When we think of purity, there is an inclination to think in carnal terms, not least when Mary’s purity is so often aligned with her perpetual virginity. Whilst sexual morality is a core part of it, however, purity extends far beyond that, it is the commitment of a person’s whole life to God. One of the bible verses I find most potent is Luke 1:38 “And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”
Mary was a young woman, undoubtedly looking forward to her wedding and probably a comfortable life as a wife and mother, married to a tradesman; she did not appear to fully understand what the angel was telling her but she trusted completely in God and accepted his plan for her.
The other aspect of purity that we may perhaps find difficult is that the standard of purity achieved by Mary might seem so far beyond our ability that we could easily give it up as unattainable. In that regard, I think we can do well to turn to the example given by Thérèse of Lisieux and her wise perception that holiness is not achieved by doing extraordinary things, it is achieved by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well and the holiness she talks about is just another word for purity.
So what sorts of ordinary things can we try to do? One area that springs to mind at this time of year is our attitude to people less well-off than ourselves. How easily we forget that Mary, a heavily pregnant woman, at the stroke of a ruler’s pen had to make an arduous journey to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey and, when she got there, could find nowhere to stay.
Are there echoes in that of those who have undertaken dangerous journeys and are now homeless in our land?
How easily we forget that shortly after the birth of Jesus, he and his parents became migrants and asylum seekers in Egypt.
Again, are there echoes in that of those who have had to abandon their homes and everything they own to seek asylum in our land?
That does not mean that we have to undertake outstanding activities to help those people – some of us will give generously of our time and money but most of us will settle for the ordinary things, the things that St. Thérèse told us can take us to holiness and purity when done with the love of God.
When distressed people arrive in our community, do we treat them with suspicion, try to avoid them and perhaps even support the groups who oppose refugee settlement in their locality, whinging about the pressure it will put on schools and medical services? Or do we do as God would want us to do – greet them with a welcoming smile and give them whatever help is within our means to give, accepting that will require some sacrifices on our part though those sacrifices will pale into insignificance when compared to what some of these people have suffered?
It may be as simple as a friend or colleague talking negatively about homeless people or refugees being lazy or seeking to take advantage of our generosity; do we nod our heads in tacit agreement or do we challenge what they are saying?
We seem to live in a world where the increase in affluence has led to a decreasing spirit of generosity – many people don’t mind helping people so long as it doesn’t impact their own comfortable lifestyle. Mary didn’t worry about what she was giving up to fulfil God’s will; neither should we.
Leave a Reply