For years I’ve pondered what Psalm 24 means. How do we humans let the king of glory in? How can we who are finite “let in” him who is infinite? It’s a daunting thought, even off-putting.
O gates, lift high your heads, grow higher ancient doors. Let him enter, the king of glory (Ps 24:7).
The psalmist gives us a clue about how to begin: that the doors of our heart need to grow higher.
What “ancient doors” is the psalmist talking about? They are the gates of the ancient city of Jerusalem. If we think of our heart as being a “new Jerusalem,” we can picture God entering his own city to take his place in the sanctuary of the Holy of Holies – the very center of our loves. God desires to be our central love and the reason for all our other loves.
The gate through which he enters our heart is our “yes.” It’s hard to get our minds around the fact that God doesn’t expect us to “do” anything except clear the stones from our heart, let go of our sins and false loves, to make straight the King’s Highway that leads to the Jerusalem of our souls.
St. Caesarius of Arles (470-542) wrote bluntly about why we need to clear away our false loves to let God enter:
“Before Christ redeemed us, we were the house of the devil, but afterward, we merited the privilege of being the house of God. God himself in his loving mercy saw fit to make of us his own home. And if we think more carefully about the meaning of our salvation, we shall realize that we are indeed living and true temples of God.”
St. Caesarius names the particular gift of God are we are letting in when we expand our capacity for him: his mercy. This can be puzzling and disappointing to the doers—the overachievers among us. We feel that we should be “achieving” holiness by finishing our daily list of prayers, attending Sunday Mass, and being as pleasant to everyone as we can stand to be on a given day. We want to show God that we’re worthy of his love—to earn it by actions that will win his approval.
But mercy doesn’t work like that. The more we strive to be worthy of God’s mercy, the less we’re able to receive. The door of our heart only “grows higher” the more we internalize the reality that we bring nothing to our friendship with the Almighty except our need for him.
We bring nothing to our own salvation but our need for God’s constant mercy, every second of every day. The only “striving” we need in our spiritual life is making the effort to more frequently call to mind our own spiritual poverty. Because the more we remember our poverty before God and ask for his help, the more our capacity to receive God will grow.
Then what should I do?
Pray. Prayer is essential to realizing our bedrock need for God. Because in prayer we pour out the need of our hearts and receive the assurance that he’s got us covered. Prayer is essential to growing the doors of our hearts ever higher.
The beautiful virtue of humility, by which we remind ourselves that we need everything from God at every moment, and the virtue of prayer, by which we are reassured that all the riches of heaven are at our fingertips, are the twin virtues that keep us solidly connected to the Vine who is Christ. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” Nothing, that is, of eternal value. The poverty of humility, coupled with the riches of prayer, let us sip on God’s own power and live his very life until we enter into the paradise of the King of Glory himself.