“And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” —Mark 2:17
When I was three years old, I had a terrible case of the chicken pox. So terrible, in fact, that my spleen became enlarged, and doctors ran all sorts of tests to be sure I didn’t have leukemia. Fortunately, it really was just the chicken pox, and I recovered just fine. My sister had the chicken pox at the same time, but hers was a much milder case. Nine years later, she came down with shingles, and before we realized she was sick, she infected several of our friends. However, I remained completely immune. Her very mild case of chicken pox had left her with few antibodies to protect against shingles, while my intense case of chicken pox, though a terrible trial at the time, had given me a much stronger immunity. When we get sick, our bodies build up immunity to protect us from further physical illness. In a similar way, we can build up a spiritual immunity to protect ourselves from spiritual illness.
It is important for us to understand the distinction between innocence and purity when we are looking at our own spiritual immunity. Innocence is the state of not having sinned, whereas purity is the intention to do good and avoid sin. Innocence without purity only means that one has not yet had the opportunity to sin, or that circumstances have made it not very difficult to avoid. Purity of heart, on the other hand, means that even when exposed to the temptation of sin and the pervasive lies that surround it, we have the strength of character to resist, to work for good even in the face of evil.
We begin our lives in a state of innocence, but sooner or later we will inevitably come face to face with sin and evil in this fallen world. If we are unprepared, we can easily be taken in by the false promises they offer. All of us, at one point or another, have fallen prey to temptation and sin. Like an illness, they poison our thinking, causing us to rationalize our wrongdoings and try to justify our misdeeds; over time, our souls become affected and weakened by the disease of sin. If we continue on this path, the disease will worsen and spread, causing us to see the world through a distorted lens, to perceive our bad actions as good or neutral and yet be unforgiving of others’ faults.
God has given us the Sacrament of Confession to heal our sickened souls and reverse the effects of the disease of sin. If we turn toward Him in repentance, bracing ourselves for that first bitter taste of medicine that comes with swallowing our pride, we will be made healthy again. And not only that; if we can truly learn from our experiences and resolve to do better, we will move forward with healthy souls that have been fortified with antibodies against the sins we’ve been exposed to. We will have a better understanding of enemy parasites and thus a better defense against them. All of us have strayed from God, but if we grow to understand where we went wrong with purity of heart, we can help make ourselves immune to such situations in the future.
But exposure to the disease of sin is not the only way to gain immunity against it. We can vaccinate ourselves through prayer, knowledge, and the gifts of the Church, injecting ourselves with spiritual antibodies to hold firm in our resolve against sin, and thus mature from mere innocence to purity, from naïveté to a meaningful understanding of what we are undertaking and a sincere intent to follow through. By immersing ourselves in the graces of the Sacraments, spending time reading Scripture and spiritual writings, giving and receiving support in community with others, and cultivating virtuous habits and a love of prayer, we can inoculate ourselves against the disordered thinking that leads us astray. By proactively choosing what is good, we can build up an armor against the trials to come. With spiritual antibodies, we can become pure of heart; we can be exposed to evil without letting it taint us.
Our motivation, then, in doing good should not be merely to preserve our innocence but to be strengthened in purity, not to maintain a “perfect record” for the sake of our own vanity but to actively seek goodness and virtue for their own sake. We must stay spiritually healthy to fight against external dangers, and our past innocence is, in and of itself, a poor defense against the new viruses we will surely encounter in the future. If we appeal to the Divine Physician, He will heal us of the spiritual maladies we suffer and protect us against other diseases, building us up to be pure and spiritually healthy even in the midst of a germ-infested world.