next, a whole series of matters that concern ordinary men and women: their father and mother, home, children and so on. After that, one's job or profession. Only then, in fourth or fifth place, does the sexual impulse come in.
For this reason, whenever I have met people who make sex the central topic of their conversation and interests, I have felt they were abnormal, wretched people, even sick perhaps. And I would add (and the young people to whom I was speaking would burst out laughing at this point) that these poor things made me feel as much pity as would the sight of a deformed child with a big, enormous head, one yard round. They are unhappy individuals. For our part, besides praying for them, we should feel a brotherly compassion for them because we want them to be cured of their pitiful illness. But what is quite clear is that they are in no way more manly or womanly than people who don't go around obsessed with sex.
We are all of us subject to passions, and we all come up against the same sort of difficulties, no matter how old we are. That is why we have to fight. Remember what St Paul wrote: datus est mihi stimulus carnis meae, angelus Satanae, qui me colaphizet, he was given a sting for his flesh, which was like an angel of Satan, to buffet him, otherwise he would have become proud.
It is not possible to lead a clean life without God's assistance. He wants us to be humble and to ask for his aid. At this very moment, you should trustingly beg Our Lady, as you accompany her in the solitude of your heart, without saying anything out loud: 'Mother, this poor heart of mine rebels so foolishly… If you don't protect me…' And she will help you to keep it pure and to follow the way to which God has called you.
Be humble, very humble, my children. Let us learn to be humble. We need prudence to protect our Love. We must keep a careful watch and not be overcome by fear. Many of the classical spiritual authors compare the devil to a mad dog tied down by a chain. If we don't go near him, he cannot bite us, no matter how much he barks. If you foster humility in your souls, you will certainly avoid the occasions of sin, and you will react by having the courage to run away from them. You will have daily recourse to the help that comes from Heaven, and will make lively progress along this path of true love.
Don't forget that when someone is corrupted by the concupiscence of the flesh he cannot make any spiritual progress. He cannot do good works. He is a cripple, cast aside like an old rag. Have you ever seen patients suffering from progressive paralysis and unable to help themselves or get up? Sometimes they cannot even move their heads. Well, in the supernatural order, the same thing happens to people who are not humble and have made a cowardly surrender to lust. They don't see, or hear, or understand anything. They are paralysed. They are like men gone mad. Each of us here ought to invoke Our Lord, and his Blessed Mother, and pray that he will grant us humility and a determination to avail ourselves devoutly of the divine remedy of confession. Do not let even the smallest focal point of corruption take root in your souls, no matter how tiny it may be. Speak out. When water flows, it stays clean; blocked up, it becomes a stagnant pool full of repugnant filth. What was once drinking water becomes a breeding-ground for insects.
You know as well as I do that chastity is possible and that it is a great source of joy. You also realise that now and then it requires a little bit of struggle. Let us listen again to St Paul: 'For I am delighted with the law of God according to the inner man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and making me prisoner to the law of sin that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?' Cry out yourself more than he, if you have to, although without exaggerating. Sufficit tibi gratia mea, 'my grace is sufficient for you', is Our Lord's answer.
I have noticed at times how an athlete's eyes light up at the sight of the obstacles he has to overcome. What a victory there is in store! See how he conquers the difficulties! God Our Lord looks at us that way. He loves our struggle: we will win through always, because he will never deny us his all-powerful grace. Thus, it doesn't matter if we have to fight, because he does not abandon us.
It is a battle, but not a renunciation. We respond with a joyful affirmation, and give ourselves to him freely and cheerfully. Your conduct should not be limited to simply evading falls and occasions of sin. In no way should you let it come down to a cold and calculating negation. Are you really convinced that chastity is a virtue and that, as such, it ought to grow and become perfect? Then I insist once again that it is not enough merely to be continent according to one's state in life. We must practise, we must live chastity, even to a heroic degree. This attitude involves a positive act whereby we gladly accept God's summons when he says: Praebe, fili mi, cor tuum mihi et oculi tui vias meas custodiant, 'Son, give me your heart, and turn your gaze upon my ways of peace.'
And now I ask you, how are you facing up to this battle? You know very well that a fight which is kept up from the beginning is a fight already won. Get away from danger as soon as you are aware of the first sparks of passion, and even before. Also, speak about it at once to the person who directs your soul. Better if you talk about it beforehand, if possible, because, if you open your heart wide, you will not be defeated. One such act after another leads to the forming of a habit, an inclination, and ends up making things easy. That is why we have to struggle to make this virtue a habit, making mortification a habit so that we do not reject the Love of Loves.
Reflect on this advice of St Paul to Timothy: te ipsum castum custodi, so that we too may be ever vigilant, determined to guard this treasure that God has entrusted to us. During the course of my life, how often have I heard people exclaim: 'Oh, if only I had broken if off at the start!' They said it full of sorrow and shame.
