AINT THOMAS AQUINAS interprets the Lord’s words “Blessed are the clean of heart” in terms of perfection within oneself, as a necessary disposition to heavenly beatitude (cf. Summa Ia-IIae, Question 69); and he interprets “Blessed are the peacemakers” in terms of perfection towards others, since the work proper to peace is the uniting or harmonizing of what is separated or discordant in human relationships.
Having a clean heart is a prerequisite to being a peacemaker, since knowing what peace truly consists in follows from having a well-ordered or “peaceful” soul. Aristotle makes the same point in the Nicomachean Ethics, where he discusses the wicked man who is at odds with himself, who is fragmented and restless in his consciousness, as opposed to the virtuous man who is at peace—not, mind you, smug or self-satisfied, since he goads himself on to do virtuous deeds (the greater the better); but rather, with the peace of self-possession that comes from self-mastery and habitually cleaving to the good.
Peace among men cannot come from hearts that are not at peace. Relationships of justice among men cannot arise as long as hearts are possessed of unjust desires and ambitions. “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you,” says the Lord. One can only promote the peace of another—peace with another and among others—if one first loves the other’s good. Peace demands a good willed for the neighbor for his sake, and the good of another can only be loved by one whose heart is already attracted to the good in itself—that is, by one whose heart is pure. As Kierkegaard once wisely said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Clarity of the heart’s “eye” is what makes it possible to see how great a good peace really is and to know how to foster it; cleanness of heart is the condition of both insight and foresight.
“My peace I leave with you: not as the world gives do I give to you.” Peace of soul is something only God can give us, and without it, we are lost. Indeed, without the peace that comes from resting in God’s will, much of what we do will become harmful to us, as we injure ourselves with our own “good intentions.” It is not enough to do something generically good. We seek to do what God wills, in the manner God wills, and because He wills it: quod Deus vult, quomodo Deus vult, et quia Deus vult.
For this reason, among others, a college that is truly Catholic must pay attention to the spiritual formation of its students. They are not disembodied intellects who are taught mere conceptual doctrines, whether in theology or mathematics or any other discipline; nor are they brute animals who climb the heights to forage and fight like mountain goats. A Catholic student is, first and foremost, an adopted son of God, whose soul needs grace as a plant needs sunlight and moisture to grow, as an animal need fresh air to breathe. A Catholic college allows, beckons, beseeches Holy Mother Church, in the person of her sacred ministers, to nourish students’ souls with the Bread of Angels, to heal their hearts with the absolving balm of Confession, to guide their steps with the reflected light of spiritual direction, to surround them with all the great and small reminders of our true origin and destiny, our Alpha and Omega. She makes this an explicit goal of her institutional life and culture.
True, a college as such exists to offer an academic curriculum. A Catholic college, however, must do more, and joyfully does more: it is not one-dimensional but three-dimensional. It offers a spiritual training ground in which the immediate goal of academic formation, of cultivating intellectual virtues, comes together with ongoing formation in and exercise of the moral and theological virtues. This tightly-knit threefold cord of theological virtue, intellectual virtue, and moral virtue is what binds into unity the many elements of a Catholic’s daily life, and in a special way, a student’s life. What a joy it is to see this unity emerge, year by year, as our students drink in peace from the Lord’s glorious wounds and seek to be peacemakers in a wounded world.