Sunday, September 03, 2006

Purity: Seeing with the Eyes of Lucy

(22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; I was away at a friend's wedding in Columbus, Ohio this weekend, and was invited to celebrate Mass at a nearby parish where one of my classmates from seminary was assigned. This homily was given 3 September, 2006, at St. Brigid of Kildare, Dublin, Ohio; read Mark 7:1-23)

Who do you think is the most beautiful person in Hollywood? There are entire magazines and television shows completely devoted to answering that question.

Today, I would like to offer a different question: In all of Hollywood, who has the most beautiful soul? Or, put a different way: Who is the purest person in Hollywood? There are no magazines or TV shows dedicated to answering that question!

What if we were to bring that question a little bit closer to home: who is the purest person among your family members and friends? We are not used to thinking along those lines. But if we look at our Gospel this weekend, we can see that the question of purity is at the very heart of the matter.

Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees are in complete disagreement over the meaning and practice of purity. We discover in that Gospel passage that the Pharisees were practically obsessed with it. They purified their hands before eating. They purified cups, jugs, kettles, and beds. You name it; they purified it.

But Christ is quick to point out their hypocrisy. Purity, he reveals, is not a matter of mere externals, without ever seeking a change within. That would be a Hollywood purity, an external display of beauty. Purity, Christ contends, is a matter of the heart.

In the strongest of terms, Christ shows how much we really need to be purified, from the inside out. He says:

From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.
—Mark 7:21-23

To become pure is an inside job, and it requires that we open our hearts to God. He needs to be the One we let inside; we need to invite God into the depths of our hearts and allow Him to make us pure from the inside out.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart [those who are pure on the inside], for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). In St. Luke’s Gospel, He says, “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Luke 18:17). If we want to see God and recognize His Kingdom among us, then we need the gift of purity. We need a pure, child-like faith that God alone can give us.

I am sure you have heard of the fiction series called The Chronicles of Narnia. Written by Christian author C. S. Lewis, it is a tremendous tale of love, friendship and sacrifice. One of those books in the series, "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," begins with a little girl named Lucy who enters the magical world of Narnia through a mysterious old wardrobe. The scene in the book is quite compelling as it describes, in great detail, Lucy’s ecstatic and awe-inspired reaction to this new winter wonderland that existed in the back of an old dusty closet.

This past Christmas a new film version of that story was released. While making that movie and filming that particular scene, the producers wondered whether or not the young actress who played Lucy would be able to portray that same awe and wonder as the character in the book. Would she be able to pull it off? Suddenly the director of the film had an idea.

They prepared the entire set, but never once allowed the little girl to see it. Instead, they blindfolded her until they were ready to film. When the lights came on, with the beautiful winter landscapes of Narnia glistening all around them, they took the blindfold off and let the cameras roll.

When you watch that scene in the movie, what you are seeing is a little girl’s actual reaction to the breathtaking land of Narnia. Her face is lit up with the joy and wonder of a child seeing something truly beautiful.

That is what God wants us to see when we look at the world around us. God wants to give us pure hearts to see as He sees. He wants us to look at ourselves and the world around us with the eyes of a child.

Now, if we are honest, we can admit that seeing like that is no easy task. Most of us have seen enough of the world around us to be tainted just a bit. It can be so easy in the world we live in to become cynical, or to be skeptical about the purity that God calls us to.

I was flying into Columbus just this weekend, and the young man seated next to me on the plane began to share with me some of the details of his life. He was a carpenter by trade and was saving up so he and his girlfriend could buy a house as soon as they were married.

As the conversation developed it became more and more personal. He was on his way to see his fiancé. He had moved her into her apartment when she first began graduate studies, and now he was going back there to spend some time alone with her.

I began to say to myself: I don’t think I want to know anymore of this story! I already know where this is going. Surely there is someone else he should be sharing this with! But, thankfully, I did get to hear the rest of the story.

As we approached the airport he said to me, “Father, when my fiancé and I began dating back in college, we realized that many of our friends had experienced broken relationships. We also realized that the brokenness often happened after the relationships turned physical.”

He went on to tell me how his fiancé was Jewish, and he was a Christian, and how their traditions guided them in a different direction than the one their friends had taken. He said to me, “Father, we decided that we would wait until we were married before we brought our relationship to that physical level. Our friends think we’re crazy, but we have never been happier.”

There I sat, on that airplane, thinking: So this was the rest of the story that you didn’t want to hear. If I had stopped listening I never would have heard that beautiful testimony of faith. I never would have seen what God was doing in this young man’s life.

How many people around us—people we meet everyday—have a similar story they could tell? How many of us are being invited by God to experience that kind of purity, and to allow our own faith tradition to guide our lives in that way?

This week we ask God for the gift of purity. We ask Him for the heart of that carpenter, that we might love as God loves; and for the eyes of Lucy, that we might see as God sees. For, as Christ Himself says, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).