I must remind you that you will not find happiness if you don't fulfil your Christian duties. If you were to leave them aside, you would feel terrible remorse and would be thoroughly miserable. Even the most ordinary things, which are licit and which bring a bit of happiness, would then become as bitter as gall, as sour as vinegar and as repugnant as arum.
Let each of us, myself included, put our trust in Jesus, saying to him: 'Lord, I am ready to struggle and I know that you do not lose battles. I realise too that if at times I lose, it is because I have gone away from you. Take me by the hand. Don't trust me. Don't let go of me.'
You may be thinking: 'But, Father, I am so happy! I love Jesus! Even though I am made of clay, I do want to become a saint with the help of God and his Blessed Mother!' I don't doubt you. I am only forewarning you with these words of advice just in case, just supposing a difficulty were to arise.
At the same time, I would remind you that for Christians (for you and me) our life is a life of Love. This heart of ours was born to love. But when it is not given something pure, clean and noble to love, it takes revenge and fills itself with squalor. True love of God, and consequently purity of life, is as far removed from sensuality as it is from insensitivity, and as far from sentimentality as it is from heartlessness or hard-heartedness.
It is such a pity not to have a heart. How unfortunate are those people who have never learned to love with tenderness! We Christians are in love with Love: Our Lord does not want us to be dry and rigid, like inert matter. He wants us to be saturated with his love! People who, for the sake of God, say No to a human love are not bachelors or spinsters, like those sad, unhappy, crestfallen men and women who have despised the chance of a pure and generous love.
As I have often told you, and I don't care who knows it, I have also used the words of popular songs, that almost always treat of love, to keep up my conversation with Our Lord. I like them, I really do. Our Lord has chosen me and some of you as well to belong totally to himself; so we translate the noble love expressed in human love songs into something that is divine. The Holy Spirit does this in the Song of Songs; and the great mystics of all ages have done the same.
Look at these verses of St Teresa of Avila:
'If you would have me idling
For love of you I will be idle;
But if you bid me work, my
Sole desire is to die working.
Tell me the when, the how, the where;
O sweetest love I beg of you
To say what you would have me do.'
Or that song of St John of the Cross, which begins so charmingly:
'A little shepherd boy
Is all alone and far from joy
Full of sorrow and distress
From thinking of his shepherdess
Love unrequited in his breast.'
Human love, when it is pure, fills me with immense respect and inexpressible veneration. How could we fail to appreciate the holy and noble love shared by our parents, to whom we owe a great part of our friendship with God? I bless such love with my two hands, and if anyone asks me why I say with my two hands, I reply at once: 'Because I don't have four.'
Blessed be human love! But Our Lord has asked something more of me. And, as Catholic theology clearly states, to give oneself out of love for the Kingdom of heaven to Jesus alone and, through Jesus, to all men, is a love more sublime than married love, even though marriage is a sacrament and indeed sacramentum magnum.
But, whatever the calling, the fact is that each person, in his own place, according to the vocation which God has inspired in his soul (be he single, married, widowed or priest) must strive to live chastity with great refinement, because it is a virtue for everyone. It calls on everyone to struggle, to be delicate, sensitive and strong. It calls for a degree of refinement which can only be fully appreciated when we come close to the loving Heart of Christ on the Cross. Don't worry if at times you feel threatened by temptation. One thing is to feel temptation, quite another to consent. Temptation can be rejected easily with God's help. What we must never do is to dialogue with temptation.
Let us now take a look at the resources we Christians can count on at all times to conquer in the struggle to guard our chastity; a struggle we must undertake not as angels but as women and men who are strong and healthy and normal! I have a great devotion for the angels, and I venerate this army of God with all my Heart. But I do not like comparing ourselves to them, for angels have a different nature from ours and any comparison would only confuse the issue.
Many places are affected by a general climate of sensuality which, taken together with confused ideas about doctrine, leads many people to justify all types of aberrations, or at least to show a very careless tolerance towards all kinds of depraved customs.
We must be as clean and pure as we can as far as the body is concerned and without being afraid, because sex is something noble and holy — a participation in God's creative power — which was made for marriage. And thus, pure and fearless, you will give testimony by your behaviour that it is possible and beautiful to live holy purity.
First we will strive to refine our conscience. We must go sufficiently deep, until we can be sure our conscience is well formed and we can distinguish between a delicate conscience, which is a true grace from God, and a scrupulous conscience, which is not the same.
Take very special care of chastity and also of the other virtues which accompany it: modesty and refinement.* They are as it were the safeguard of chastity. Don't take lightly those norms of conduct which help so much to keep us worthy in the sight of God: keeping a watchful guard over our senses and our heart; the courage — the courage to be a coward — to flee from the occasions of sin; going to the sacraments frequently, particularly to the sacrament of Confession; complete sincerity in our own spiritual direction; sorrow, contrition and reparation after one's falls. And all this imbued with a tender devotion to Our Lady so that she may obtain for us from God the gift of a clean and holy life.
