Purity of Soul

by Dcn. Wayland Moncrief

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?

Who shall stand in His holy place?

The 'tradition of the elders' was practiced primarily by the Pharisees. It consisted of thousands of rules that governed every aspect of life. There were rules for the washing of cups and bowls, rules regulating the Sabbath, rules defining defilement, and rules for purification. There were rules about leprosy, disease, and death, rules for travel, rules about food, household goods, and animals, and rules about the Gentiles.

On the surface their rules may be easy to criticize. We may be tempted to dismiss such beliefs as over-regulation or religious excessiveness. However, for the Jew, these were not simply rules. They was a code of conduct derived from the Torah and tradition. This code of laws applied the 613 commandments of Mosaic law, and centuries of interpretations, to every day life. For the Pharisees they expressed a deep religious significance. They defined in every day terms the state of purity required to approach God. These laws were a way of life and they defined their identity as Jews.

These laws were codified by the scribes following the Babylonian exile. They were largely directed toward specific actions, with an emphasis on ritual purity. However, because of their emphasis on specific actions and ritual purity, the underlying moral principles were often overshadowed. Over time these regulations became divorced from their moral foundation and the essential principles of the spiritual life. The fundamental concepts of the faith: inner purity of heart, moral purity of the soul, and the love of God and neighbor, were reduced to a set of external practices.

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?

Who shall stand in His holy place?

It's important to note that Jesus did not condemn their rituals, or the laws of the Pharisees. He didn't condemn following a code of conduct. He did not condemn their efforts to prescribe a holy life. In this confrontation with the ruling Pharisees, Jesus objected to the misapplication of the law and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. No where in Scripture does Jesus speak more forcefully than He does to His wayward priests. The Pharisees were the spiritual shepherds of Israel, yet they rarely missed an opportunity to exert their power or promote their personal status.

Jesus calls the ruling scribes and Pharisees to task. He condemns their excessive legalism, their failure as pastors, and using the law for personal gain. Jesus challenges them to look within. Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly – these are the things that defile, and they all come from within. They are all sins of pride, sins against moral purity, sins against God and neighbor, and sins that defile our souls.

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?

Who shall stand in His holy place?

The Pharisees had already formulated plans to kill Jesus. Now they had traveled from Jerusalem to Galilee to gather evidence for His condemnation. Jesus tells them that ritual purity is useless if the heart is full of evil, malice, deceit, and corruption.

Impurity exists in many forms. Sensuality, for example, destroys our true sense of self, leaving a profound scar on our souls. Inappropriate desire for material things fosters an attitude of exploitation. Thinking predominantly about ourselves indicates a lack of love and charity. Sloth is the origin of fantasies, of envy, and an enemy to gratitude. These attitudes deaden our responsiveness to God and detract from our mission as disciples. Sins against charity bring internal discord - psychosomatic disorders, restlessness, and anxiety. In general, our external behavior is a reflection of our interior moral state. These are the impurities that defile, and they all come from within.

Today's society is saturated with the impure and the obscene. We live in an indecency that outdoes Sodom and Gomorrah. Lust, immodesty, lewdness, greed, promiscuity, and every immorality exists publicly and is promoted extensively in societal life. For example: many, either consciously or emotionally, have bought into the lie that physical attractiveness comes through sensuality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Madison Avenue creates and exploits our insecurities and all to line their own pockets.

The real truth is that we are fundamentally attracted to purity. The deepest part of our nature longs for purity and holiness. Purity is magnetic. We are naturally drawn to a nun dressed in her habit, or a monk who journeys through life in a simple robe. They are symbols of purity. We want to glimpse what life is like through their eyes. If sensuality was the road to attractiveness, then why do we flock to our saints, mystics, and priests like magnets. We do so because they have chosen the higher road. They have dedicated themselves to the noblest and highest ideals. Goodness, not sensuality, not physical appearance, is what is truly attractive.

Consider our patroness, St. Germaine. According to documented reports she was not considered physically attractive. She was extremely poor, malnourished, beaten, and forced to live in a barn. Being a shepherdess. and not allowed in her parents home, her clothing was dirty and torn. No doubt, based on physical appearance, she was likely considered repulsive by many in her community.

However, because of her holiness, her innate goodness, others came to see her in different terms. They came to know, and respect her. And over time, millions have made pilgrimages to honor her, and, through her, to ask for God's grace. And all this came about, not because of her appearance, or her intellect, or her status, but because of her love, her forgiveness, and the purity of her heart. While some only saw the exterior, millions more saw Christ in her soul.

Jesus told us, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 1 Most of us look at our lives and see something far from perfect. Yet, Jesus didn't say you must have a perfect past. No, He is telling us to be perfect now – to be perfect today. So, purify your hearts and minds. Purify your lives, today. Seek holiness, today. And, bring that attractiveness, that magnetism, which radiates from a pure heart, to all those around you.

While evil comes from within and defiles, purity also comes from within and transforms. Purity is not a matter of rules or ritual. It is an awakening of the heart that has to be actively and joyfully sought. Purity, interior holiness, fosters a love of neighbor, and a strengthening of the soul. It elevates the dignity to which we are called. Inner purity enables us to act prudently and avoid occasions of sin. It protects the integrity of the Spirit of God within us. It awakens the realization that we are truly sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, the Most High Almighty God.

In a society that has lost much of its moral foundation, we are challenged to live a holy life amid the chaos of self-interest and evil. This is indeed a daunting task. However, it is important to remember that what is external cannot defile. Defilement can only come from within and it must be invited. Jesus gives us the grace to overcome the difficulties we face. He gives us the Sacraments that fortify us to live in the purity of His love. He gives us the Sacrament of Penance to restore our relationship with God, and our relationships with one another. He gives us the Holy Eucharist, His very Life, so that we can share in His Divine Life, and live joyfully in His Divine Will.

Interior purity, however, is not isolated. It is not simply a relationship between God and ourselves. No, inner purity always generates external manifestations. St. James tells us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 2 . Interior purity directs our focus outward. It makes visible the needs of our neighbor. It pains our senses to witness unfairness, and gives us the courage to step forward where grace is most needed. Purity is not content with injustice. It motivates us to transform the world - to transform the world one soul at a time. Purity motivates the soul to desire and, put into practice, the Heart and Will of God.

The Psalmist asks, “Who shall ascend ... the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place? The innocent in hands, and clean of heart, who hath not taken his soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbor. He shall receive blessings from the Lord, and mercy from God his Savior.” 3

Baruch Hashem!


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