For They Shall See God | A Homily by St. Josemaria Escriva
Jesus Christ is our model, the model for every Christian. You are well aware of this because you have heard it and reflected on it so often. You have also taught this to many people in the course of your apostolate of friendship (true friendship, with a divine meaning) which by now has become a part of you. And you have recalled this fact, when necessary, when using the wonderful means of fraternal correction, so that the person who was listening to you might compare his behaviour with that of our first born Brother, the Son of Mary, Mother of God and our Mother also.
Jesus is the model for us. He himself has told us so: discite a me, learn from me. Today I want to talk to you about a virtue which, while it is neither the only virtue, nor the most important one, nevertheless operates in a Christian’s life like salt, preserving it from corruption; it is also the touchstone of the apostolic soul. The virtue is holy purity.
We know full well that theological charity is the highest virtue. But chastity is a means sine qua non, an indispensable condition if we are to establish an intimate dialogue with God. When people do not keep to it, when they give up the fight, they end up becoming blind. They can no longer see anything, because ‘the animal man cannot perceive the things that are of the Spirit of God’.
We, however, wish to look through unclouded eyes, encouraged as we are by Our Lord’s teaching: ‘Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.’ The Church has always understood these words as an invitation to chastity. As St John Chrysostom writes, ‘Those who love chastity, whose consciences are completely clear, keep their hearts pure. No other virtue is so necessary in order to see God.’
The example of Christ
During the course of his life on earth, Jesus, Our Lord, had all manner of insults heaped upon him and was mistreated in every way possible. Remember the way it was rumoured that he was a trouble-maker and how he was said to be possessed? At other times, demonstrations of his infinite Love were deliberately misinterpreted, and he was accused of being a friend of sinners.
Later on he, who personified penance and moderation, was accused of haunting the tables of the rich. He was also contemptuously referred to as fabri filius, the carpenter’s son, the worker’s son, as if this were an insult. He allowed himself to be denounced as a glutton and a drunkard… He let his enemies accuse him of everything, except that he was not chaste. On this point he sealed their lips, because he wanted us to keep a vivid memory of his immaculate example: a wonderful example of purity, of cleanness, of light, of a love that can set the whole world on fire in order to purify it.
For myself, I always like to consider holy purity in the light of Our Lord’s own behaviour. In practising this virtue, what refinement he showed! See what St John says about Jesus when fatigatus ex itinere, sedebat sic supra fontem, wearied as he was from the journey, he was sitting by the well.
Recollect yourselves and go over the scene again slowly in your minds. Jesus Christ, perfectus Deus, perfectus homo, is tired out from his travels and his apostolic work. Perhaps there have been times when the same thing has happened to you and you have ended up worn out, because you have reached the limit of your resources. It is a touching sight to see our Master so exhausted. He is hungry too — his disciples have gone to a neighbouring village to look for food. And he is thirsty.
But tired though his body is, his thirst for souls is even greater. So, when the Samaritan woman, the sinner, arrives, Christ with his priestly heart turns eagerly to save the lost sheep, and he forgets his tiredness, his hunger and his thirst.
Our Lord was busy with this great work of charity when the apostles came back from the village, and they mirabantur quia cum muliere loquebatur, they were astonished to find him talking to a woman, alone. How careful he was! What love he had for the beautiful virtue of holy purity, that virtue which helps us to be stronger, manlier, more fruitful, better able to work for God, and more capable of undertaking great things!
‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification… Let every one of you learn how to make use of his body in holiness and honour, not yielding to the promptings of passion, as the heathen do, who do not know God.’ We belong to God completely, soul and body, flesh and bones, all our senses and faculties. Ask him, confidently: Jesus, guard our hearts! Make them big and strong and tender, hearts that are affectionate and refined, overflowing with love for you and ready to serve all mankind.
Our bodies are holy. They are temples of God, says St Paul. This cry of the apostle brings to mind the universal call to holiness which Our Lord addresses to all men: estote vos perfecti sicut et Pater vester caelestis perfectus est. Our Lord asks everyone, without distinction of any kind, to cooperate with his grace. He demands that each of us, in accordance with his particular state in life, should put into practice the virtues proper to the children of God.
Thus, when I remind you now that Christians must keep perfect chastity, I am referring to everyone: to the unmarried, who must practise complete continence; and to those who are married, who practise chastity by fulfilling the duties of their state in life.
If one has the spirit of God, chastity is not a troublesome and humiliating burden, but a joyful affirmation. Will power, dominion, self-mastery do not come from the flesh or from instinct. They come from the will, especially if it is united to the Will of God. In order to be chaste (and not merely continent or decent) we must subject our passions to reason, but for a noble motive, namely, the promptings of Love.
I think of this virtue as the wings which enable us to carry God’s teaching, his commandments, to every environment on this earth, without fear of getting contaminated in the process. Wings, even in the case of those majestic birds which soar higher than the clouds, are a burden and a heavy one. But without wings, there is no way of flying. I want you to grasp this idea clearly, and to decide not to give in when you feel the sting of temptation, with its suggestion that purity is an unbearable burden. Take heart! Fly upwards, up to the sun, in pursuit of Love!
“For They Shall See God” is an excerpt from the homily given by St. Josemaria Escriva on March 3rd, 1954. The homily is published by Scepter Publishers in the book “Friends of God”.
Reproduced by the St. Josemaria Institute courtesy of the Studium Foundation. The content is intended for the free use of readers, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from ©The Studium Foundation (www.escrivaworks.org).