Part 2: The Two Bishops

3 02 2010

In the early Christian Church, several bishops were gathered outside a cathedral in Antioch, when a beautiful prostitute passed by on the street. Upon noticing her, the crowd of bishops looked away to avoid being seduced. Bishop Nonnus, however, stared intently at her, and then said to his fellow bishops, “Did not the wonderful beauty of that woman delight you?” The bishops remained silent. Nonnus insisted, “Indeed it delighted me.” but he wept for her. When the prostitute saw how the bishop looked at her, she was caught off guard. No man had ever looked at her with such purity. He was not lusting after her, but rather saw something in her that she did not even see in herself.

The simple of the bishop’s glance marked the beginning of her conversion to Christ. She soon returned to find him, and today, we know this former prostitute as St Pelagia.

There is great power in the way a man looks at a woman, just as there is great power in the way that a woman dresses for a man. What this bishop possessed was something called “positive purity”. He was not afraid that the sight of her body would force him to lust. Rather, her body revealed his call to love her properly. He did not see a prostitute walking toward him – he saw a potential sister in Chirst. Though he loved many centuries before PJP II, he truly lived out the future pope’s words when he said that God “has assigned as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman.”

But what about the bishops who looked away from the oncoming prostitute?

It can be said that they had “negative purity”. They were tight to avoid the occasion of sin – by turning away from what, for them, would have been a serious temptation – but God ultimately wants to transform out hearts so that we aren’t afrais we will lust every time we see an attractive person.

This is the freedom exhibited by Bishop Nonnus and offered to all of us. Similarly, God offered St Pelagia freedom and gave her the grace to help her grow out of the habit of allowing herself to be used.

No matter where we have been or what we’ve done, purity is possible! It may seem difficult to attain, but all things are possible with God.

Dominus vobiscum et cum spiritu tuo!

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