In Matthew 11, Our Lord goes through a difficult, disappointing moment. John the Baptist is in jail, having doubts, and even questions “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Mt 11:3). Then Jesus is rejected by the towns along the lake, where he performed so many miracles (cf. Mt 11:20-24). Yet Jesus does not lament, but rather raises a hymn of jubilation: “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes” (Mt 11:25). Thus, in the midst of a crisis and darkness, Jesus blesses and praises the Father. But why?
- He praises Him for who He is: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” Jesus rejoices because he knows that his Father is the God of the Universe and Lord of all. Even more, Jesus knows and experiences Him as “My Father.” Praise springs from this experience of feeling that he is “Son of the Most High.”
- He praises the Father for favoring the little ones. When the “learned” and “wise” are closed to Jesus’ teachings, the “little ones” open themselves to his message. It is the humble and simple who pray, who sing, who praise – people who perhaps lack many things but whose humility leads them to God. When aware of our own limitations and sins, we are moved to look to God the Father.
Therefore, in a moment of apparent failure and darkness, Jesus praises the Father. This prayer leads us to view our personal defeats in a new way, to judge differently the situations in which we do not clearly see the presence and action of God, when evil seems to prevail. Jesus, who highly recommended the prayer of asking (see Catechesis 18), rather than asking the Father for explanations, instead begins to praise him.
To whom is praise helpful? To us or to God? A text of the Mass answers: “Although you have no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift, since our praises add nothing to your greatness, but profit us for salvation” (Roman Missal , Common Preface IV). Prayer of praise is helpful to us: by giving praise, we are saved. The Catechism defines:
“Praise is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately 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. It shares in the blessed happiness of the pure of heart who love God in faith before seeing him in glory. ” (Catechism no. 2639).
Paradoxically praise is needed not only in happiness, but also in difficult, wearisome and dark moments. In an uphill climb, through the ascent, often difficult and demanding, we get to see a new panorama, a broader horizon. Thus Pope Francis says, “Giving praise is like breathing pure oxygen: it purifies the soul, it makes you look far ahead, it does not leave you imprisoned in the difficult and dark moment of hardship.”
The examples of saints, of Christians, and of Jesus, all call us to praise God in difficult moments. Praise open to us the gates of a great road towards the Lord and purifies us. Pope Francis notes that praise always purifies:
“This is the foundation of praise: God is the faithful Friend, and his love never fails. He is always beside us. He always awaits us… In difficult and dark moments, let us have the courage to say: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord.’ Praising the Lord. This will do us much good.”
You are invited to meditate on Matthew 11:25-30: Come to Me, and I Will Give You Rest
Jesus’ example calls us to respond with praise and view things in a new and greater perspective, even when we feel God is absent or evil seems victorious. We see this in the example of St. Francis of Assisi, who composed his famous Canticle of the Creatures when he was troubled by sickness and blindness. In sadness and darkness Francis prays “Praised be You, my Lord…” praising God for everything, even “Sister Death.” It is important, in every circumstances of our lives, to praise God who is always faithful and whose love is eternal.