Music speaks directly to the soul, tugging at the strings of our highest sensibility, modelling states of mind, often framing poems or prayers which acquire greater eloquence through the harmonization of instruments and voices.
In the Principality of Wales, in the United Kingdom, there is a hymn from the 19th century which is noteworthy for its joyous and spirited melody, but above all for its lyrics which, although simple, carry a great depth of meaning, since they form a true prayer which asks for a pure heartb Calon Lân in its original language.
I invite the readers to let themselves be transported by the stanzas of this song and to follow a deeper analysis of its verses.
The true treasure of life
This is how the song begins:
I do not ask for a life of luxury
The world’s gold or its fine pearls,
I ask for a happy heart,
An honest heart, a pure heart.
Already in this introduction we are able to contemplate the longings of a soul that has understood the emptiness of worldly riches and even of sensual pleasures, which, ephemeral and deceptive, are always frustrating. What an incomparable treasure it is to have a pure heart! An honest and entirely sincere heart, which for love of the truth detaches itself from creatures, lives calmly and contentedly even in the direst material poverty, because it preserves a clear conscience in the certainty of having acquired nothing unjustly. Those who have such a heart understand that if they lack the futile things of this earth, they can enjoy with greater freedom what is of real value: the serene peace of a heart in which God dwells.
Why should we wait any longer to ask for this? Let us pray insistently, as Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7).
“Make our hearts like the Heart of Jesus”
A pure heart, full of goodness
Fairer than the beautiful lily
A heart more pure and beautiful than the lily? Knowing our own miseries, this comparison may seem fanciful to us… Nevertheless, at the end of the Litany of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we ask the Blessed Virgin to make our heart like that of Jesus. Now, is there anything comparable to the pulchritude and purity of this Sacred Heart?
We see then how insignificant is the comparison with the lily, for all the beauties of the material universe could not rival even a glimmer of light from this Divine Heart. We need to have faith and to desire, more than anything else on earth, to be consumed in the ardent love of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
A pure heart beats only for God
The refrain continues, with greater eloquence:
Only a pure heart can sing;
Sing by day and sing by night.
These two lines reveal a sublime truth: only he who has purified his heart, divesting himself of all earthly and human affection, will obtain the priceless ability to sing joyfully, day and night, in both tranquillity and tribulation.
This is because a pure heart does not live for itself but beats only in God and for God, desiring that His holy will alone be done; and in Him it finds infinite charity to overflow upon creatures.
Blessed are those who know how to place their hope in the Lord with no attachment to earthly things, as St. Paul exhorts in his Epistle to the Philippians: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6).
“Blessed are the pure of heart”
The pure heart understands that even the worst and most absurd things that may befall it do not escape Divine Providence. It fears nothing; confident and grateful, in it rests the arms of the Heavenly Father and sings, putting into practice the teaching of the Apostle: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance” (Phil 4:4-5).
Moreover, the pure heart longs to transmit this joy to those around it, and its only desire is to enkindle in all souls love for God. That is why its music is made up of charity placed at the service of others, since – as St. Bernard of Clairvaux told his sister, Blessed Humbeline – the secret of happiness in the midst of activity is summed up in three words: “Loving is serving”.
As a reward, he will obtain the one true peace of those who live in Jesus Christ and possess God. Possess God? Yes, Our Lord declared that blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (cf. Mt 5:8). Now St. Gregory of Nyssa explains that “to see, according to the Scriptures, means to have. For example: ‘See the goods of Jerusalem’ is the same as to ‘find’ such goods. […] Therefore, whoever sees God possesses all that is good through that vision. He possesses life everlasting, eternal incorruptibility, immortal happiness, the kingdom without end, continual joy, true light, the spiritual and gentle word, intangible glory and perpetual exultation. In short, he possesses all goods.”1
Thus we receive the promise to possess, or rather to be possessed and inhabited, even during this life, by the Most Holy Trinity.
If you want joy, prepare for war
Purity of heart means purity of intention; that is, doing everything exclusively for love of God. Nevertheless, we can only attain this goal by dying. And not just once: we must die to self every day and every instant; renounce ourselves and carry the cross, which is a light and easy yoke when we learn to sing with gratitude day and night.
Evidently, to do this we must be ready to fight the fiercest enemy we will have until the day of our death: ourselves. This means fighting against evil tendencies, concupiscence, laziness and selfishness.
In the truly pure heart unfailingly burns a form of combative and destructive love, a fire that annihilates every kind of evil. It has a holy intolerance for lies and error, because it shares in the Truth, which is God. And it never sheathes its sword! “Si vis pacem para bellum – If you want peace, prepare for war” – says the Roman proverb. We could just as well say: Si vis lætitiam para bellum – If you want joy, prepare for war. Fighting with love for God’s glory, we will always be happy.
Sow riches to reap the reward
The hymn ends with this stanza:
If I wished for worldly wealth,
It would swiftly go to seed;
The riches of a virtuous, pure heart
Will bear eternal profit.
We will have obtained from God the grace of a pure heart if a consuming apostolic zeal begins to burn in our souls. We will go out immediately to sow this wealth, because such a heart is detached and knows, according to the phrase attributed to Saint-Exupéry, that “love is the only thing that increases when it is shared”; and not only that: it yields, above all, an eternal reward.
Evening and morning, my wish
Rising to Heaven on the wing of song
For God, for the sake of my Saviour,
To give me a pure heart.
The pure in heart sings, and sings without ceasing, a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, because it understands that everything that comes from the Father’s Heart is for his greater well-being. How beautiful and how pleasing to God it would be if we constantly gave thanks for the good things we obtained from Him. It would be nobler still if we expressed gratitude not only for the joys we have received but also for our sorrows and trials, as Job proclaimed: “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (2:10); “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21).
A pure heart recognizes that everything comes from the Most High; He who created us in His image and likeness knows better than we what we need in order to enjoy eternal joys and to contemplate Him in all His glory and splendour. His desire is to see us attain to the fullness of the virtues, for “God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness” (1 Thes 4:7).
Therefore, the zeal of those who preserve the purity of their heart will not be in vain. ◊
1 ST. GREGORY OF NYSSA. De beatitudinibus. Oratio VI: PG 44, 1266.