Dear Father John, Can you give any help on how to learn to praise God? I enjoy going to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and would really like to learn how to praise Him. I don’t feel my words are adequately expressing the praise I really would like to give. Thanksgiving is easier, but I would be grateful for some advice on the praise side.
This question is clearly the result of a nudge from the Holy Spirit. The desire to praise God, which is written on the human heart, is often obscured or deadened by the cares and worries of life in a fallen world. To see this desire budding forth so dynamically in your soul is an encouragement for me personally, and a reminder that “God never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness” (Catechism, #30). Praise is a kind of prayer, so understanding what distinguishes it may help you in your efforts to do it. We’ll start there, and then point out some ready-made prayers of praise that can serve you as models and coaches.
The Essence of Praise
In prayer, we address God in five basic ways, which are easily remembered through the acronym of P.A.S.T.A: Praise, Adoration, Sorrow for sin (as in contrition), Thanksgiving, and Asking (as in petition).
To praise someone, in general, is to speak well of their good qualities. Praising God, then, consists in acknowledging, recognizing, and admiring his infinite and incomparable excellence. Adoration, strictly speaking, moves a step beyond recognizing and admiring God’s excellence; it involves an act of surrender to his will in response to that recognition. We can praise God’s wisdom (“Your wisdom, Lord, is as vast as the ocean.”), and then when we adore him, we submit to that wisdom (“I adore you, Lord, and put my life in your hands: Thy will be done.”). Praise and adoration often flow into each other in practice.
Thanksgiving is a bit different from either praise or adoration. By giving thanks to God we are expressing our gratitude and indebtedness to the goodness and generosity with which he has treated us specifically. We praise God for being infinitely wise, but we thank him for his wise guidance to us personally: “Thank you, Lord, for leading me faithfully along the path of my vocation.” Expressing sorrow for our sins and asking for good things from God are not prayers of praise per se. Yet, they do give glory to God in a similar way, because they indirectly acknowledge and show appreciation for both his mercy (otherwise we would not approach him for forgiveness) and his goodness (otherwise we would not approach him with our needs and desires).
The Value of Praise
Reflecting on these distinctions will lead you to a deeper appreciation of praise as the fundamental and primary form of prayer. Unless we perceive and acknowledge something of God’s greatness, we will not be moved to adore him, thank him, or appeal to his mercy and generosity. If prayer is a “vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (Catechism, 2558), then praise must be the very foundation of that relationship. We are not equals with God. We are completely dependent on him, infinitely lesser than him. And so, if our relationship with him is to be authentic (honest), the first gesture of our heart when we turn to God must be a gesture of humility. We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder and awe at his majesty, and at his mind-boggling loving-kindness as evidenced by the simple fact that he has created us (he didn’t need to), redeemed us (we didn’t deserve it), and continuously invites us to walk with him towards our everlasting home in his heavenly Kingdom.
If in our busy-ness and suffering we neglect to gaze at God’s greatness and praise him for it, our relationship with him will languish. We will stay infantile, overly and stiflingly absorbed in ourselves and our immediate needs. To grow in our friendship with God, we must stay rooted in true humility, like the tax collector, not like the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14.) This is the reasoning behind starting our daily time of mental prayer with acts of faith, hope, and love (these are prayers of praise to God for his truth, power, and goodness), or some other “preparatory acts.” It is also the reason behind the frequent use of the “Glory Be…”, another prayer of praise to the Blessed Trinity.
In our next post on this topic we will cover ways to praise…
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