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Vol. IX, November 2003

 

"Let the Heavens Praise Your Wonders, O Lord" (Ps 89:5)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In our meditations, we now come to Psalm 89, in which the Psalmist exclaims: "Let the heavens praise Your wonders, O Lord!" Though the Psalmist may rebuff our obtuse silence in this matter, he does so simply out of the spontaneity of love. Our Holy Father, John Paul II, with his fatherly heart full of faith and trust in God, starts always and everything with the exclamation: "Praised be Our Lord Jesus Christ–now and for ever!" Let us reflect on this praise of the Lord, that we might grow deeper in the life of praise so proper to the holy angels and, especially in this month of the Communion of Saints, share more fully in their heavenly joy!

1. The Complete Meaning of Praise

To understand "praise" we have to look first for the objective reason, and only then, for a subjective state of soul and its expression.

a) The Objective Reason

"Praise" is elicited by a worthy object such as God or His marvelous works, a beloved person or an object we treasure. We are enthusiastic about what we like and esteem. This object we praise and show proudly to others. For such things we have time, we apply our attention and find beautiful words for them. For things worthy of praise we leave other things aside and enjoy dedicating time to them. That is how the Church educates her children when she asks them to start the day each morning with Psalm 95, one similar to our Psalm: "Come, let us sing to the Lord and shout with joy to the Rock Who saves us! Let us approach Him with praise and thanksgiving"! Then, the Psalmist himself explains why: "For the Lord is God, the great King over all the other gods" (Ps 95:1-3,7), and therefore, "Let the heavens praise Your wonders, O Lord, Your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones" (Ps 89:5).

b) The Praising Soul

Do we not observe this in human history? To the degree that Western society grew in the knowledge of God, the more they advanced from a sinful state of life to a life lived according to reason and faith. Simultaneously, their cultural expressions changed to nobler forms. Especially in music we can see the development towards the Gregorian Chant and then to the polyphonic works of the Classic era, master pieces of harmonious union of many voices and instruments. But then comes modern "music"! What does Rock’n’Roll express in its "aggressive dance with hard rhythm", in which "the beauty of tone seems not only secondary, but worthy to be opposed, even to be hated" (K. Pahlen, Die grossen Epochen der abendländischen Musik..., Munich, 1991, p. 589)? As in modern philosophy, so also in music, subjectivism turned man back upon himself, locking him into a dungeon. What a contrast this is to the praise, the "mirror of God’s perfections" (Circular VI,12; 2,a; cf. V,10)!

2. The Praise of God’s Greatness

"Praise" is part of "adoration…the first act of the virtue of religion. To adore God is to acknowledge Him as God, as the Creator and Savior...as infinite and merciful Love...[and] in respect and absolute submission, to humbly accept the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God" (CCC, 2096 and 2097).

a) The Adoration of God for His Might and Dignity

Romano Guardini explains: "To the power of God responds the eternal praise of the angels and the homage of the twenty-four elders. The honor they give Him is of a special kind: it is adoration...In adoration angels and men bow before the divine Lord;" however not just as the capitulation of the impotent before the omnipotent, not just "because He is mighty, but because He is worthy" (Glaubenserkenntnis, Freiburg 1983, p. 16). On the one hand, the Psalmist justifies his praise with God’s generous work: "I will sing of Your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim Your faithfulness to all generations" (v. 1). "You scattered Your enemies with Your mighty arm. The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours...The north and the south–You created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise Your name" (vv. 10-12).

On the other hand, the immense greatness and beauty of God is the cause of man’s admiration, praise and adoration: "Who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him? O Lord, God of hosts, who is as mighty as You, O Lord?" (vv. 6-8). When did a creature ever conceive of the idea of God and not feel attracted by His beauty and turn to praise Him?

b) The Adoration of God and Living in Truth

The Psalmist knows, what later on Jesus will say: No one can approach God, except by His grace, for it is He who draws us (cf. Jn 6:44, 65; Mt 16:17). In fact, "Forever I will keep My steadfast love for him, and My covenant with him will stand firm" (v. 28).

