Question 041 Part III
What is praise?
The rule is very brief: he pleases God who is pleased by God. And, beloved, do not think that this has to do with pleasure. See how many of you oppose God because you are not pleased with his works. True enough, when he wants to work against the will of men, because he is Lord because he knows what he should do, he does not take into account so much our will as our well-being. Those who would rather that their own will were fulfilled before God’s, think to please God with their will, rather than correct their will by conforming it to him. Hence, we cannot exult in him except with praise. Nor can we ask of him, except after we have praised him.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.
What should be man’s response when he, as a result of turning to God in prayer, receives from God those things that He hath promised to give to those who turn to Him? The temptation is to praise himself for having done what God has asked man to do. In doing this, man turns his gaze away from God, the Good Giver, and praises his own works, his own ingenuity, his own self, as if he, man, has the power to twist the hand of God and make God his slave.
A second temptation is to consider the gifts given as God’s goodness rather than proofs of His goodness. A man might desire good things from God, and in the receiving, only desire more of these things in abundance. While the things received are good, they are not man’s ends and to keep one’s gaze upon them is to not look up and see the goodness of the giver from whence they come. The praise here is directed towards the gifts given, their goodness, rather than the goodness of God. Man might even seek to do the commands of God; to perform many great works, but because it is man’s will to receive specific goods. If a man should receive the goods of wisdom, wealth, health, or life and pray to receive only these things, man has not yet raised his eyes to the heavens, or perhaps lowered them, to consider only created things and praise only the goodness and fittingness of created things.
Man’s will is such that it wills to receive the good things that man himself deems to be good, necessary, and timely; he doesn’t take into account the will of God in making these delineations. In doing so, he risks making these goods graven images. Man might even think he is serving God, but really it is his belly that he is serving; his appetites and desires for his good things draw his eyes down away from God and His good things. This is very subtle and is a snare and a struggle for most.
God desires not to give man things that man wills, but things that He wills. These may coincide and overlap for God desires that man should have life and so gives those good things that help man to live. Yet, God did not create man for life, nor health, nor to possess abundantly, nor to be wise in all things; God created man that man might possess God. God gives so that He might ultimately give Himself. At times what God gives, or permits to come into a man’s life, might be a lesser good or a deprivation of a good than what was prayed for. This is so that man might be broken of man’s desire for his own will and that man’s eyes might be raised from created things to the source of created things.
All of the previous is a progression; God does not expect man to praise Him for Himself in the beginning. God’s desire is that man will what God wills, but this takes correction, turning, and conforming on the part of man; all of which are things that God gives to the man who turns in prayer. Man might start by turning to God to receive the good of health (or even a much lesser good) rather than by praising God for Him being who He is. God accepts this, and even anticipates it for He has prepared in man the ability to recognize and desire the good things that shall be prayed for.
It is a process of learning to know good things, the good things of God, mediated goodness of God, and finally the unmediated goodness of God, Himself, fully given and finally received in Mystical Marriage.