God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.
“The angels,” says one of the Fathers of the Church, “always carry their heaven about with them wheresover they are sent, because they never depart from God or cease to behold Him, ever dwelling in the bosom of His immensity, living and moving in Him, and exercising their ministry in the sanctuary of His divinity.” Christ gave warrant beforehand to this thought of Gregory the Great, when, speaking of little children, He uttered that unexpected and beautiful description of the privileges of their estate, so unlike all our materialistic ways of reckoning advantages, and says that their angels do always “behold the face of His Father in heaven.” The preeminent joy of these spirits that are without the stains of conscious sin is their uninterrupted vision of the beauty of the Lord. The qualification for that honor is purity of heart. Light is thrown from this passage on another, not without its difficulties, where the Saviour seems to make infants models for grown people. The disciples were inquiring who should be greatest in the new kingdom. Such a question must be prompted not merely by a vain curiosity, but by an ambitious emulation. To mortify their calculating selfishness, Jesus placed an infant before them and said, “Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” His other teachings forbid us to understand Him as meaning that children bring into life with them no stains of ancestral evil, and no natural proclivities to falsehood and self-indulgence. Nor can He mean that full grown men and women, fighting in the fierce warfare and suffering in the terrible tragedy of a world of experience, with intellect and will and passion developed, can return to the untried and comparatively passive state of an infantile nature. He rather bids us enter into the spiritual elements of the child’s soul, and to find there three or foui traits which form essential features of any mature character that weal’s the holy likeness of His own. One is simplicity. It is the opposite of what we see in so many adult persons in modern society,—a kind of inward conspiracy between intense selfish- ness and an unscrupulous intellect; a strong head combined with a bad heart. This is something that in a child would be pronounced morally monstrous. Another trait is docility,—a readiness to receive wisdom, whether taught by authority or shining by its own light. This is the quality that gives its sig- nification to the word disciple,—the chosen name of the learners in Christ’s school. Another trait is trustfulness. This is the willingness to be led on and held up by a stronger hand. It is the childish germ of that great power in the Christian which afterward, under the nurture of the Gospel at the foot of the Cross, accepts the Divine mysteries, believes what passes the understanding, renounces self-sufficiency, and inherits the victories that are promised to faith. Another yet is purity. This is a cleanness from those actual defilements that come by the personal indulgence of the lusts of the flesh. It belongs to hearts that are either unpolluted by the touch of external corruption, or else, by the purifying power of the Holy Spirit, after having been once disordered through the inordinate activity of the senses, are restored to chastity. These, then, are the spiritual graces that we are to cultivate, or to restore in our souls if we would share in the benediction pronounced by the Saviour on a child- like character. If we inquire which is chief among them, some light is thrown on that question when we turn to the Beatitudes. What is the grace that is there specially singled out as the qualification for the Beatific Vision % “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The meek shall inherit the earth. Hunger and thirst after righteousness shall have their longing filled. The merciful shall obtain more mercy than they bestow. The peacemakers shall be called God’s children. But there is one measure of the fullness of joy higher and richer than any other. It is not only to be rewarded and comforted by being in heaven, but it is, with the angels that watch over little children, to see Him whose presence makes it heaven. Among all the raptures of beatitude the Beatific Vision is supreme; and that, so far as Revelation has lifted the veil, is only for the pure in heart.
Since to Thy little ones is given such grace, That they who nearest stand Alway to God, in heaven, and see His face, Go forth at His command, Grant, Lord, that when around the expiring world Our seraph guardians wait, While on her death-hed, e’en to ruin hurled, She owns Thee all too late; They to their charge may turn and thankful see Thy mark upon us still; Then all together rise and reign with Thee And all their holy joy o’er contrite hearts fulfil!
GIVE me, O Lord, purity of lips, a clean and innocent heart, and rectitude of action. Make me ever to seek Thy face with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind; grant me to have a contrite and humbled heart in Thy presence,—to prefer nothing to Thy love. Most high, eternal, and ineffable Wisdom, drive ‘away from me the darkness of blindness and ignorance; most high and eternal Strength, deliver me; most high and eternal Fortitude, assist me; most high and infinite Mercy, have mercy on me; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.