Reflections on Praise

“Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was studded with eyes all the way around as well as inside; and day and night they never stopped singing: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, the Almighty; who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rv 4:8) The Seraphim of Heaven have six wings. From Heaven they see everything and the praises of these, the most powerful and glorious of Gods creation, fill the whole universe. Praises of the saints and angels of Heaven do not include petitions, intercessions, or personal desires and yet they continue night and day and forever. Is praise then a boring tedious sentence imposed by God on His children? Not in the least. Praise is your eternal reward, your fulfillment, and your greatest joy.

As with all studies, the first step is to come to an understanding of the subject at hand. So in talking about praise we must first understand what praise is and the difference between human praise and the Praise of God. Secondly why do we do it? And finally how do we praise God? What are the effects of praise? And why does praising God even have effects?

The original meaning of the word praise had nothing to do with either God or man; it referred to property. To praise or appraise something meant to assign value or worth to an object. Therefore by praising a person you are commenting on their worth and their worth was based on their accomplishments, skills, or power. A movie star or the ruler of a nation may be praised by large numbers of people because of their fame, wealth, and accomplishments — particularly if those accomplishments are seen as benefiting humanity. Others may not praise them because they see those same accomplishments in another light. They see people who were hurt by these actions; and money that they thought could have been used better elsewhere. A person may be praised and criticized for the same things. Adolph Hitler was adored by the German people in 1940 and condemned by 1960. During his administration Harry Truman had one of the lowest approval ratings of any president in our history. Now he is considered to be one of the better presidents of modern times. A homeless person, a person who is severely retarded, or a criminal may be viewed as having no worth because their ability to make a positive contribution to society is low, non-existent, or even negative. They may be seen as a drain on society because they consume resources while giving nothing back.

But now we come to a different aspect of praise. You cannot praise a person for something they did not do. You cannot praise a person’s accomplishments if there are none. You cannot praise a person for his failures. And you cannot compare one person’s good work to another person’s good work because the one person’s good work does not add to or detract from the other person’s contribution. A good priest may not be John Paul II, but he is still a good priest. A good student may not be an Einstein. A good leader may never become president, but he can still organize and direct the people he shepherds.

If you do not win a prize for the pie you baked it does not mean your pie was not any good. If you cannot solve the world’s problems it does not mean you cannot solve a problem. You may not be famous and adored by millions, but you are still loved.

What therefore is the basis for praising those who are on the bottom rung of humanity? How do you praise those who seem to have nothing? You praise them because of who they are. They are people. They are formed in the image and likeness of God. They are children of God as are you. They are praised because they have a dignity that is given to them apart from any worth we may assign to them in society. An unborn baby is still a person. A senile senior citizen is still a person. A homeless or retarded person is still a person. And they all have worth in the sight of God.

It is these, the lowest and most worthless of people that show us how to move on to the next step. These are people who have a dignity and worth that is not based on their accomplishments. And this dignity and worth is to be recognized. And when we recognize the dignity and worth of the least accomplished of God’s people we realize that praising the One who has accomplished all things is similar to praising the one who has accomplished nothing. We do not praise the homeless for their accomplishments nor do we praise God for His accomplishments. We do not praise God for what He has done. We praise Him for his Glory, Power, and Majesty. We praise Him for who He is.

What then is divine praise and why do we do it? The simple answer is because it is His commandment. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength (MK 12:30)”. That is to say, Love the Lord with everything you have. The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on the worship of God (Dt 5:7-11). Only then come the commandments regarding human conduct. Tithing is not giving to God what you think you can afford; it is giving Him the first fruits of your labor. All of His commandments put God first in all of our actions. Do these commandments then make God a greedy self centered egotist? Nothing could be further from the truth!

By putting God first it means everything else is secondary. By taking the focus off of ourselves, it teaches us to be less selfish. It teaches us humility and if we humble ourselves before God and are less self centered we can then be more open to the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself (MK 12:31)”. Praising God puts our mind and heart on Him. It invites Him in. God inhabits the praises of His people (Ps 22:3). And for that moment our souls touch Heaven. And for that moment we become more like God.

If we make the voluntary decision to obey God first without questioning His motives, we can now move on to the next step. Why does God command praise? It is because it is the ultimate calling and purpose for our existence. It is separate from prayers of intercession or petition. It transcends the problems and distractions of life. We praise God in all circumstances. Because He is worthy of it and it is His due no matter what we experience here on earth. By praising Him in the bad circumstances of life He is free to bring good out of it because His Grace was brought into it.

The Book of Revelation gives the only images in scripture of what it is like in Heaven (Rv 4). The saints in Heaven worship and praise God night and day. Again, does this create an image of a God that focuses on an infinite ego? Not in the least. For if our human praise on earth draws us closer to God and gives us a taste of divinity what happens when we have perfect unending praise in Heaven?

We therefore praise God for who He is. We praise Him because he is worthy of it. We praise Him because He is God and because it is our duty, our calling, and the eternal fulfillment for our souls. We praise Him because praise is what changes and transforms our hearts.

We do not praise God in order to obtain an effect or result. We do not praise God in order to butter Him up so that He hears our prayers. God becomes present to us. And when He is present things change. How do we view the problems we face during times of high praise? Is your faith strengthened so that you can ask for the desires of your heart with boldness and with expectant faith or is He saying your desires are not good for you and let Him take them from you? Is He saying put aside those concerns for awhile and just rest in His Love? There will be time later to talk of these matters. Or is He saying only trust Me, trust Me, trust Me?

The next question is how do we praise? What is praise and what is not? Praise always starts in the heart with our desire to praise Him and give Him glory. Then comes our mind. We focus on Him alone. We put problems, pains, and petitions aside. Is there a point of physical focus in the room for our eyes such as a cross or the Blessed Sacrament? Our attention span is often limited. We may not be able to focus for more than a minute or even less. Do not be ashamed. You have given Jesus what you have to offer. When your focus again returns to Jesus praise Him again. Then comes your voice. Prudence will dictate if it is appropriate to praise out loud or how loud you can be, but praise should come from your mouth. Often you will hear people say, “Praise you, Jesus. Praise you, Jesus”. What are these words supposed to mean? They can be as meaningless when spoken to Jesus as they would be to another person in the room. But has your desire been to praise Him? Then what seems like a meaningless repetition of a meaningless phrase has been spoken with the desire of your heart to give Glory to God. Tongues can be a babbling uttered out of habit or they can be the wordless expression of the praises of your heart. It is a pure language of the Spirit of God. It is a language that has never been used to curse or blaspheme God. You can also give Him glory with song. St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice”.

We can therefore praise God with our senses. When we praise with our mouths we hear it with our ears and what we hear with our ears is what builds our faith. We praise God with our vision. For it is our vision that permits us to read His messages and His Word or to adore Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament. A scented candle can help us praise God with our sense of smell. A Rosary can help us praise God with our sense of touch. We can praise God by fasting and denying ourselves taste.
What happens then after our praises have gone up? We do not need to continue to babble and look for words or actions. Be still. Have you invited Jesus anew into your heart? Have you given Him Glory? Then be quiet. For God’s voice is also quiet. He has come to fill your praises with Himself. Do you hear Him? The little whisper. The faint thought. The gentle breeze that was not there moments before. What is He putting on your heart that feels like a feather or a Rose petal? It may not be a message in words, but the message is still from God and He is saying, “Fear not. Let not your heart be troubled. I am here”.

We praise God with our whole being. We kneel in humble worship. We stand in alert attention. We raise our hands in surrender to God. We raise our hands in order to reach towards Heaven. And we raise our hands as a child saying. “Daddy, pick me up.”

-Larry Strawn-