I received a wonderful education at St. Charles Borromeo School in part because of members of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND).
Though the religious women in habits could dish out firm discipline, I have no complaints about my memories or their instruction. My elementary school teachers provided me with an outstanding foundation for high school and beyond. And for life in general.
Some of what those nuns passed along to me remain part of my daily faith experience.
For instance, I frequently rely on some advice from Sister Cajetan, my sixth-grade teacher. It’s great advice for all of us — for both obvious and less-clear, more-spiritual reasons.
The obvious reason is, sadly and dangerously, all too pervasive in our 21st-century world. It involves these synonyms of impurity: immorality, vulgarity, obscenity, depravity, lustfulness.
“When you have ‘bad thoughts,’” Sister Cajetan would say, “stop right away and say, ‘Mary, make me pure.’”
Good counsel for 11- and 12-year-olds, an age when kids lose considerable childhood innocence no matter how much parents try to wrap them in protective “bubblewrap.” That’s true now more than ever, with the unavoidable influence from the worldwide web.
Alas, true enlightenment for adults as well.
Unfortunately, today’s world features a relentless barrage of sexually suggestive images on TV, in movies and on the internet — including commercials. Even uninvited temptations can start knocking on our mental door beginning just a few moments after we get out of bed. No matter how diligent we are at pursuing mental chastity, we’re human.
Tempting thoughts aren’t sinful, of course. Dwelling upon those thoughts can be; acting upon those thoughts almost certainly is. As Sister Cajetan recommended, turning to the Blessed Virgin Mary can keep us from moving into scandalous territory.
When such thoughts creep in, I try to immediately invoke her: Mary, make me pure. I will follow that with recitation of a Hail Mary, and if I have time in the moment, reach for a piece of paper that includes this prayer calling upon the help of the entire Holy Family:
Jesus, Lover of chastity, Mary, Mother most pure, and Joseph, chaste guardian of the Virgin, to you I come at this hour, begging you to plead with God for me. I earnestly wish to be pure in thought, word and deed in imitation of your own holy purity.
And when the “Bread of Angels becomes the Bread of me” in my heart at Holy Communion, seal it forever against the suggestions of sinful pleasures.
Heart of Jesus, Fount of all purity, have mercy on us.
I’m not so naive as to think invoking Mary will put an immediate end to wicked thoughts, especially those that might owe to an addiction. Yet Mary can help distract the mind away from the dishonorable long enough to reduce its hold.
And note that impurity isn’t relegated to the mental realm of sexual immorality alone. Recall that Jesus made us this promise: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
A pure heart can be defined as a clean heart, one that is authentic, sincere, untainted, focused 100 percent in one direction. Indeed, a holy heart.
A pure heart is one focused solely upon the Lord and His will. That means staying attuned to His word, His movement in our lives, giving our primary allegiance to Him above any competing god — including the god of self.
“Only he who has shrugged off human praise and in his life is concerned just to please God, who searches our conscience,” St. Augustine said, “has a simple, that is, pure, heart.”
We can be proactive in our battle against an impure heart, and the Mother of God can provide immeasurable aid. Who was more focused on God than Mary, whose profound “yes” to God’s will allowed Him to save us?
Part of my morning preparation for each day involves draping my brown scapular around my neck, kissing the image of Mary and saying: “Mary, my Queen and Holy Mother, please protect me and make me pure. Pray that I may be pure of mind and pure of heart, so I can one day see the face of God.”
I follow that by praying the Memorare. I memorized that several decades ago during Devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help every Tuesday at Borromeo Grade School, urged by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Thank you, Sister Cajetan.
Eisenbath is a parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.