Monday, February 03, 2014

Purely about purity

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the feast of the Purification 2014

In the Tate Gallery,
there are two paintings
by Barnett Newman.

The painting called “Adam”
consists solely of a dark red background
upon which are two vertical brighter red stripes
on the left of the canvass.

The other painting, “Eve”,
 is that same brighter red as the canvass background
but with a single vertical dark red stripe
on the right.

And that’s it.

There are no other features!

Of course in each painting,
your eye is drawn away from the background colour
to the different colour stripes.

That’s why Barnett Newman put them there
– to draw your eye to what is different.

Your eye is meant to seek out
that which is different.
 It is a master of finding the impurity.

A blank page is useless
until there’s something written on it,
or drawn on it.

Writing only works
because it shows up
against the purity of the white page.

It has probably not escaped your notice
 that purity is also regarded
as a virtue for Christians.

Purity is something that God wants for us,
but what exactly does this mean?

Today, Candlemas,
we remember the purification of Our Lady.
It is the custom of Hebrew women
to come to the temple to be purified
 after childbirth.

The twelfth chapter of Leviticus tells us,
 that after childbearing a woman shall offer
a year old lamb and a pigeon or a turtledove
(or two pigeons if she is poor)
for a sin offering to the priest
“Who shall offer it before the LORD,
and make an atonement for her;
and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood.
This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.”

This is something
that passes us Christians by
and sounds odd, obsessive
and even downright oppressive.

Why should a woman be regarded as unclean
 just because she has performed
the miracle of giving birth to a child?

Can that really be a sin?


Of course, the dangers of infection
without proper medical attention
are quite substantial.

Many women have died
and still do die in poorer countries
due to post natal infections.

Despite the fact that Our Lady is a pure virgin,
she is still very much
in danger from infection.

The rite of purification
is supposed to be a safeguard
given to the Hebrew women to prevent them
from infection.

Of course, it gets hijacked
by the more unscrupulous Pharisees and Priests
to enforce their leadership.

Our Lord Himself does away
with the whole notion of being ritually unclean
when He says,
“those things which proceed
out of the mouth come forth from the heart;
 and they defile the man.
For out of the heart proceed
evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,
fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
These are the things which defile a man:
but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.”

The Blessed Virgin submits to the purification ritual:
her Son perfects it upon the cross
whereby all may be purified and wash their robes
in the blood of the Lamb of God.

But what is this purity that God demands of us?

If you think about it,
pure gold is gold and nothing else.

Pure water is water alone
without anything contaminating it.

So a pure life is a life that is precisely that,
life without contamination.

Our Lord Jesus tells us that He is the true life.

His purity is without question
because although He is both human and Divine,
His humanity is not an obstacle
to being very God of very God.
 Our Lord Jesus is pure God,
 and His humanity radiates with it.

There is nothing in our humanity
that prevents us from having His life.
We too, could more obviously reflect the nature of God
 if our humanity were pure enough.

 It is what contaminates our life
from within that causes our impurity,
 and why people struggle to see God in us.

Our lives and our happiness
are contaminated by our own tendency
to let impurities grow within ourselves.

In fact, we know that there impurities in our life,
precisely because we know what it is to be pure.

Each day,
we battle resentment, bitterness, anger, lust,
hatred, envy, dishonesty
and lack of charity.
 Each of these is like a seed
and each grows within us like an infection.

They attack our happiness;
they attack our relationships with people;
they attack our relationship with God.

When we recognise these infections in ourselves,
it’s easy for us to become disheartened.

There is no reason to be.

We are not wholly depraved,
and if we seek purity,
and work at being pure,
then we recognise more easily
when we are infected with impurity
and can do something about it.

If we are honest with ourselves
and honest with God,
He will purify us.

“For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap:
and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Refining is not a pleasant process
 because it brings the impurities to the top.

They are revealed to us
in all their horrid “glory”,
but it has to happen for us to get better.

It is very easy for impurity
which has risen to the top
to be skimmed off
by a skilled hand.

Purification is not an easy thing and,
 indeed we may run from it.

 God, however,
is patient and won’t let us get away
with a single impurity
 until we shine like pure gold in Heaven.

Like Our Lady,
we must submit to the process.

If it hurts, then it can only mean
we are getting better!

That’s better than carrying those impurities
around for Eternity, isn’t it?

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