Becoming pure of heart

Advent is a time of waiting, anticipating the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not, however, characterized by passivity. We must actively prepare our hearts to receive such a gift. What kinds of hearts are capable of receiving, even looking upon, such a gift? Our Lord tells us in the Gospel: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" (cf. Mt 5:8).

The relationship between our eyes and hearts is a vital one. Only the pure, the clean of heart, are able to see God, to recognize Him in their midst, in the sacraments and in their neighbors. Only they will be capable of gazing upon the Lord in heaven in the beatific vision. To behold God, after life's long pilgrimage, is what we all long for, because it is that for which He created us. It is why the shepherds, upon learning of the birth of Jesus, said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us" (cf. Lk 2:15).

The reciprocal is also true: What we look at or choose to view, directly affects our hearts; it will either expand our capacity to love or it will deaden it. That is why my brother bishops and I issued "Create in Me a Clean Heart: A Pastoral Response to Pornography" at our recent USCCB Fall General Assembly Meeting (November 16-19). We sincerely hope that this document will better equip those in ministry and in positions of oversight to assist the thousands of individuals suffering from addiction to pornography. We also hope that it will be helpful for those who view pornography or are victimized by it.

Material once hidden in darkness and secrecy now lies in public and plain sight. Pornographic images are so readily available on the internet and in other media that they have devastated staggering numbers of men, women, and children - some as young as 11 years old - by their isolating and dehumanizing effect. These images obscure God's design for marital love, complementarity and the dignity of the human person. The more people look at this material, the less they can recognize and care for their own dignity and that of their neighbors.

This pastoral statement is meant to guide people who work with those gripped by such addictions and those involved in its production. There are many people who know something is disordered in their behavior but are afraid to seek help, often because our culture celebrates any and all sexual activity, refusing to admit that activity outside of the loving embrace of marriage works against our good. It is also meant to help those who, in the recesses of even the most unclean hearts, share the desire of the blind man in the Gospel: "Jesus asked, 'What do you want me to do for you?' He replied, 'Lord, please let me see.'" (cf. Lk 18:45). God, in His abundant love and mercy, desires to restore His children's sight.

It is particularly worrisome that the consumption of pornography increases during the holidays. This uptick in viewership in such a season is likely because many people experience loneliness, anxiety and depression at this time of year, despite its being known as the "most wonderful time of the year." It is troubling, but not surprising, that many will turn to things for the fleeting gratification, but in so doing, will become all the more enslaved. In contrast to this, the truth we celebrate at Christmas is that God became man to set us free from the slavery to sin. We needed to see His redeeming love to believe it.

While not everyone carries the burden of breaking free from such addictions, each one of us must purify our hearts in preparation for the birth of the Savior. We can all start by taking stock of what films and shows we watch, what we read or view online and what images we consume each day. Even if not pornographic, everything we view affects how we think and act. Let us ask ourselves, "Do these things draw me closer to the Lord? Do they help me love more purely?

Let us heed Saint Paul's advice: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (cf. Phil 4:8). He might also have added not just thinking about these things, but also looking upon these things. Our hearts will reflect the things we spent time viewing, so let us prepare our vision now so to look upon the Lord forever in that beatific vision. Let us live so as to be counted among the pure of heart and let us see, as the shepherds did, what it is that the Lord wants to make known to us - His love!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015