The opening line of the celebrated 4th-century hymn the Te Deum is “O God, we praise you.” Praise, the Catechism teaches us, is the form of prayer that recognizes “that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because he is” (2639).
The saints remind us that the very reason we exist is to give praise to God. A story told by the 14th-century German Dominican mystic, Fr. John Tauler, relates the meeting of a man with a beggar who, despite his utter destitution, remains indefatigable in his praise of God. The beggar shares with the man: “When I am hungry, I praise God. When I am cold, or it hails, or snows, or rains, I praise God. If I am favored by men or despised, I praise God equally. And all this is why I have never known a bad day. For I have learned to live with God, and I am certain that all that he does can be nothing but good.” We too want to live with such freedom and conviction! And our praise of God can make that happen.
For praise is dynamic! As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger explained:
Saint Thomas Aquinas says that through the praise of God, the human being ascends to God. Praise itself is a movement, a path; it is more than understanding, knowing, and doing—it is an “ascent,” a way of reaching him who dwells amid the praises of the angels. Thomas mentioned another factor: This ascent draws the human away from what is opposed to God.
In praise of the Lord, “man releases himself from all cramps and becomes truly honest and clear-sighted” (Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.).
In fact, the refusal to praise God constitutes a fundamental form of sin. “The basic sin,” comments Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, “is asebeia”:
The refusal to glorify and thank God. The refusal to acknowledge God as God and not render him the respect that is his. It consists in “ignoring” in the sense of “behaving as if he didn’t exist.” Sin is basically the denial of this “acknowledgement.”
But, like the beggar, if we simply live in active remembrance of the countless blessings God constantly bestows upon us, we cannot help but to praise him. Which is why at the Last Supper, Jesus commands us, Do this in memory of me. For the Eucharist “is the ‘sacrifice of praise’” (CCC 2643).
Follow Fr. Cameron’s series on prayer here.
See some of the earlier pieces below: