Christians believe that the poor in spirit are 1) blessed and 2) will see the kingdom of heaven. It is also true that the pure of heart shall see God. In 2014, however, it is hard to articulate what that means, or how one can “do that” or “attain” it. In this context, the purification of the memory is a process with relevance.
What is it I think about? What is it that drives me? What is it that hinders or paralyzes me? What about anger or a disordered passion? All this “stuff” takes place in the memory. We imagine a goal, a past hurt or frustration, an ideal or different circumstance, and so on. The memory (sometimes called the imagination) is a very sensual part (or faculty) of the soul. The stuff that takes place in the memory can weigh us down to the point of death, or enliven us to sainthood.
Often, though, we fill our mind, heart, and soul with crud. It’s like vinegar. It’s sour to the smell and taste. This crud stains what it touches and even is soaked into the material. So too with out mind: what we allow in often stains us. More than that, it is soaked in to our membrane, into our memory! Have you ever worn a piece of clothing that came in contact with vinegar? It’s as if the smell didn’t go away… unless you wash it. There’s our situation. For one reason or another, we have allowed crud into our interior life, we have pursued it as a lesser good.
We must take captive every thought and submit it to Christ who is our True Hope. We possess Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, do we not? And yet, in one of his poems St. John of the Cross beautifully writes that
When I try and find relief
seeing you in the Sacrament,
I find this greater sorrow:
I cannot enjoy you wholly.
All things are affliction
since I do not see you as I desire,
and I die because I do not die.
Can you identify with or at least see the tension present? Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, of course not! And yet, we strain forward to Him in this life, we suffer “being away from the Lord while in the body,” we await the time when our mortal bodies will be swallowed up in Life; we ache and hope for something that we do not yet possess. Who hopes for what he has and what he sees? This is not hope, this is the possession of some created good.
Our sin is the direction of our desire to these created things and the possession of created things in place of God and treating them as if they themselves are for what we ultimately and totally desire, long for, work toward, and live for. Really? Do we actually blind ourselves to this deadly disorder? (Yes, yes we do.) The same doctor of the Church gives a firm teaching on this particular issue:
“Creatures, earthly or heavenly, […] that can be the object [or focus] of a person’s faculties [like the memory], are incomparable and unproportioned to God’s being. God does not fall under classifications of genus and species, whereas, according to theologians, creatures do. […] Therefore anyone encumbering the memory and the other faculties of the soul with what is comprehensible cannot have a proper esteem or opinion of God.” -Ascent of Mount Carmel, 3.12.1
It’s as if nothing lower than God is worth occupying our memory, as if we are made for this vision of God and beatitude of Heaven. Call it crazy, huh? Actually, call it the Spirit of adoption, the grace of Baptism. Wow! Is that clear enough? That which is comprehensible is that which encumbers the memory, and such a person with these encumbrances (or crud) cannot “have a proper esteem or opinion of God.” Does this mean I or you are damned? No, it means we found something to work on and “deny” (Lk 9:23). Remember what Jesus tells us: blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God! That’s totally pure, for nothing impure shall enter heaven (Rev 21:27). Why settle for partial purity and integrity? Why settle for partial holiness and salvation? Is there even such a thing?
Purify your memory. It’s something worth paying attention to; it’s kind of (more like very) salvific. Benedict XVI writes similarly of hope. Prayer is an exercise of desire, an exercise and expansion of hope. This hope is necessary for our redemption and salvation (Check out Spe Salvi, especially paragraph 33). Place your hope in him who is pure, whole, holy; the only one who is Good. Redirect your desires and passions. For everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure (1 Jn 3:3). This hope is itself what purifies! Read the first three verses for context and rejoice.
And why is such purification worth it?
Well, “our aim is union with God in the memory through hope; the object of hope is something unpossessed; the less other objects are possessed, the more capacity and ability there is to hope for this one object [that is, God], and consequently the more hope, the greater the possessions, the less capacity and ability for hoping, and consequently so much less of hope […]” -Ascent of Mount Carmel 3.15.1
Further, such a person who desires union with God “…must renounce all possession of the memory in order to reach union with God in hope, for if hope is to be centered entirely on God, nothing that is not God should reside in the memory.” -Ascent of Mount Carmel 3.11.1
Finally, let’s consider what the relationship between hope and the dispossession of all things: “In the measure that the memory becomes dispossessed of things, in that measure it will have hope, and the more hope it has the greater will be its union with God; for in relation to God, the more a soul hopes the more it attains.” -Ascent of Mount Carmel 3.7.2
The short answer to “how do I purify my memory” and “how do I attain such purity” is hope. We pretend to like short answers: they’re quick but they usually don’t suffice. So what does it mean to hope in the Creator, not in His creation? The Ascent of Mount Carmel Book 3, Chapters 1 through 15 can help answer that. Spe Salvi is another beautiful document: “In hope we were saved.” Benedict XVI, like always, lays it out and feeds us like a good spiritual father.
Before all that, and above all: let us pray, not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. Instead, let us undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well (Spe Salvi, 33). Let us live lives worth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen!