What makes our praise so pleasing to God?
Would you sing a psalm? Then do not sound God’s praises with voice alone, but put your works in harmony with your voice… “Let your praises be pleasing to our God.” How? By praising him with the goodness of our lives. Take heed of that and then your praise will be pleasing to him…If praise in the mouth of a sinner is unseemly, then it cannot be pleasing, for only what is seemly pleases.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger
The condition that man finds himself in is one of dis-integration; whether in his internal landscape, the translation between his inner will to his outer activities, the functioning of his outer self, and the larger interactions between individuals that make up society, man finds that, while he desires harmony, he is disharmonious; that what he wills, he does not do, that his plans, however noble, are stymied.
The progress of life is not one of simple growth, from youth to maturity, from dull to honed, nor one of simple orientation, of seeking the mysteries and adhering to them, but one that entails the complexities of integrating man’s constitutive parts. The end of man is achieved not in part, or by a part, but by the whole. (This is why the belief is in the resurrection of the body and not just the salvation of the soul.) Either all of a man achieves Beatitude or none does. Man is to choose the good according to reason, but not at the expense of abandoning his emotions. He is to mortify the body but not kill it. He is to direct all his activities for the glory of God without neglecting his responsibilities towards his neighbor.
The paradox of this reintegration of man is that, while he is missing no piece, no faculty, that would prevent reintegration, he is not capable of reintegration by his own powers. Nor can it be said that he has been abandoned by his Creator; that God has denied him a sufficient grace and demands the impossible. Yet, the reintegration begins outside of himself for man hears but does not see of the good things of God. The response to this grace, this turn of prayer, beings this reintegration, for it beings by the reorientation of man towards “the east”, towards God and the will to receive from God those good things which He has promised to those that would rely upon Him rather than themselves. Man cannot will himself to be saved, yet God saves man not without man’s own will. It is the integration, the ordination, that is key, not the presence of various parts.
So what pleases God about the praise of men? It is not that man praises with his voice alone, that is that he says the words and does the musical directions, it is that he praises God as an integrated creature. Faith apart from works is dead. If a man says that he believes, so must he will, so must he act.
But then, is praise by a man who is in the process of becoming integrated looked down upon by God? Surely it does not please Him as much as if it were to come from one integrated, but does it displease? No, it is not the presence of disintegration nor the degree of disintegration that causes prayer to be unseemly, but more so it is the refusal to do the works that faith demands – it is the one who seeks to offer a sacrifice of praise to God while still acting against his brother. It is to seek to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord while still seeking to serve Mamon.
If man’s desire should be to praise God not for the giving nor receiving of His good things, but for Him Himself, then man must put away those things of his youth, the desires of his belly, his disordered passions, his serving other masters, his idols, his dis-integrations. Man pleases God by doing His will, a thing of totality, integration, and ordination, where man wills naught but what God the Father wills, acts through the Spirit in union with Christ, and praises Him for it.