If, alas, one falls, one must get up at once. With God's help, which will never be lacking if the proper means are used, one must seek to arrive at repentance as quickly as possible, to be humbly sincere and to make amends so that the momentary failure is transformed into a great victory for Jesus Christ.
You should also get into the habit of taking the battle to areas that are far removed from the main walls of the fortress. We cannot go about doing balancing acts on the very frontiers of evil. We have to be firm in avoiding the indirect voluntary. We must reject even the tiniest failure to love God, and we must strive to develop a regular and fruitful Christian apostolate, which will have holy purity both as a necessary foundation and also as one of its most characteristic fruits. We ought as well to fill all our time with intense and responsible work, in which we seek God's presence, because we must never forget that we have been bought at a great price and that we are temples of the Holy Spirit.
What other advice do I have for you? Well, simply to do what the Christians who have really tried to follow Christ have always done, and to use the same means employed by the first men who felt prompted to follow Jesus: developing a close relationship with Our Lord in the Eucharist, a childlike recourse to the Blessed Virgin, humility, temperance, mortification of the senses ('it is not good to look at what it is not licit to desire,' was St Gregory the Great's warning) and penance.
You might well tell me that all this is nothing but a summary of the whole Christian life. The fact is that purity, which is love, cannot be separated from the essence of our faith, which is charity, a constant falling in love with God, who created and redeemed us, and who is constantly taking us by the hand, even though time and again we may not even notice it. He cannot abandon us. 'Sion said: "The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness to the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.' Don't these words fill you with immense joy?
I like to say that there are three things that fill us with gladness in this life and which will bring us the eternal happiness of Heaven: a firm, refined, joyful and unquestioning fidelity to the faith, to the vocation that each of us has received, and to purity. The person who gets entangled in the brambles along the way (sensuality, pride, etc.) does so because he wants to and, if he doesn't change, he will be miserable all his life because he will have turned his back on Christ's Love.
As I have already said, we all have our defects. But our defects should never be a reason for us to turn away from God's Love. Rather should they lead us to cling to that Love, sheltering within his divine goodness, as the warriors of old did by climbing into their suits of armour. Our defence is the cry ecce ego, quia vocasti me, here I am, because you have called me. Just because we discover how fragile we are is no reason to run away from God. What we must do is to attack our defects, precisely because we know that God trusts us.
How shall we be able to overcome our meanness? Let me make the point again because it is so important: by being humble and by being sincere in spiritual direction and in the Sacrament of Penance. Go to those who direct your souls with your hearts open wide. Do not close your hearts, for if the dumb devil gets in, it is very difficult to get rid of him.
Forgive me for insisting on these points, but I believe it is absolutely necessary for you to have deeply impressed on your minds the fact that humility, together with its immediate consequence, sincerity; are the thread which links the other means together. These two virtues act as a foundation on which a solid victory can be built. If the dumb devil gets inside a soul, he ruins everything. On the other hand, if he is cast out immediately, everything turns out well; we are happy and life goes forward properly. Let us always be brutally sincere, but in a good mannered way.
I want one thing to be clear: I am not as worried about the heart or the flesh as I am about pride. Be humble. If ever you think you are completely and utterly right, you are not right at all. Go to spiritual direction with your soul wide open. Don't close it because, I repeat, the dumb devil will get in, and it is difficult to get him out again.
Remember the poor boy who was possessed by a devil, and the disciples were unable to set him free. Only Our Lord could free him, by prayer and fasting. On that occasion the Master worked three miracles. The first enabled the boy to hear because, when the dumb devil gets control, the soul refuses to listen. The second made him speak, and the third expelled the devil.
Tell first what you would not like to be known. Down with the dumb devil! By turning some small matter over and over in your mind, you will make it snowball into something big, with you trapped inside. What's the point of doing that? Open up your soul! I promise that you will be happy, that is faithful to your Christian way, if you are sincere. Clarity and simplicity: they are absolutely necessary dispositions. We have to open up our souls completely, so that the sun of God and the charity of Love can enter in.
It is not necessarily bad will that prevents people from being utterly sincere. Sometimes they may simply have an erroneous conscience. Some people have so formed, or rather deformed, their consciences that they think their dumbness, their lack of simplicity, is something good. They think it is good to say nothing. This can even happen to people who have received an excellent training and know the things of God. This may indeed be what is convincing them that they should not speak out. But they are wrong. Sincerity is a must, always. There are no valid excuses, no matter how good they seem.
Let us end this period of conversation in which you and I have been praying to Our Father, asking him to grant us the grace to live the Christian virtue of chastity as a joyful affirmation.
We ask this of him through the intercession of Our Lady, she who is immaculate purity. Let us turn to her, tota pulchra!* taking to heart the advice I gave many years ago to those who felt uneasy in their daily struggle to be humble, pure, sincere, cheerful and generous. 'All the sins of your life seem to be rising up against you. Don't give up hope! On the contrary, call your holy Mother Mary, with the faith and abandonment of a child. She will bring peace to your soul.'