Learning to Praise

Learn to praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Learn to have a special devotion to the Blessed Trinity: I believe, I hope and I love the most Holy Trinity.
—This devotion is much needed as a supernatural exercise for the soul, expressed by the movement of the heart, although not always in words.
(cf. The Forge, no. 296)

We know what it means to get excited—we’re used to the roar of a stadium crowd or the chanting at a rally. On a deeper level, cherished relationships make us exult, as when St Elizabeth exulted over Mary’s visit: “the moment the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.”

And then there is God, the Blessed Trinity. And what do we do? Can we group the Lord God among all of the other things that move us to cheer? If we know what it means to shout, to be jubilant over sports, politics, or at concerts, do we also know what it means to praise the Blessed Trinity?

Excitement might only prove that we know how to make noise, not praise. If praise of God isn’t always a matter of words, as St Josemaria tells us, it is always a matter of the heart—a “movement of the heart” toward the Lord. St Augustine describes this kind of wordless praise as the outpouring of a soul overwhelmed by the goodness of God:

We offer up a sacrifice of jubilation, we offer up a sacrifice of gladness, a sacrifice of rejoicing, a sacrifice of thanksgiving, which no words can express. [It is] an overflowing and ineffable joy, beyond words, not to be expressed in speech.

The acclamations and blessings that fill the liturgy for Trinity Sunday, both in the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, urge us to give voice to our praise: Blessed be the most holy Trinity! Praise to You! Glory be to You! How do we enter into this praise with more than our lips?

It is never enough just to “say it.” We must both believe in our heart and confess with our lips that the Lord is worthy of all praise because He is good—good when everything goes our way, good when all things seem to conspire against us. As St Josemaria puts it:

In times the world calls good I will cry out: “Lord!” In times it calls bad, again I will cry: “Lord!” (The Forge, no. 506)

To join in St Josemaria’s cry in season and out, we must concretely believe that God is good—not just in theory—but in the way we think and act. Going through each day, receiving everything that comes our way as coming from the hands of a good God—the God who knew me before He formed me in my mother’s womb, the God who calls me by name and says, “You are mine,” it is this God and no other who is Lord of my life and Lord of my day.

You have to trust that the choices He makes for you are good. God does nothing at random, in a haphazard way, but sweetly. If I see God’s will only occasionally, then in the meantime I’m going to interpret a lot of events as mistakes, maybe a hiatus, maybe just as random happenings. No good for a servant of God to go through life praising the Lord only when things are clear: “I will praise the Lord at all times,” says the Psalm, “his praise ever on my lips.”

In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis asks quite honestly how people ever came to the conclusion that God is good. Lewis, a former atheist, says that the question is seldom raised among atheists (or “pessimists”) as to how a vast majority of mankind throughout the ages, in suffering as in joy, could consistently think that God is good.

There was one question which I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists’ case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that.

People can only indulge in make-believe for so long before they tire of game-playing. Praise must be built upon a concrete, substantial, experienced goodness—and this is Lewis’ point: people have had the experience, have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

One thinks of St Maximilian Kolbe in the truly godless atmosphere of Auschwitz. While being starved to death with several other prisoners in a cramped cell, he yet led them in hymns of praise. Others in adjoining cells cursed. He lifted himself and his cellmates up to the Lord.

Sincere praise can only come from a heart full of gratitude—not of comprehension of God’s ways, nor even from a heart free of sorrow—but from a heart that knows Him so intimately as to have personal knowledge of His goodness. The Scriptures say: “Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth perfect praise,” revealing that praise is not all about what we understand, but more like the simple joy of children over something they know is simply good.

As adults, our wonder might take a different form, even if our praise is the same. As life experiences accumulate, we begin to marvel over God’s goodness more as indulgence or mercy.

After all…

How could God love me and give Himself up for me? How could God go on loving me when I have failed Him so often? When my mind struggles to hold onto a single good thought, how is it that He doesn’t lose patience with me? Or when I get excited about all the wrong things? I do not know. I do not understand. Instead: I praise the Lord. I am compelled to praise the Lord. ‘There is a fire in my bones,’ says the prophet Jeremiah, ‘and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.’ Praise is that fire.

So wonderful is His goodness that praise of it will be our sole occupation in eternity. “Prayer shall pass away and give place to praise,” says St Augustine. St Thomas Aquinas comments that heavenly worship will consist “solely in the praise of God, proceeding from the inward knowledge and affection, according to Isaiah: ‘Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of praise’” (Is 51:3). And in another place Aquinas says even more directly: “[our] predestination and vocation [is] the praise of God.”

In this life, praise also heals the soul in a unique way. As sin and other bad experiences release toxins into the soul, often causing resentment or bitterness, praise of God peels away those accumulated layers of cynicism and lifts the soul up to the divine Physician. The evils of this life can so depress the heart that it can no longer move to the Lord with ease. Praise is the “eagles’ wings” that brings us upward to God’s peace and protection (cf. Ex 19:4).

Although praise does not do away with annoyance, sadness, disappointment, or the flaws of daily life, nor does it prevent tragedy and heartbreak, yet it lifts our hearts above it all and gives us an eternal perspective. If even on earth we can join our voices with the angels and saints, then we may also join in their triumph even as we struggle here below. “Nothing more sustains and strengthens Christian souls,” Pope St Leo the Great affirms, “than persevering and unwearied praise of God.”

Image: The Holy Trinity and Saints in Glory, 1735; Sebastiano Conca. Public Domain.

Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem. Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.

Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community's seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019) and Home Again: A Prayerful Rediscovery of Your Catholic Faith (Scepter Publishers 2020). Father's latest book is Scatter My Darkness: Turning Night to Day with the Gospel (Scepter Publishers 2021). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.

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