“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
Percy Ainsworth was a youthful and gifted preacher who died in the early part of the twentieth century. Although his writings are well over one hundred years old they continue to resonate with meaning for all of those seeking to deepen their spirituality. In a thoughtful meditation on the Beatitudes, Ainsworth described what he called the “final spiritual purpose” – that of seeing God. Christmas is a season well-suited for such a purpose. Both the Solemnity of Christmas Day and the short liturgical season that follows celebrate the presence of God enfleshed and living among us.
All of this sounds good but how does it work in an everyday sense? How, exactly, do we see God? The beatitude calls for a pure heart as the requisite for such vision. This begs another question: what is a pure heart and how do we achieve it? Purity, Ainsworth wrote, stands for “rightness of character” – a way of living that strives towards what is good and just, compassionate and kind, gentle and open to grace. It is to pursue a virtuous life, but not in order to withdraw into a safe circle of self-imposed sanctity. Instead it is to engage with the world each and every day. Some of Ainsworth’s imagery of ordinary life includes the cradle of the infant and the playtime of small children, the stillness of our thoughts and the busyness of the workplace, the activities of the school and the domesticity of the home. In all of these times and places the spiritual pursuit is to see with ever-clearer eyes the mystery of the Incarnation.
The Incarnation is the central mystery of Christianity and the crux of the entire Christmas season – the coming of God into our world through the person of Jesus Christ and the unfolding of the Divine Presence in our midst. And the more we see, the more we are transformed. In his beautifully poetic language Ainsworth describes it this way: “The more like God we become, the more of God we behold.” And who better to show us how to become like God than Jesus? His example of holiness and trust, his emphasis on justice and mercy, and his adherence to the Spirit of the Law provide the very blueprint needed for the pure heart. Can there be a more wonderful Christmas gift than this?
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons