They will see God

Published on 30 Jan 2020

Happy the pure in heart, they shall see God [1].   What is the happiness of the pure in heart?  What is it to see God?   

The happiness which is beatitude is the joy of those who stay close to their creator.  They live as he intended when he made them.  They have rediscovered their purpose.  The vision of the divine and the proximity to the source are causes of joy.  Our aim is to be in the presence of God forever. We have been created to enjoy such a vision.  One day, if he wills it, we will be in his company and remain there eternally.  Meanwhile he enables us to live the sort of life which is a suitable preparation for an eternity of such happiness.  The vision of God will be what makes us happy forever.  If we cannot ‘see’ God now, we can nevertheless focus on him.  A God-centred life is already possible.  To live for him now will help us to accept the gift of seeing him.  One day he will unveil that gift permanently.  However in the meantime he delights us with glimpses of what we will ultimately be glad to contemplate without interruption.

The pure in heart are those who live now in this God-focused way.  By God’s doing, he has become our wisdom and our virtue, and our holiness and our freedom  by God’s doing, he has become our wisdom and our virtue, and our holiness and our freedom [2].  Those who can so speak are already centred on him. Everything else that is of significance in their life is under God.  Their purity of heart consists, negatively, in their not allowing anything to distract them from their true focus. Positively, their thoughts, feelings and desires are directed to the One who is their beginning and their end.  Their present happiness is in this God-focus as well as the hope of immortality To have God at the centre of one’s life is to have a foretaste of eternal rest.  They will be able to graze and rest and with no one to disturb them [3].  There is a present peace which is a foreshadowing of the joy of heaven.  Out of this stillness comes not only an anticipation of eternity but also plenty of energy for what has to be done immediately.  It is the Lord who keeps faith forever, who is just to those who are oppressed [4].  The pure of heart do not neglect their duties, thinking of heaven.  The current that is nourished by this source/I know to be omnipotent in force/Although by night [5]. Rather, the exclusive focus on God illuminates what is really needful and the oppressed who should be rescued and have justice.

Purity of heart is a contented, focused frame of mind and a range of good desires including, and summed-up by, a longing for God.  An ingredient of purity of heart is a wanting the vision of God which it confers. ‘To see God’, in the sense that Jesus conveys in the beatitudes, does not just happen to be a reward for purity of heart.  To become pure of heart, we begin by wanting to see God.   Seek the Lord, all you the humble of the earth, who obey his commands.  Seek integrity, seek humility [6].  We are being invited to start to live now as we hope to live forever.  There is a turning to God in this and also a turning away from other things. The conversion to purity of heart is essentially a simplification.  We want, fundamentally, only God.  Other preoccupations fall away.  Letting some other matters to which we might attend drop away is quite difficult.  Even with God’s help in focusing, we hanker for rival centres of interest.  The help that he gives also ensures that we do not turn away too quickly away from someone or some matter to whom or to which he wants us to give energetic service.  A challenging demand is made of us in our focusing on God and on what he wants us to do, even though he lavishes assistance on us.

Some of the other beatitudes are more explicit about their cost.  Happy are the poor in spirit [7]. Those who seek God alone give up other things. Happy those who mourn [8].  In losses and bereavement are found the right focus on God.  Deprived of the proximity of those we love, we find them again in an unselfish love of God.  Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right [9].  Some kinds of suffering for the sake of goodness are the highway into the presence of God.  Denied happiness, as it is generally understood, we approach beatitude, or true happiness, even though life is very difficult.  Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account [10].   Those who centre themselves on God will be misunderstood, criticised and mistreated by other people. Those that the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen [11].  To be pure in heart may separate us from other people in ways which pain us.

There is in purity of heart, with its simplification of a life centred on God, a balm for suffering.  The narrowing of desire so that it focuses on God is, paradoxically, a spacious liberation.  Trouble, which might otherwise dominate, is situated in a very broad picture.  The self is considered, under God, along with his many other creatures and the may other parts of his creation. To focus on God is to be lifted out of selfishness.  .  It was to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak, by human reckoning [12].  To turn away from everyone and everything else and to concentrate on God is to reconsider all that he has made in the light of his love for that creation.  Purity of heart is a kind of single-mindedness but it is not a form of neglect. Seeing God, or anticipating seeing him, allows a renewal of how everyone else is viewed and understood.  Far from being neglectful those who are enabled to live in this way truly love the world and its occupants. Living now for God with a pure heart is to accept the gift of seeing him and of seeing everything else as he sees it. 

Homily by Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]    Matthew 5.8

[2]    1 Corinthians 1.30

[3]    Zephaniah 3.13

[4]    Psalm (146) 145.6

[5]    John of the Cross ‘Song of the soul that is glad to know God by faith’ v.7  translated by Roy Campbell

[6]    Zephaniah 2.3

[7]      Matthew 5.3

[8]      Matthew 5.4

[9]      Matthew 5.10

[10]     Matthew 5.11

[11]    1 Corinthians 1.28

[12]    1 Corinthians 1.27