St. John Cassian is one of the pillars of our western monastic tradition. St. Benedict, in his Rule recommends reading Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences. In a well-known passage in his First Conference Cassian states that the goal of the monk is purity of heart. Attaining purity of heart, therefore, is something we need to keep our eyes on and order all our actions toward. According to Cassian, that is the immediate goal (or scopos), by which we reach the final end (or telos) which is the kingdom of God.
Purity of heart, therefore, is a very important component for someone living a serious religious life. And as a model in living out purity of heart, what better person could we choose than our Blessed Mother? She had the most pure heart of all time. In fact, today we are celebrating the feast of her Immaculate Heart. She can be both our model and our intercessor in our quest for an ever more pure heart.
When the word “purity” is used in the context of chastity, it has a more restricted meaning. That’s not the sense Cassian had in mind, although it is included in the broader concept of what he meant by “purity of heart.”
In the first chapter of the Gospel of John we read, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.’ “ Another translation says, “He is without guile.” Jesus valued purity of heart and appreciated the degree that he found in Nathanael. He referred to it by using the opposite concept: duplicity, guile, deception. When we deal with people who are manipulative, or cagey, or game-players we don’t trust them and we keep our guard up. But when we deal with a person of simplicity and purity of heart we naturally let our guard down. It’s refreshing and energizing. We intuit that love of self is not governing their actions but love of others and love of God.
In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. The sixth Beatitude is, “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.” Jesus held this up for us as something to strive for.
Elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (18:3). I think anyone who has looked into the face of a little child and seen the innocence and purity there, will know what Jesus was trying to convey.
Now, back to the feast we are celebrating today, Mary’s heart was so pure it was spotless. It was never blemished by sin or selfishness or any unloving action. She loved God perfectly. Her soul reflected all of the virtues and none of the vices. She was like a garden with only flowers and fruits, and no weeds or bramble bushes. Her will was in tune with God’s will. She wanted only to please him and not disappoint him. And for us also, true happiness will be found in following the same path.