Q: 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.
A: In the first post on this topic we covered the essence of praise and the value of praise. Now we will cover ways of praise.
If you have read this far, you have probably already realized that, in spite of your question, you already do praise God. The desire to praise him is already a prayer of praise. But you desire to praise him more fully, more adequately than you have been able to so far. As long as you accept the simple fact that you will never be able to praise God fully (he is infinite, we and our words and gestures are finite), I will offer some suggestions that may help you fulfill your desire to do so better.
First of all, join your own words and desires of praise to those of Christ. Jesus, as true man and true God, can praise the Father fully. And when we unite our prayers to his, our imperfect and finite prayers are swept up into his infinite and perfect prayer. This is really what the Mass is all about. Read over the Eucharistic Prayers of the missal, and then, during Mass, really listen to the words of the priest and unite yourself to them. In this way, your praise will be magnified and elevated through its contact with Christ’s own praise. Something similar happens during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In the Sacrament, Jesus continues to offer himself to the Father for us; his incarnation, with all of his activities and mysteries, is somehow present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. When we kneel in adoration in his presence, our lives are linked to his life and lifted up, with him, to the Father. This is an expression and mode of praise.
Second, use prayers from the Bible and make them your own. The Our Father, in the first place, begins with praise and adoration and ends by covering every aspect of P.A.S.T.A. It really is the model of prayer. If you haven’t read the section in the Catechism on the Our Father (in Part IV), I highly recommend that you do so. You will discover dizzying depths of meaning in those few words, and they will become for you more powerful vehicles of praise. But many other prayers of praise can be found in the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit put them there precisely because he knew we would need help to express our admiration and awe (as well as our confusion and sorrow) when we address the Lord. Look for instance at the first part of Esther’s prayer and Judith’s prayer (in the Books of Esther and Judith, respectively), and flip through the Psalms (for example, Psalm 18, Psalms 103 and 104 [104-105]). We have a library of inspired praise at our fingertips.
Third, if you like to write, you may want to compose some of your own “psalms of praise,” expressing in your own words your appreciation of those characteristics of God that have most moved you. Even if you are not a writer, you may surprise yourself if you try this exercise. Each one of us has an individualized experience of God, and composing your own prayers of praise can help bring that experience into greater focus, thus giving great glory to the Lord. If you simply don’t write, you may find it useful to memorize a few hymns, songs, or poems that resonate in your heart, and use these as prayers of praise.
(On that note, I would like to ask our readers to share some of their favorite hymns, poems, or prayers of praise. Although our experience of God is individualized, we are also all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, and so we can learn a lot from each other and benefit from each others’ experience.)
Fourth, use litanies. Many Christians don’t understand the purpose of litanies – which seem like long lists of mechanically repetitive phrases. One of their purposes, however, is precisely to meet the need you expressed in your question. So often we just don’t have adequate words to express what is in our hearts. And so, we place those inexpressible sentiments inside the words of a litany, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do the work of a good interpreter: “In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, since we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). I personally like the Litany of the Sacred Heart and the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Finally, don’t be afraid of silence. Gazing with delight in your heart at God’s beauty and magnificence is in itself a prayer of praise that gives God great pleasure and deepens our relationship with him. In these times, often simply repeating the name of the Lord, “Jesus,” is praise enough. As Pope Benedict XVI put it in a homily on July 4, 2010: “Let us not be afraid to be silent outside and inside ourselves, so that we are able not only to perceive God’s voice, but also the voice of the person next to us, the voices of others… [W]e must be attentive, always keep our ‘interior eyes’ open, the eyes of our heart. And if we learn how to know God in his infinite goodness, then we will be able to see, with wonder, in our lives – as the saints did – the signs of that God, who is always near to us, who is always good to us, who says: ‘Have faith in me!’”
May praise be your song in a special way during this Easter Season of our King’s eternal victory.
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