Dear Donagh,

I was in a church recently where they had Benediction, with ‘Tantum ergo’ and incense and candles, all the things we grew up with.  And then the Divine Praises – ‘Blessed be God’ and so on.  It was the first time in years that I had heard that litany and it sounded strange to me.   Why are we always praising God?  Only a very insecure person would need to be praised all the time.  Besides, it must wear thin after a while.  Can you make sense of it?  John A.

Dear John,

We shouldn’t think that God needs our praise.  “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift” (Weekday Preface IV of the Mass).  This tells us that praising God is good for us

The opposite of praise is blame and complaint.  Praise is all positive: it is giving your heart to what is going on.  But blaming and complaining are about holding oneself at a distance.  There is plenty of all this in the Scriptures: the Book of Psalms is called in Hebrew ‘Tehillim’, the ‘book of praises’; and for good measure there is also a Book of Lamentations. 

Praise is good for us because it has to come from a deeper source than the ego.  The ego knows a kind of greedy satisfaction when things are going its way, and though it might call it praise, it isn't praise: it has hooks and conditions attached to it. The ego doesn’t know how to praise.  Real praise is without conditions, and so it is possible even in hard times.  The cry ‘Hallelujah!’ (or ‘Alleluia’) means ‘praise the Lord’.  Remember how Leonard Cohen put it: “There's a blaze of light in every word / It doesn't matter which are heard / The holy or the broken Hallelujah….  And even though it all went wrong / I'll stand before the Lord of Song / With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.” 

In one way our world seems full of praise, but listen carefully and you’ll detect the commercial spirit.  “Praise is cheap today,” wrote Thomas Merton.  “Everything is praised.  Soap, beer, toothpaste, clothing, mouthwash, movie stars, all the latest gadgets which are supposed to make life more comfortable – everything is constantly being ‘praised’.  Praise is now so overdone that everybody is sick of it, and since everything is ‘praised’ with the official hollow enthusiasm of the radio announcers, it turns out in the end that nothing is praised.  Praise has become empty.” 

Real praise can arise only from our deepest nature.  Read the ‘Canticle of the Sun’ by St Francis of Assisi (see ‘Wisdom Line’ 2003 on this website).  It is easy to follow him while he is praising God for “brother Sun and sister Moon.”  But read to the end and you find him saying: “All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, / From whose embrace no mortal can escape.”  Nothing – not even death – can shake his determination to praise God.  It is the opposite of conditional: it is absolute.  That is why there will always be people praising God and puzzling the rest of us. 

“How did you love my movie?” an actress is said to have asked someone.  No doubt she said it tongue in cheek.  We know that praise has be genuine if it is to any good at all.  So we may have to wait for it.  And so may God.  The first Eucharistic Prayer refers to “this sacrifice of praise.”  It is in the Eucharist that praise is perfect, because “We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ your Son.”  Waiting for real praise from our egos would take too long, even for God. 

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