The first Psalm engraved in my memory was the 24th, which as a child I found especially cheerful. Our grammar school principal, Miss Booth, would ring a large handbell to summon us in from the playground for the opening exercises of Scripture-reading, prayers, and the Pledge of Allegiance.
This was a public school in a time untouched by the neurotic political separation of the Creator and his creatures. Miss Booth’s favorite Psalm obviously was the 24th, because it was the only one in the whole Psalter she seemed to know by heart.
She may have thought it the best for starting the day, especially on occasions when the superintendent of schools arrived: “Lift up your heads, O ye gates, even lift them up ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in” (Psalms 24:9).
The whole meaning of that song of David became clear when the real King of Glory entered Jerusalem, with children joining adults in waving palm branches.
But on the same day, that king wept over Jerusalem for the indifference of most of its people.
A few days ago, I spent some good hours in the company of David Alton, with whom I have often corresponded, while he was visiting our city. Now Lord Alton of Liverpool, he has been a major champion of pro-life causes in the House of Lords and has promoted awareness of the genocide of Christians in the Middle East and the modern slave trade.
Just as the persecution of Christians is nervously ignored in our social climate, so are most people unaware that there are more slaves now than in all previous centuries combined. By varying estimates, there are between 21 million and 46 million people laboring in domestic servitude, forced labor, sex trafficking, child labor, indentured servitude, and forced marriage.
Certainly the angels of the millions of victims of legalized infanticide always behold the Father’s face (Matthew 18:10), and the modern martyrs join them. Those enslaved know that Christ can set them free morally, even as societies enchain them physically.
While such enslavement is most common in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia and Qatar, this bondage exists nearly everywhere in clandestine and subtle forms.
On Palm Sunday, Christ enters New York and every city, and in each one there are those who joyfully greet Him, and others whose sullen indifference or contempt move His human nature to tears.
That is the drama of free will, which is why each of us is a kind of city unto ourselves, and the gates of our hearts may either open or close to Him. He is never alone, for the Father is always with Him, but He wants us to be with Him, too.
I am indebted to my old principal Miss Booth for ringing that school bell and leading that Psalm.
Fr. George William Rutler is a Catholic priest and the pastor of the Church of St. Michael in Manhattan. This article originally appeared in his parish church bulletin two years ago and is used by permission.