Notes on Holy Purity
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Adapted from Mark Lowery, Ph.D.

Our Lord set a high standard for the practice of holy purity. He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Other holy men and women have put a high value on this virtue. St. John of the Cross, for instance, compares our souls to windows, which unless pure and clean cannot fully receive the light of God’s love or see that light. The pure heart is an undivided heart that wills what is true loyally and unreservedly.

Holy purity is a joyful affirmation that enables us to love God and creatures with all our heart. Empty of impure passions, like a clean vessel, we could fill ourselves with the rich love of God. The opposite situation prevents the reception of grace.

Here are some practical suggestions for acquiring the virtue of purity.

  • Many are under the false impression that various impure thoughts that flow through our minds are basically innocent. So long as we do not act on them, or plan to act on them, there is nothing wrong with these thoughts. However, there is an important distinction that is missing here: the difference between an impure thought entering the mind, and the choice to dwell on that thought and take pleasure in it. The choice to dwell on and take pleasure in the thought is to act on it.
  • The impure thought that enters the mind may well be neutral, so long as a person does not intentionally put himself in a situation that invites the thought. There is no reason to feel guilty about such thoughts. Again, it is the choice to dwell on the thoughts that is inordinate and sinful. As the Catechism notes, "Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues or perverted by the vices" (1768; and see the whole section on the passions from 1763-1770).
  • We should remember God’s presence. God is the one helping us to turn to him. Only by his grace can holy purity be practiced. As Pope Pius XI noted in Casti Connubii, "God does not ask the impossible, but by His commands, instructs you to do what you are able, to pray for what you are not able that He may help you" (section IV, #31).
  • Receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist frequently. Tell Him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean!”
  • Have a devotion to Our Lady, who practices holy purity and is all beautiful.
  • Be humble: “Holy purity is granted by God to those who ask for it with humility” (The Way, 118).
  • Be absolutely sincere:  During each day one may be besieged by impure thoughts.
  • Practice temperance, mortification and penance.
  • Work: Indeed, idleness is the devil’s workshop.
  • Holy purity entails openness to life in the sexual act.

d. A variety of spiritual techniques can accompany the physical ones. The "Jesus Prayer" could be repeated: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Also, consider short lines from the Psalms or other favorite prayers. Consider from Psalm 51: "A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me." Repeat the beatitude: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Another helpful technique involves music: find certain songs that inspire you, and play them "in your mind" whenever impure thoughts begin to oppress.

Dr. Lowery is an Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Dallas.


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