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Saturday 2 May 2015

Purity of Intention

When you are around someone who seems "nice", and you get that icky feeling that they are using you for his or her own gratification, you are experiencing a lack of purity of intention on that person's part. Manipulation is the opposite of purity of intention.

Because of certain occurrences in my recent past, the idea of purity of intention has been brought to my attention. In a nice moment of synchronicity, Father Rodriguez, in Volume I of his masterpiece, The Practice of Christian and Religious Perfection, which I have been following on this blog for many days, writes several chapters on purity of intention.

Weekly in the Monastic Diurnal, one prays that God would heal and destroy all hidden sins. Impurity of intention qualifies as such a hidden sin. This sin reveals itself to the mind when one asks God to purge one of hidden sins.

Starting with what purity of intention is not may be easier than describing what this manner of thinking is. As in all sins which lie mostly in the interior life, such as vainglory and pride, impurity of heart needs to be rooted out through reflection and the grace of seeing this sin when it occurs.

Some examples may help. If a person loves someone and wants that person to return that love, one may act in a charitable and charming manner. However, to love without regard for return forms the definition of real and sacrificial love. Love with “hooks” reveals an impurity of intention. If one is charitable because giving allows one to feel good and think one is virtuous, that is impurity of intention.

If I wrote this blog for attention, for fame (lol) rather than to teach Catholic truth and help bring my brothers and sisters closer to God, that would be a lack of purity of intention.

And, so on.

Fr. Rodriguez notes that the superiors in religious orders, such as the Jesuits, have been severe on small faults, just as the Desert Fathers were with their novices. Why? In these small things, one sees the hidden sins.

Yesterday, I told someone something about my life which I did not need to do. It was an off-comment which I did not need to say, drawing attention to something good in my life. This small comment revealed to me the sin of vainglory. When I was in Tyburn, we novices were not allowed to share anything of our past lives. I got in trouble one day for sharing at what I called “recess”, the forty-five daily minutes when one could relax with the other nuns and talk, that I had been a teacher. Later on, one of the older nuns took me aside and told me that in the convent the past life is completely forgotten, and that one never refers to the past except to the novice mistress in private.

This lesson reveals a consciousness of purity of intention, as there is no reason to discuss past deeds or past accomplishments, all leading to vainglory. Purity of intention allows one to live in the present moment, to respond to the now, not the past, nor the future.

Father Rodriguez quotes the book of Revelation, in the pericope where Christ addresses the Church of Sardis, as being active, as showing forth works, but inside, the interior life of that community, being dead. Those who have followed this blog for years remember my many posts on St. Catherine of Siena and her exhortation to build a little cell in one's mind where one can retreat in peace and contemplation of God. As the good priest reminds the reader, Catherine had to work in the kitchen of her own home, as punishment for refusing to get married, after the parents purposefully dismissed the cook-slave, so that Catherine would submit to their wishes. She then learned to create a small space in her mind, despite the heavy duties of cooking for a well-to-do household, with many demands, seeing in her parents, Joseph and Mary, and seeing her own role at serving Christ while in the kitchen. She learned purity of intention through the retreat into her little cell of the spirit.

Purity of intention seems like a rare virtue these days, as so many people do things out of gross manipulation. People seem to crave the love of other people to the point where they cannot act out of sheer freedom, but only with expectations.

Father Rodriguez quotes both St. Paul and St. Ignatius Loyola in focusing on the goal of all actions, all thoughts, and that is the greater glory of God, the motto of the Jesuits. When one has God's glory in mind daily, His Will, then purity of intentions as a virtue grows and grows. When one is focused on God, one does things for His Kingdom, His Glory, not one's own.

Before I do something, I stop and think, “Is this action for God's glory?” “Will this action bring me closer to Christ?” Distractions and negligences, notes Rodriguez, come from a lack of purity of intention, an impurity of intention. As a clue to defeating distractions, he refers to the passage in Ezekiel on the “great, holy living creatures” who held their hands under their wings in the vision of the prophet. These angelic beings show us that our actions fall under the interior life of contemplation, that Martha and Mary work together, as Rodriguez notes.

One's exterior life follows the interior.

Purity of intention will yield good fruit, and lead to the practicing of more virtues, such as humility. Purity of intention absolutely leads to detachment. As in one chapter, Rodriguez in quoting St. Ignatius, explains that one can be detached from one's work in bringing souls to Christ, in helping others become holy.

Ignatius compares the work of his priests to those of the guardian angels, who teach, instruct, excite to virtue, counsel, lead to good works and defend their persons under their care. But, if those persons do not respond to the guidance of the angels, these angels do not weep, but rejoice in God, in glory, understanding that all men and women have free will, as they do, (although their wills are now set in glorifying God from their one moment of assent, just as the devils chose the opposite way once and for all), and move on, letting the person given to them go his or her own way, as a sick person who refuses to be cured, (and I know one person like that right now in my circle of acquaintances, who freely refuses to get well).

The angels do not weep for lost souls. The reason is that they are doing the Will of God constantly and rejoice in purity of intention, purity of intellect and spirit.

Father Rodriguez writes of an interesting anecdote about which I have never read in the past. He states that St. James only converted eight or nine people in Spain on his missionary travels. Yet, his work did not please God any less than the greater successes of the other apostles, nor did it take away from his merit. The actions he performed, the teaching and preaching, the prayers and intercessions, were done out of purity of intention—all for the glory of God.

When I was in graduate school, in each of my own books, I wrote the Jesuit motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam, all for the glory of God, next to my name in the front of my books. This was a daily reminder that all my s studies were not for my own glory, but for God's glory. Nothing else matters.

There are three sins, imho, which plague hypocrites. One is vainglory, taking on the glory due to God for themselves; one is a liberal interpretation of the Law, (see my post on this); and one is impurity of thought, or impurity of intentions. The hidden sins, by far, are the worst ones and the one which take great attention in expulsion from one's heart, mind, soul. Ask God to show you the hidden sins, as one does in the daily prayers of the Church.

In Sunday's Terce, Sext and None, the Psalms remind one of the love of meditating on the law of God, both natural and revealed, and on keeping His commandments, as well as seeking purity of heart.

One of the verses and responses point to this prayer for purity:

“From my secret sins cleanse me, O Lord. And from strange evils spare Thy servant.”