Are you asking the right questions?

photo credit: pedrojperez

‘That is why I am telling you not to worry about your life and what you are to eat, nor about your body and what you are to wear. Surely life is more than food, and the body more than clothing! Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they are? Can any of you, however much you worry, add one single cubit to your span of life?’ 

Every Wednesday, those who gather for the Pure in Heart holy hour hear these words spoken. Matthew 6:25-34 may not be an obvious choice of scripture for Pure in Heart to take as its emblem; there is no mention of sexuality, chastity, purity or morality. If these were the only words of Jesus’ that you were to ever hear, you would think his only concerns are that we live like the rest of creation – in the moment, utterly dependent on the Father’s providence, and to recognise our inherent beauty and worth. Yet these things lie at the heart of purity, beneath the lifestyle choices we make.

The roadblock: fearful questioning

As we journey deeper into God, we hear the Lord inviting us, ‘You trust in God, trust also in me’ (John 14:1). We long to do as He did, putting His whole life in the hands of the Father. Though we may desire this, so much fear stands in the way. In his book In the House of the Lord, Henri Nouwen observes we have become so accustomed to being fearful we no longer notice it. He explores how our fear reveals itself in the types of questions that preoccupy us:

‘Fear engenders fear. Fear never gives birth to love. If this is the case, the nature of the questions we raise is as important as the answers to our questions. Which questions guide our lives? Which questions do we make our own? Which questions deserve our undivided attention and full personal commitment? Finding the right questions is as crucial as finding the right answers. A careful look at the Gospels shows that Jesus seldom accepted the questions posed to him. He exposed them as coming from the house of fear [Nouwen lists some examples]. To none of these questions did Jesus give a direct answer. He gently put them aside as questions emerging from false worries […] Therefore Jesus always transformed the question by his answer. He made the question new – and only then worthy of his response.’ 

The scripture that came to my mind when I read this, reinforced by hearing it week after week, was Matthew 6: 31-33. Jesus exhorts us, ‘do not worry, do not say, “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? What are we to wear?” It is the gentiles who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.’ Nouwen’s prompt to take a good look at the questions I ask with my life exposes the ways I still live like a gentile within. It all comes down to the questions that lie in the heart. It is entirely possible to go to Mass, have a committed prayer life, live chastely, and still be uncertain whether God will provide.

The way forward

The good news is that prayer and sacraments are the means by which God gently uncovers our unbelief as well as our great worth. Jesus knows when he asks us to lose control that this terrifies us. He saw through His disciples’ questioning to the fear that lingered in their hearts even though they had dropped their nets to follow Him. As with them, He wants to help us replace questions born of worldly anxiety, fear and self-sufficiency with questions that empower us to live like God’s children. My heart sincerely desires to give God all of my trust and to be surprised by his loving care for me, but do I give him much opportunity? Often I don’t, but sometimes I do.

Trust in God is itself a gift received, but like all virtues, it grows when we practice it in little things. We can exhaust ourselves straining to hear answers to big questions like, ‘Where should I live? What work should I do? Where is my husband/wife/community?!’ We desperately try to trust God in all these things, but do we trust him when we’re running late and the bus hasn’t shown up? Do we trust Him when we get exasperated with own weaknesses that His grace is nevertheless at work within us? If we seek His kingdom first, everything else follows. The point of all this personal growth is never oneself. However, it is only a heart that loves and trusts God that is free to love. Shortly after reading Nouwen, I came across this short video of Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, SV, of the Sisters of Life:“>

As an answer to prayer I didn’t even know I’d made, she gave me a question to steer my heart towards the future: ‘The most important question in your life is, “What will you do with your love?”’ For all of us, especially the young who are discerning God’s call, ‘what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed’ (1 John 3:2). I encourage you to put aside your fretting, your attempts to figure it all out, and ask how you will love God today – with this body, this heart, this life you have, through the people He has placed before you.


Why I come to Pure in Heart

photo credit: pedrojperez

I first came to Pure in Heart after realising that it was becoming increasingly hard to grow in my faith without encouragement or anyone to talk about it with. Moving to London I found myself in a bigger struggle than ever between the worldly and the religious lifestyle. Although I’ve always had a strong faith and regularly attend Mass, I’d spend most of my time with people who were not religious and often found myself in situations and environments which were not fruitful or satisfying. Spurred finally by an encounter I had in Confession where I grumbled about living a bit of a duplicitous lifestyle, I was advised to find a Catholic community.

I remember speaking to someone after Mass at Westminster Cathedral, who told me that Pure in Heart met each Wednesday for an hour of Adoration with the Rosary, followed by a talk or discussion centred on Theology of the Body (ToB). Without the slightest idea what ToB was, and slightly anxious that I might not be pure in heart, I decided to go. In that first peaceful hour of adoration, surrounded by Catholics of a similar age, I felt it was an answer to a prayer.

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What gives me the right to forgive myself?


This was the question I was pondering today in prayer, and as I was mulling it over, a statement popped into my head:

“Do not call unclean what I have made clean.”

I knew I’d heard that before, although I wasn’t exactly sure where, so I looked it up when I got home. There it was in Acts 10:15.

I thought about the idea of forgiving myself for quite some time. I wondered how it was possible, and even if it was, what it would actually mean. Does forgiving myself mean deciding that what happened wasn’t really that bad after all? No. Does it mean I’m going to erase this mistake from my mind and never think of it again. No, that’s not humanly possible. The old self acted in a way that hurt so many people (not least of all me). Forgiving myself means letting that self die, burying it like a seed in the ground, and letting the painful lessons I’ve learned from that mistake become nutrients for the completely new self slowly springing up. What’s going to happen to the new self if I keep digging up the old self to see how small, hard, and ugly it was? The best case scenario is its growth will be stunted, and worst case, it will die and I’ll be stuck with the old self that I just couldn’t let go of. I can have the old or the new, but I can’t have both. Does God want me to be the person I was? No. Does he want to cultivate that new and improved version of me? Absolutely. So who am I to tell God I’m staying in this hole I dug for myself when he is calling me out of it?

I’m free of my sins not because I said so – I’m free because when I turned away from those sins, God commanded my release. Staying in my little prison cell after he’s opened the door is just adding monumentally to the self-centred foolishness that put me there in the first place. By forgiving myself I’m not condoning my mistakes, I’m allowing God to help me become a completely new creation. I’ll be stronger against sin now that I know its heavy price, wiser in my future choices, more humble because I know my weaknesses, and more forgiving because I’ve been forgiven.


Thomas Hardy’s good shepherd


‘I’m sorry but she so totally did not deserve him!’

This was my friend’s immediate comment as the final scene of Far From the Madding Crowd closed with the hero and heroine strolling arm in arm into the West Country sunset. I had to admit she had a point. The heroine Bathsheba is not really a character you find yourself rooting for throughout the film. First she laughingly rejects a handsome and charming shepherd (the solidly named Gabriel Oak) who proposes marriage with the sweetest image of their future married life; “And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.’ She then goes on to inherit a farm and money (giving her the opportunity to showcase an array stunning dresses in various pastoral scenes), have two other men fall in love with her (a rich but boring older man named Boldwood and a dashing but dangerous young soldier Troy) whilst all the time the dependable Gabriel Oak is in the background loving her with an earthy pragmatism by trying to keep her from financial and moral ruin.

Despite the fact that Far From the Madding Crowd was written by a man you could be forgiven for thinking that such a narrative is a narcissistic woman’s dream. I mean this girl has not one but three men after her! Granted two turn out to be duds, but the final one is so amazingly manly, wise and loyal that you really think ‘there’s no one like this surely.’ However reflecting on the good shepherd Gabriel put me in mind of another Good Shepherd.

Now I should clarify that novel’s author Hardy was an agnostic who probably never intended his work to be a Christian allegory, however I believe that wittingly or not this story can shed light on our interior lives.

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