MEMORIAL OF ST. PIO OF PIETRELCIAN
ONE of the most tragic elements in the modern Catholic Church, particularly in the West, is the loss of worship. It seems today as though singing (one form of praise) in Church is optional, rather than an integral part of the liturgical prayer.
When the Lord poured out His Holy Spirit on the Catholic Church in the late sixties in what became known as the “charismatic renewal”, worship and praise of God exploded! I witnessed over the decades how so many souls were transformed as they went beyond their comfort zones and began to worship God from the heart (I will share my own testimony below). I even witnessed physical healings just through simple praise!
Praise or blessing or adoration of God is not a “Pentecostal” or “Charismatic thing”. It is essential to the foundation of man; it is the fulcrum of his being:
Blessing expresses the basic movement of Christian prayer: it is an encounter between God and man… because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One who is the source of every blessing… Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. —Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2626; 2628
Here is the key to why praising God blesses and heals and liberates the human heart: it is a divine transaction in which we give our praise to God, and God gives us His very self.
…you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel (Psalm 22:3, RSV)
Other translations read:
God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3)
When we praise God, He comes to us, and enthrones our hearts, inhabiting them. Didn’t Jesus promise this would happen?
If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14:23)
To praise God is to love Him, for praise is a recognition of God’s goodness and His love. God comes to us, and we in turn enter His presence:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. (Psalm 100:4)
In God’s presence, evil takes flight, miracles are released, and transformation takes place. I have witnessed and experienced this in solitude, as well as in corporate worship settings. Now, I am writing you in the context of spiritual battle. Listen to what happens to the powers of darkness when we begin to praise:
Let the faithful exult in glory; let the high praises of God be in their throats, and two-edged swords in their hands, to wreak vengeance on the nations and chastisement on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the Lord! (Psalm 149:5-9)
As Paul reminds the New Testament Church, their battle is no longer with flesh and blood but with:
…the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:12)
It is our praises, particularly when we sing or pronounce God’s truths from the Word of God (cf. Eph 5:19) which become like a double-edged sword, binding principalities and powers with divine chains and executing judgment on fallen angels! How does this work?
…our prayer ascends in the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father—we bless him for having blessed us; it implores the grace of the Holy Spirit that descends through Christ from the Father—he blesses us. —CCC, 2627
Christ our Mediator working through us, binds our spiritual foes in the power of the Holy Spirit. Praise is our way of participating in Christ’s salvific work as His Body. Praise is faith in action, and “faith is pure praise” (CCC 2642).
…you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power. (Col 2:9)
The thanksgiving of the members of the Body participates in that of their Head. —CCC 2637
Lastly, praise is the attitude of a child of God, an attitude which without we cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3). In the Old Testament, the words “praise” and “thanks” are often interchangeable. The word “thanks” comes from the Hebrew yadah which connotes praise, as well as towdah which connotes adoration. Both terms also mean “to extend or throw out the hands”. Hence, in Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer (the term Eucharist means “thanksgiving”), the priest holds out his hands in a posture of praise and thanksgiving.
It is good, and sometimes even necessary to worship God with our whole body. Using our body can be a sign and symbol of our faith; it helps us to release our faith:
We are body and spirit, and we experience the need to translate our feelings externally. We must pray with our whole being to give all power possible to our supplication.—CCC 2702
But the most important thing is the posture of the heart. To be a child means to totally trust God in every situation, even when our families or world are falling apart.
In all circumstances give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)
It is not a contradiction to praise God in tribulation. Rather, it is a form of praise which brings God’s blessings and presence among us so that He can be Lord of every situation. It is saying, “Lord, you are God, and you have permitted even this to happen to me. Jesus, I trust in you. I give you thanks for this trial which you have permitted for my good…”
Praise is the form or prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. —CCC 2639
Such praise as this, or rather, such a childlike heart as this becomes a very suitable and desirable place for God to inhabit.
THREE TRUE STORIES OF PRAISE TO FREEDOM
I. PRAISE IN A HOPELESS SITUATION
Do not lose heart at the sight of this vast multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go out to meet them, and the Lord will be with you.
They sang: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his mercy endures forever.” And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon… destroying them utterly. (2 Chron 20:15-16, 21-23)
II. PRAISE IN DIFFICULT SITUATIONS
After inflicting many blows on them, [the magistrates] threw [Paul and Silas] into prison… in the innermost cell and secured their feet to a stake.
About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. (Acts 16:23-26)
III. PRAISE IN SPIRITUAL BONDAGE—MY PERSONAL TESTIMONY
IN the beginning years of my ministry, we held monthly gatherings in one of the local Catholic Churches. It was a two hour evening of praise and worship music with personal testimony or teaching in the middle. It was a powerful time in which we witnessed many conversions and deeper repentance.
One week, the team leaders had a meeting planned. I remember making my way there with this dark cloud hanging over me. I had been struggling with a particular sin for a very long time. That week, I had really struggled, and failed miserably. I felt helpless, and above all, deeply ashamed. Here I was the music leader… and such a failure and disappointment.
At the meeting, they began to pass out song sheets. I didn’t feel like singing at all, or rather, I did not feel worthy to sing. But I knew enough as a worship leader that giving praise to God is something I owe Him, not because I feel like it, but because He’s God. Besides, praise is an act of faith… and faith can move mountains. So I began to sing. I began to praise.
As I did, I sensed the Holy Spirit descend upon me. My body literally began to tremble. I was not one to go looking for supernatural experiences, nor try and create a bunch of hype. What was happening to me was real.
Suddenly, I could see in my heart as though I were being raised on an elevator without doors… raised into what I perceived somehow to be the throne room of God. All I saw was a crystal glass floor. I knew I was there in God’s presence. It was so wonderful. I could feel His love and mercy toward me, washing away my guilt and dirtiness and failure. I was being healed by Love.
And when I left that night, the power of that addiction in my life was broken. I do not know how God did it, all I know is that He did: He set me free—and has, to this very day.
Begin to praise God in your trials, in your families, in your churches, and watch the power of God do what he promised:
He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)