The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “…the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of ones’ being, [is] where the person decides for or against God” [no. 368]. This decision exists in the human person as a dynamic and constant impulse toward God. In John Cassian, whose writings we are considering for a few days, the decision issues in the willingness to labour unceasingly to make the vessel of our heart able to bear the indwelling of Christ.
For Cassian, in order for this to happen, the person needs to gain insight into what he already has within the vessel of the heart. And, recall, according to Cassian, we can’t say, “Oh, I’m not a vessel, so I don’t have to worry about this.” For Cassian, the acknowledgement that we are vessels must be our starting point. It’s how we’re made. So, what’s in us, then?
Although the human person responds naturally to love, beauty, truth and goodness, and we achieve our human fulfilment through augmenting these qualities within ourselves, there is another, less sanguine aspect of our interiority to consider. Cassian maintains that the vessel of the heart can be a place of conflict and temptation. The decision for God must be made again and again, on ever deeper levels. Purity of heart, therefore, is our goal, not our starting point. This is what he says,
For the sake of [purity of heart] then, everything is to be done or desired. This should be our principal effort, then; this should be constantly pursued as the fixed goal of our heart, so that our mind may always be attached to divine things and to God [Conf. 1, VII: 1].
So, it is a given that we are vessels, but it is not a given that we are automatically pure of heart. To become so: that is our longing; and everything we do should be done not just with this goal vaguely in the picture. Cassian puts it more strongly. It should be our “fixed goal”, our “principal effort”. How do we undertake such a project? Tomorrow we will look at one way to proceed.