Purity of intention consists in performing everything we do solely to please God. Jesus Christ has said that according to the intention, whether it be good or evil, such before God is the action performed.
“If thy eye be evil, thy whole body shall be darksome.” (Matthew 6:23). The single eye signifies a pure intention of pleasing God; the dark and evil eye signifies an intention which is not pure, as when our actions are done out of vanity or to please ourselves.
Can any action be more noble than to give one’s life for the Faith? And yet St. Paul says, that he who dies from any motive but to please God gains nothing by his martyrdom.
If, then, even martyrdom profits nothing, unless it be endured for God, of what value will be all the preaching, all the labors of apostolic men, and also all the austerities of penitents, if they are done to obtain the praise of men or to gratify one’s inclination?
The prophet Aggæus says that works, although holy in themselves, if not done for God, are put into bags full of holes—which means that they are all lost directly and that nothing remains of them. On the contrary, every action done with an intention of pleasing God, of however little value in itself, is worth more than many works done without a pure intention.
Three Signs of Pure Intention
One of the best signs by which to know if a person acts with a right intention is that, if the work have not the effect desired, he will not be at all disturbed.
Another good sign is that, when he has performed any work and afterwards is spoken ill of for it, or is repaid with ingratitude, he nevertheless remains contented and tranquil.
For the rest, should he happen to be praised for it, he ought not to disquiet himself with the fear of vainglory; but should the thought present itself, let him despise it and say with St. Bernard: “I did not begin it for thee, nor because of thee will I leave it.”
The Most Perfect Intention
To act with an intention of acquiring more glory in Heaven is good, but the most perfect intention is to please God. Let us be persuaded that the more we divest ourselves of our own interests, so much the more will Our Lord increase our joy in Paradise.
Blessed is he who labors only to give glory to God and to follow His holy will! Let us imitate the love of the Blessed who, in loving God, seek only to please Him. St. Chrysostom says: “If thou hast the honor of doing anything that pleases God, how canst thou ask any other reward?”
We must, then, from the very morning direct to God all the actions of the day; and it is very profitable to renew this intention at the beginning of every action, at least of the most important, such as meditation, Communion, and spiritual reading; pausing a little at the beginning of these, like that holy hermit who, before beginning anything he had to do, lifted his eyes to Heaven and remained still; and when he was asked what he was then doing, he replied: “I am making sure of my aim.”
This article is taken from a chapter in Attaining Salvation: Devout Reflections and Meditations by St. Alphonsus Liguori which is available from TAN Books.