"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Mary's Three Degrees Of Purity

The Virgin Dolorosa by Bartolome Esteban Murillo

I would like to talk about the three degrees of Mary’s purity: Purity of action, purity of heart and purity of intention.

PURITY OF ACTION

If we take a quick survey of what purity of action, deed or conduct means in sacred Scripture, it is almost often tied to “righteousness,” e.g. Proverbs 20:11, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” Here is another from Revelation, “…It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints (Revelation 19:8). Righteous deeds are like pure linen, the mandatory apparel for the high priest entering the holy of holies (Lev 16:4). Angels, who are pure spirits, “wear” pure linen too like when Mary Magdalene saw at the empty tomb the two white-robed angels (John 20:12). To put two and two together, righteous acts and purity are naturally intertwined. But let us remember also that Jesus warned his followers from becoming like the scribes and Pharisees "who do all their deeds to be seen by others" (Matthew 23:5). "Do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach" (Matthew 23:3).

The Latin word for righteousness is “iustitia.” Although, it was Joseph who was explicitly called by Matthew as a “just or righteous man,” I would like to believe that Joseph was first touched deeply by the righteousness of Mary. Having known Mary, Joseph was "unwilling to put her to shame” and so "resolved to send her away quietly”–a very decent thing to do for a just man. But the righteousness of Joseph and Mary goes beyond decency towards having full determination to do what they ought to do no matter the cost. This is how Thomas Aquinas, building on Aristotle, defines justice or righteousness: "a habit whereby a man [or woman] renders to each one his [or her] due by a constant and perpetual will" (2-2.58.1). In Ezekiel 18:5ff, justice or righteousness is the summary of all the virtues.

Let me quote at length what Pope Benedict XVI said in the “Six reasons for not forgetting the Virgin Mary.” Here is the sixth which jibes with how Mary is righteous in her unique personhood recalling the marvelous deeds she has done for Jesus.
“With her destiny, which is at one and the same time that of Virgin and of Mother, Mary continues to project a light upon that which the Creator intended for women in every age, ours included, or, better said, perhaps precisely in our time, in which—as we know—the very essence of femininity is threatened. Through her virginity and her motherhood, the mystery of woman receives a very lofty destiny from which she cannot be torn away. Mary undauntedly proclaims the Magnificat, but she is also the one who renders silence and seclusion fruitful. She is the one who does not fear to stand under the Cross, who is present at the birth of the Church. But she is also the one who, as the evangelist emphasizes more than once, ‘keeps and ponders in her heart’ that which transpires around her. As a creature of courage and of obedience she was and is still an example to which every Christian—man and woman—can and should look.”
When Jesus summons us to follow the path of righteousness, is he asking about big and extraordinary actions? Mother Teresa has an answer to this when she said “Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things. It consists in accepting, with a smile, what Jesus sends us. It consists in accepting and following the will of God.” Another Jesuit saint, St Jose Maria Rubio, also said, in the same vein, about holiness as “[Doing] what God wants and [wanting] what God does." For these two saints, holiness or righteous living is available to all who simply surrender their actions to the will of God no matter how small and ordinary.

PURITY OF HEART

When Jesus alluded to the fact that murderers will be judged, he, however, widened the scope of who else will be judged—not just murderers but anyone “who is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment.” He did not focus just on an individual’s deeds but also on the heart and attitude behind those deeds. A heart full of anger towards someone can lead to vile actions and even murder. If a corrupted heart of a person were a viral disease like COVID then murder is not the only symptom. At that time when a mob of Jews were about to condemn to death an adulterous woman by stoning, Jesus said “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). No one did. Do you think they were all murderers? No. But what we know for sure is that no one among them, beginning with the older ones, considered himself or herself pure-hearted. Everyone went away until it was only Jesus who was left alone and the woman. Now, if we may ask, what about Mary’s heart? Was it pure? We have the Church dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary which was born of the Church’s faith that she is pure-hearted from the moment God formed her in the womb of St Anne. Through Mary's Immaculate Conception she first conceived our Savior in her Immaculate Heart.

Purity of heart is a wondrous grace and spiritual gift that Mary was granted. It was not merited through her own righteous acts but it was a pure gift from the Spirit. This became the precursor for Mary to be able to say her fiat (be it done) at the Annunciation of the archangel Gabriel. Since purity of heart is wholly spiritual, we share with Mary, who was a human being like us, such a gift through our human freewill. This God-given gift enables or capacitates every human being to see God (Capax Dei). In the beatitudes, St Matthew encourages everyone to go all out, not halfway, in reclaiming such a precious gift for "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tells the community, thus cementing the interconnection between one's encounter with God and the gift of human freewill when he said "Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Corinthians 3:17). Sören Kierkegaard, Danish Theologian, wrote his philosophical masterpiece bearing the title, "Purity Of Heart Is To Will One Thing." The pure-hearted Mary was a totally free woman when she said Yes! to God's invitation to be the Mother of God's Only Begotten Son.

PURITY OF INTENTION

Purity of intention is also the purity of a person’s prayer and deepest desire. Jesus said something about this prime ingredient of purity of intention whenever we approach the altar of God. He said, “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Jesus points to the great importance of having pure intentions over other things, e.g. offerings and sacrifices. 

We have a famous adage among Jesuits that says, “Finding God in all things.” This is an important reminder that God is not to be found only when we are inside the church before the altar. In fact, God is not only all around us but He is within us, in the deepest part of our self, right within our heart of hearts. Whenever we have the pure intention to encounter God we will surely find Him. But the saying “Finding God in all things” could be abused and could fall into lip service as it may often happen when intentions are impure. How? We broadcast that we want to find God in all things but we never get there because we easily get blinded by the things. Also, we say we beg God to grant our holy desires, but, unawares, we are too attached to our impure intentions and motivations. That includes not only noble intentions or desires but also negativities and grudges that are deeply ingrained in our hearts. We get the things and impure desires, brood over them, but lose God in the process. Because of this St Ignatius, in the Jesuit Constitutions, kept reminding about the need for "a thoroughly right and pure intention." He calls this "holy indifference." This has a very broad scope of application which includes largely issues of the heart and not just external deeds no matter how noble. Now if we may ask again, did Mary possess purity of intention when she brought up her son in this world? Allow me to quote again at length Pope Benedict XVI. This time I will use the first and the most important reason he gave for not forgetting Mary.
“When one recognizes the place assigned to Mary by dogma and tradition, one is solidly rooted in authentic Christology. (According to Vatican II: ‘Devoutly meditating on her and contemplating her in the light of the Word made man, the Church reverently penetrates more deeply into the great mystery of the Incarnation and becomes more and more like her spouse,’ Lumen Gentium, no. 65). It is, moreover in direct service to faith in Christ—not, therefore, primarily out of devotion to the Mother—that the Church has proclaimed her Marian dogmas: first that of her perpetual virginity and divine motherhood and then, after a long period of maturation and reflection, those of her Immaculate Conception and bodily Assumption into heavenly glory. These dogmas protect the original faith in Christ as true God and true man: two natures in a single Person. They also secure the indispensable eschatological tension by pointing to Mary’s Assumption as the immortal destiny that awaits us all. And they also protect the faith—threatened today—in God the Creator, who (and this, among other things, is the meaning of the truth of the perpetual virginity of Mary, more than ever not understood today) can freely intervene also in matter. Finally, Mary, as the Council recalls: ‘having entered deeply into the history of salvation, … in a way unites in her person and reechoes the most important mysteries of the Faith’” (Lumen Gentium, no. 65).
Gleaning from what Pope Benedict XVI said, we can see that the whole person of Mary is nothing else than to be the motherly handmaid of God at the full service of God's Begotten Son who is her own son too. It may sound paradoxical but Mary exercised her freedom through total surrender. No wonder St Luke has repeatedly emphasized how Mary kept and pondered everything around her in her heart. Her constant prayer and heart's desire was to fulfill God's greater glory either through her or, maybe, even in spite of her. She knew her place. But the crux of the matter is that as mother she can never be separated from her own son. All mothers, including Mary, conceive with the purity of intention just by being a mother who is purely selfless. If that is not purity of intention then I have no other way of describing it. But if Mary had impure intentions rather than to have her life be totally God’s—the inspiration behind the personal motto of St John Paul II “Totus Tuus” All Yours—then all of us human beings would have been today the most pitiable among all orphaned creatures. Only because we would have lost a great mother that every human child deserves. Fr JM Manzano SJ

Comments

  1. A beautiful sharing to ponder in our ❤s in our daily realities...an inspiration to live out...Maraming Salamat, Fr. Jm! 👏😇✌

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    Replies
    1. I always like to share about our Blessed mother... she never fails to inspire me. You are blessed to have her as your mother too! God bless us!

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    2. Truly we are blessed to be Her children... Taking care of us endlessly...Keep on sharing about her, Fr. JM. Drawing us more to know and love her more... side by side loving her Son... Thank once again.. Entrusting you always to her... :-)

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