The Episcopalian and Catholic lectionaries, which often coincide, happen to differ substantially this week — except for Psalm 24, which is common to both today. All the readings, in both lectionaries, focus on either on promises for redemption — offered to saints, and to all who have true faith in the Lord — and/or on what saintliness is, or at least what God asks of all of us, in terms of giving us ideals by which to live. (The Catholic Gospel reading today, for example, was Jesus’ listing of what became known as the “beatitudes” from the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the poor, etcetera.)
Yet, as I noted, only Psalm 24 is common to both. I’ve always loved Psalm 24. In just three concise verses, it lays out the one of the most direct, almost pithy, summations available for how we should live in order to come as close to meriting salvation as we weak humans can manage to merit (recognizing, of course, that even our merit can not suffice without God’s grace):
“Who can ascend the hill of the LORD? *
and who can stand in his holy place?”
“Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
They shall receive a blessing from the LORD *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation.”
A pure heart. Integrity. Those are the key virtues. Those are the virtues that most easily create a spirit capable of receiving God’s grace. Those are the virtues that make us desire, in the first place, to ascend the hill of the Lord.
And yes, they are the essential virtues for those who would strive, as we all should strive, to be saints.
As the famous hymn, especially beloved of children, goes, “I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true/who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew…./ They were all of them saints of God/ and I mean, God helping, to be one, too.”
We all should mean, God helping, to do the same. But remember: While many who are recognized as saints were those known for extraordinary suffering and sacrifice, all of them shared the simple, basic characteristic that they did not swear by fraud, but instead approached all of life with a heart that was pure.