Our ‘Purity of the Heart‘ Crisis
Elizabeth Scalia wrote, in a heart-rending piece, about how painful it is to read the sordid sex abuse stories coming out of the entertainment industries. For former victims of abuse, the reports come like hammer blows on a raw nerve.
But the many accusations, from Bill Cosby to Matt Lauer and on and on, should be painful not just because of what we share with the victims — but because of what we share with the perpetrators.
Our time is suffering a crisis of purity — not just in the culture, but in each of our hearts.
It’s all about purity of heart.
“Blessed are the pure of heart, for they will see God,” says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
We tend to shorten that to “purity,” but that isn’t always helpful. It sounds like “Puritanism” or suggests some radical separation of the “pure” from the “tainted.” But that’s not what purity of heart means.
Purity of heart doesn’t mean turning from sin in disgust (that’s called “conscience”); it means looking at others and seeing their truth worth.
Jesus Christ had the purest heart: he looked at others and saw them as someone infinitely valuable; worth dying for. A parent’s heart sees the true value of a son or daughter: In the parents’ eyes, each child is utterly charming, however clearly the world sees their flaws. And the parents are right. We see our spouses’ true worth and respond the way Jesus did, devoting our whole life to the beauty we found in that person.
Our search for love in the world is essentially a search for another person who sees us for who we are, and embraces us. It’s a search for a pure heart.
When we meet someone who recognizes our worth, it energizes us, makes us walk taller, makes us work harder. Likewise, when someone looks at us with an impure heart, it humiliates and degrades us.
Each of us wields this great power: We can ennoble or degrade people with an action, a word — or even a glance.
To cultivate a pure heart, first protect your glance.
Soon after saying “Blessed are the pure at heart,” Jesus says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
The way we look at others is the first place to correct ourselves. Just as it’s wrong to look at someone and sum them up by their race, or handicap, or age, it is wrong to look at someone and reduce them to the desirability of their body parts.
But pornography literally trains our minds to look at others primarily as sexual objects. And not just pornography — any entertainment that is pornographic in its appeal has this problem.
Immersing ourselves in sexually suggestive images poisons everything, degrading all we meet.
Charity is the next way to train your heart.
Why don’t the pure at heart look at pornography? It’s not because they think the people depicted there are disgusting — it’s because they think the people depicted there are beautiful, and should be served, not used.
Just as pornography trains us to think of others as objects, service to others trains us to see their worth.
To train your heart to be pure, therefore, you have to serve others more — from small things like helping at home and opening doors for people, to larger, organized acts of service. Sacrificial giving is also important: Using your money not to please yourself, but to serve others, trains your heart to prioritize.
Speech is another form of charity. I think one of the most telling details from the recent sex abuse tsunami is this line, from Louis CK’s apology: “I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want.” He did; he said too much. He showed no restraint or modesty in his speech, and it helped to grow the monster he was allowing himself to become.
Prayer is the best way to train your heart.
Of course, the best way to train the heart is to be on close terms with the one who made you and made everyone you meet.
Opening your heart before the pure light of God is the only way to heal what is misshapen within it. As an ancient prayer to the Holy Spirit puts it:
Water what is parched.
Heal what is diseased.
Bend what is rigid.
Warm what is cold.
Straighten what is crooked.
The true abusers who committed crimes should be punished.
But that’s out of the hands of most of us. And to simply watch the spectacle of sordid tales does us no good.
What the world needs is more purity of heart, starting with mine.
This appeared at Aleteia.