Now, when a creature adores God, it is called to the love and holiness of God and to be assumed into it in "truth in love" (Eph 4:15). For adoration is "made not only through knowledge and words, but through the movement of one’s entire being. It is the foundation, the pillar, the vault, the essence of all truth: that God is God and man is man...We come into the truth...In the moment of adoration we are there just for God, for nothing else" (R. Guardini, ibid., pp. 17ff.). Whoever sees and lives the truth in love, will be transformed into it. That is why Guardini goes on to say, "to really practice adoration is not one proposal among others...Here we are dealing with the center and measure of existence". That is why "we have to practice adoration. This is important. We should not wait till we feel drawn to it...that is rare" (ibid.). Through adoration we establish the true perennial hierarchy of values; we order all towards God, and so overcome sin.

3. The Transforming Effect of the Praise of God

Because the angels are already pure and live in the divine truth, they adore God with all their being. For man, too, praise is not just emotional stimulation and excitement, but one of the most conscious and deliberate acts possible. It belongs to the highest virtues, for it is the surrender to God out of love. Man will become pure, will become a true man, in adoration. It is the first and last duty of any creature.

a) Adoration and Man’s Spiritual Health

Man adores God "in spirit and in truth" (Jn 4:24), that is, primarily intellectually, with the mind and with good will. These may even be imbued with enthusiasm through piety, a gift of the Holy Spirit. It can be expressed also by the posture of the body: "If possible, we should kneel for adoration. To kneel is the adoration of the body" (Guardini, ibid., 19). In private prayer, hands are joined for adoration. In this fashion man will make adoration in church and, more and more, also in his daily life, at home and in public, through the loving and reverent awareness of the presence of God. He will adore in moments of fortune and misfortune, of success and catastrophe. The praise of God can be offered in free jubilation as the angels do, or also in moments of dark faith as we saw in Job: "Blessed be the name of the Lord…Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (cf. Job 1:21; 2:10). In our own times, St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote from the bunker in Auschwitz: "I am fine...because God dwells in every place and thinks of all and everything with great love" (Letter: June 16, 1941). The Saints teach us that "the praise [of God] dries up tears, ennobles and sanctifies suffering, has redemptive power and unites us with God." Therefore, "the harder and the more impassable your path becomes, the more ardently you should love, praise and trust God, for you are on the way of the cross, the right way to heaven" (Gabriele Bitterlich, Spiritual Maxims).

b) Towards the Final Completion of History through the Praise of God

Through praise "always and everywhere", all is ordered towards God, the Creator: our mind and senses, our soul and body, time and space and even the whole world around us. We have only to offer and dedicate it to "the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:11,14). As the "multitude of the heavenly host praising God" (Lk 2:13) invited men to join their praise, so man has to become a messenger for the rest of creation and invite all creatures to praise and bless the Lord: "Praise the Lord...sun and moon...mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and...flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples...! Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His host! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for His name alone is exalted; His glory is above earth and heaven" (Ps 148).

Life and all creation join the praise of the angels, receive a spiritual baptism, as it were, and one day will receive the transformation, so long desired, as St. Paul remarked (cf. Rom 8:19,22). Still, there are some who will never follow this invitation, the fallen angels. They will flee from those who praise the Lord as from an exorcist. All the more, let us give praise always and everywhere; let us have the will to live in a God-pleasing, pure surrounding. "As the merciful love and solicitude of God constantly shine upon you, pass them on in the same way, so that others might come to know and praise God!" (Gabriele Bitterlich, Spiritual Maxims).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Seeing how great this light shines upon all creation, we have to cry out time and again, so that the divine praises might irradiate over us and all creation and lead us all in the joyful confession of GOD, full of thanksgiving, to the final fulfillment. Let us grow more conscious of the adoration and praise of the angels who live always with us. Let us join them more frequently, or even "always and everywhere" with the "Glory be..." on our lips, or the "Te Deum" and the "Sanctus" in our hearts. Let us try to deepen our knowledge of God through prayerful reading and meditation, so that we are more easily aware of the presence of God and join in this one song of praise in heaven and on earth!

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC