“Keep thyself chaste (1 Timothy 5: 22).”
God calls us to profound purity. In both the Old and New Testaments scripture is replete with exhortations to “Be Holy as I am Holy (Leviticus 11: 44),” and “Be Holy as your Father in Heaven is Holy (Matthew 5: 48).” Likewise in both Testaments we find examples of deep contrition as sinful human nature is confronted with an invitation to encounter the living God.
Recall, in response to a vision of God, Isaiah cries out:
“Woe is me, I am doomed. For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6: 3).”
Likewise, as St. Peter is introduced to the power of Christ, he cries out:
“Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man (Luke 5:8).”
Scripture indicates that God is “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and that nothing which is unclean can exist in His presence and enjoy eternal beatitude with Him forever. Thus, to achieve our destiny to love, honor, serve and obey God in this world so that we can perpetually share eternal bliss with Him, we must strive for the profound purity to which He directs our hearts.
Our good and loving God knows well the challenge posed by His call to “be Holy as He is Holy.” He understands and sympathizes with our fallen nature, and sends us an abundance of grace to overcome the temptations of this transient world. In St. Joseph, God offers us an outstanding illustration of personal purity.
God Our Heavenly Father chose the virtuous St. Joseph to be the guardian of the purity of the precious Holy Family. Under the title “Guardian of Virgins,” St. Joseph offers us a shining example of the value of chastity. Through his holy intercession we have a magnificent channel of grace available to aid in overcoming the myriad of obstacles to virtuous living that confront us each day.
Like the four arms of the cross, there are four particular areas of chastity to which we are called: that of body, mind, heart and spirit. Accepting the challenge of personal purity is a cross we each bear, but is not one that is either unreasonable nor impossible.
(1) “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims to refrain yourselves from carnal desires which war against the soul (1 Peter 2: 11).” Bodily purity is the most obvious type of chastity to which we are summoned. Perhaps as in no other time in human history are the affronts to personal purity more evident than they are today. Our culture prizes the sensual and scorns the virtuous. Through the media we are bombarded with a constant flow of licentious images. What decades ago would have been condemned as pornographic, today boldly confronts us (and our children) in glossy displays in the checkout aisle at the corner grocery store. This daily barrage of titillating filth can numb us to beauty of modesty. Supernatural help is both necessary and available in this war between the spirit and the flesh. The Blessed Virgin stands ever ready to assist us in overcoming these assaults to morality. God’s mercy is unfathomable, and should we fall He stands ever ready to forgive our failings. Prayer, penance and sacramental confession are effective remedies for the temptations of the flesh.
(2) “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5: 28).” It is often said that the eyes are the window to the soul; yet, like any window the flow of light (or darkness) is bidirectional. Purity of mind is perhaps even more challenging to achieve than purity of body, yet the two are intimately linked. For if one cultivates a garden of impure thoughts, these thorny weeds are rarely content to be contained merely in the mind, and soon one finds them creeping into the realm of the flesh. Scripture offers the following: “I made a covenant with my eyes that I would not so much as think upon a virgin (Job 31:1).” Thus when one consciously decides to spend time in prayer, and reflects with gratitude on the beauty and goodness of God, these fruits too spill over into everyday life. With humility we are each called to tame our eyes and purify our minds.
(3) “Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord: or who shall stand in His holy place? The innocent in hands and clean of heart (Psalms 24: 3-4).” What does it mean to be clean of heart? We associate the heart with love, thus to be clean of heart can be viewed as loving that which pleasing to God. God is love (1 John 4: 8), and when our hearts are directed to that which is pleasing to God, we share in His Divine love. Yet, when we choose to love those objects which are unworthy, we reject His Love. Through the discipline of this season of Lent we are particularly invited to ask our Lord to create in us a clean heart. As we journey toward the Pascal Mystery, our hearts are being shaped to respond in kind to the Love that is offered for each of us on the cross.
(4) “Blessed are the pure in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:3).” An object that is pure is undivided, unsullied. Likewise a pure spirit is one that is undivided: it exists solely for God. In contemplating the life of St. Joseph, we find a man whose love was undivided, at each and every trial he actively sought to do the will of God. We too are called to this level of purity.
As we strive to conquer the temptations of the world, let us seek the assistance of the Holy Heart of St. Joseph. A dear friend transcribed this traditional prayer. Please join me in this short, simple supplication to St. Joseph for the virtue of purity:
O Guardian of Virgins and Holy Father Joseph to whose faithful custody Jesus, Innocence Itself and Mary, Virgins of Virgins were committed, may I, with Joseph’s help, continue to serve Jesus and Mary with pure heart and chaste body all the days of my life. Amen.
Ad Jesum per Mariam,