Inspiring heart-felt love

Susan Gately

Susan Gately

Author at The Irish Catholic Newspaper in Ireland

Pure in Heart is certainly swimming against the tide of 21st century culture. It began in the early 1990s when during a trip to Medjugorje, two young Irish women, Anne Wright and Edel Reynolds, felt a call to do something to promote purity. They began to speak of chastity in schools and at retreats.

It was striking to meet young people on Ash Wednesday sporting crosses on their foreheads. They were the only people I saw in Dublin that day marked with ashes. One of them said he went into a shop and the girl at the till wondered what had happened to his forehead. “Was it a tattoo?” she innocently asked.

Pure in Heart is certainly swimming against the tide of 21st century culture. It began in the early 1990s when during a trip to Medjugorje, two young Irish women, Anne Wright and Edel Reynolds, felt a call to do something to promote purity. They began to speak of chastity in schools and at retreats.

In 2002 Pure in Heart was registered as a charity, describing itself as an ‘international Catholic movement of young adults, who through prayer and friendship, strive to learn, live and share the truth, beauty and meaning of human sexuality’.

“People see chastity as ‘No sex before marriage’,” Dave Hunt, general manager of Pure in Heart explains. “We look at sex in a whole new way. We see the dignity of the human person, our own self-worth and respect.”

But it would be wrong to consider Pure in Heart as merely a few people waxing lyrical on the joy and freedom of living a chaste life. The life of the movement springs from a spirituality rooted in Saint Pope John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’, prayer, the Sacraments and deep friendships. At the core of the community is a weekly prayer meeting in Dublin.

Marta Nakonieczna from Poland, who’s on a half year internship from Hamburg University, has been attending the prayer meetings for five months. “Pure in Heart is kind of ‘hard-core’,” she laughingly said “because it starts with rosary, then Mass, an hour of Adoration and then the talk and social. It’s intense!” 

Marta was initially struck by the numbers of people coming and the length of time dedicated to prayer. “These people come here for God,” she thought. Through her contact with Pure in Heart she has understood that chastity touches all her relationships, including friendships, as together they live an ‘Agape’ type love – love as a decision which wants the good of the other.

Dave Hunt saw this ‘Agape love’ in action in his parent’s relationship when his father “carried” his mother through Parkinson’s Disease for seven years. “It gave me a clear idea of what chastity is.”

Growing out of the Pure in Heart community, involving around 150 people and a priest spiritual director, is the mission team made up of two young people who give talks in schools and at youth retreats. It is a courageous ministry, at times evoking criticism from irate parents on the media who don’t like the idea of their children hearing about chastity at school. For this reason the group is focussing more now on parishes and reaching out through videos and blogs on their website.

Jason Osborne, 22, joined the team earlier this year. “If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be doing mission work today, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. Jason grew up in a nominally Catholic family, attending a yearly Mass on Christmas Day.

By late secondary school he was “intensely atheistic” and “mildly liberal” reading Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchins and Sam Harris. In 2016, he began to study English and Philosophy at University College Dublin (UCD). His thoughts took a different direction, however, when his grandfather died in February 2017. 

“I had never been in a room as someone passed away,” Jason said. “It planted a seed in me. How strange existence was, why should anything exist at all? God plagued me with existential questions.”

Jason began to read the philosophers – modern and classic. “I had a suspicion that something was going on behind the scenes and the material world was not all there was,” he said. His reading evolved to Eastern and Christian mysticism. Reading CS Lewis was a “game changer”. 

With an “openness to Catholicism” he moved onto Lord of the Rings and “subjectively” returned to Christianity. “I saw beauty and truth are convertible. God literally reached into my life,” Jason said.

Ironically, it was an anti-impeachment campaign at UCD that brought him in touch with young Catholics. [The student union president at the time, Katie Ascough, had refused to endorse the pro-choice campaign and was removed from office.] At a faith forum he met “joy- filled, well informed, (people) delighted to share what they had,” said Jason.

In the autumn of 2018, he joined the Pure in Heart prayer group, eventually volunteering for the mission team. Meanwhile, his new found faith was rubbing off at home, with both his parents now accompanying him to Sunday Mass.

 “Lust is one of the most swollen demons [in a world] rampant with pornography which glorifies sex in the wrong way,” Jason said. “God’s plan for marriage and sexuality and the worth you have as a person is a message that no-one hears these days – it is so fresh.”

Jason and his co-worker Alexandria Nestor, 19, see that young people have not heard this message before. Their presentation, which usually lasts one and a half hours, explores ‘Agape’ love and Freedom. They study the ‘relationship pyramid’ seen by many as Attraction (on the bottom) leading straight to Sex (at the top). Instead in their pyramid, Attraction leads to Friendship, to Intimacy (meaning letting down all your masks) and finally to Marriage. They talk about the science of sex, and the hormone Oxytocin, released during sex which is designed to create a strong bond. 

“Sex is blinding,” said Dave Hunt, “because it fills in the blanks in other parts of the relationship.”  When feelings of physicality fade, he explains, you see the person for who they are and often the relationship falls apart. When this happens people can feel worthless. “Many fall into the trap of feeling, that if they don’t give sex away, a person won’t want to be with them. That relationship isn’t about love,” Dave said.

With Catholic groups, the team emphasises God’s plan for sex and marriage and confession which gives everyone the chance to start again. They also speak to young people from other Christian churches.

The choice of a chaste lifestyle is at times a challenge, but Dave has never regretted it. “You’ve got to keep an eye on the goal – what kind of life you want. I want to be a good father, a good husband, to be faithful to my wife and faith – I keep my eye on the bigger picture,” he said.

Alexandria, who joined the mission team about a year ago, loves the work they do. “It’s an important mission because you might be the only one to tell a person how worthy of love they are.”

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Footnote: Pure in Heart began in Ireland and is now in the UK, the United States, Haiti, France, Liberia and Kenya. Many couples have met and married through the group, and one former member is now a Dominican priest.

This article first appeared in Reality. Reprinted with permission.


Image: Pure in Heart devotees, Alexandria, Dave and Jason.

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