John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. He is especially interested in moral theology and the thought of John Paul II.
In his meditation for the morning of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, Ven. Tomás Morales draws his inspiration from Psalm 24: “Life up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in” (v. 7).
While Fr. Morales focuses on the ardent longing pent up by Christmas Eve—“joyful expectation vibrates in today’s liturgy”—his thoughts are fitting not just for that day but for the whole of Advent, indeed, the whole of our lives.
“Tense joy, joy contained but about to explode, expectant jubilation,” is how Fr. Morales characterizes the Mass of Dec. 24 in the morning, but his observations are true of all of Advent. The key is to making them our way of looking at life every day, and not just in Advent.
Psalm 24 is, after all, the ultimate source of the Advent hymn sung practically universally in parishes, “The King of Glory” (“open the gates before Him/lift up your voices”).
“Hope brings to a close the coming of the Redeemer; the Child fills us with joy.” By December 24, that hope is palpable. But it is a hope that should fill all of Advent, all of our lives.
Fr. Morales focuses on two doors: heavens, and Mary’s. “The door of heaven was closed when our first parents were expelled from paradise because of original sin.” But Jesus, who will open those doors, is waiting at the door of Mary’s womb, ready to enter our world, ready to bring the offer of salvation to those who will receive it. To those open to the offer.
The Christmas readings remind us that Jesus encountered many closed doors. St. Joseph has brought his pregnant wife to his ancestral town, after a hard journey on the back of a donkey, and can find no human compassion. The doors of the inns are closed. “No vacancy.” Human doors are closed. The only door open is that of an animal’s stable.
Now, I’m not going to “demythologize” the Infancy Narratives, but I am going to say: those closed human doors are also symbolic—symbols of human places, human hearts, where God remains excluded. The Polish have a Christmas hymn, “Nie było miejsca dla Ciebie” [There Was No Room for You]. Its last verse brings us back from some sentimental thoughts about Bethlehem to our own lives:
A dzisiaj czemu wśród ludzi
tyle łez, jęków, katuszy?
Bo nie ma miejsca dla Ciebie
w niejednej człowieczej duszy!
And why today, among people,
Are there so many tears, cries, and suffering?
Because there is no room for You
In more than one human soul!
Fr. Morales counsels us to open those doors. He stands in lots of good company doing so. When Jesus cures the man suffering from a speech impediment, He commands him: “Ephphatha!” – “Be opened!” (Mark 7:34). When St. John Paul II began his papal ministry, the opening remarks became the leitmotif of his pontificate: “Open wide the doors to Christ! To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows "what is in man". He alone knows it.” Even his official canonization hymn reflects that call: “Aprite le porte a Cristo!”
John Paul indicated how broadly those ancient doors must open: all countries, all systems for regulating human politics and economics, culture, the world! How much of culture today is closed to Christ? Perhaps it’s not closed with the same public claim as Communism once did (although there are still countries where proclaiming Christ and His Church are either outlawed or hardly tolerated), but consider our own culture. To what extent does God, Christ, moral values enter into public discourse? To what extent is the norm of a public space emptied of religion—a “naked public square,” to borrow Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus’ phrase—considered an ideal? Perhaps another Polish hymn—one popular during the dark night of communism—should be our motto: “My chcemy Boga!” (We Want God!) “We want God in the family circle//in parent’s worries and children’s dreams//we want God in school and in books//In hours of rest and in the working day.”
John Paul, interpreting Psalm 24, gave us a charter for the modern Christian: not to run under a rock or a bushel basket, hoping to keep the flicker of faith alive in some ghetto, but to set out deep, with faith.
But before we do any of that, we have to open up our own doors.
In the message to the Church at Laodicea in Asia Minor (Revelation 3: 20), Jesus’ message is clear: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to eat with him and he with me.”
Jesus is no thief, no breaker and enterer. He stands at the door, politely and patiently, asking to be invited in. He wants to come in. But doors have to open from the inside.
The image of Jesus knocking at the door is frequently depicted in religious art. This Advent, why not make that painting an object of your meditation? (You can download a copy here.) Jesus is knocking at YOUR door. It’s YOUR door, and your choice. Are you ready to “be not afraid” and “open wide the door to Christ?”
This Advent – indeed, every day of our lives – let’s take Fr. Morales’ advice and make Psalm 24 ours: “open those ancient doors,” the doors of our own lives, perhaps hermetically shut for a long time. Then it will be Christmas … and not just on Dec. 25.