Monday, July 13, 2020

When we can’t genuinely praise our fellowman, we probably aren’t ready for heaven too.

There is a lot of wrong imagery about heaven that give us not only a wrong impression of holiness, but also a bad interpretation of what eternal life is.  I guess this is proof that bad imagination results in bad theology.  Cartoonists and satirists have often contributed to this with the way they like to portray heaven as having the saints lying languidly on puffy white clouds, oftentimes strumming harps.  This is problematic in so many ways.

It’s as if the life that we live now on God’s great green earth, with its unceasing rat race and striving at an often frenetic pace, is just so that at the end, the prize we attain is a certain state of idleness, with hardly any aim or purpose but to laze around. And for eternity!  Nothing could be more wrong and more offensive to the divine plan that God has for us ‘mere mortals’.  God has made us for eternal ‘life’, not eternal ‘laziness’.  Besides, if sloth is one of the capital sins, it would make absolutely no sense that heaven would be an eternity of this sin.

In our Roman Catholic liturgy, at the conclusion of almost every one of the Eucharistic Prefaces, the prayer has the presiding celebrant exclaiming that we join in the unending hymn of praise of God, often with the choirs of angels, before launching into a full throated singing (at least this is what should be happening) of the triple Holy, Holy, Holy. It informs us that this action of fully participated divine praise is an action or work that is what heaven consists of. 

This phrase “unending hymn of praise” reveals that one of heaven’s ‘works’ is to give God the unending praise that he deserves.  If that is so, then it behooves us to not only start this eternal praise that is going to be our eternal work as part of our work here in this life, but to also do this well.  

And herein lies a great problem for so many of us on this side of heaven.  We don’t praise well.  Not only do we not praise God well, we certainly have a lot of problems with praising one another well.  If it is one thing that we do well, it is that we do the opposite of this well.  We criticize and complain well, we fault-find well, and we certainly condemn and judge negatively well.  If there was an Olympiad for these, and if these were talents, the human race would be considered multi-talented and highly skilled, with so many gold medalists.  

Even if we find ourselves appreciating the good in others, or the skills that they posses, there is a part of us that seems to desire to covet or possess them.  And this adds to the problem because it means that we are motivated by the sin of covetousness.

The angelic doctor, St Thomas Aquinas, himself mused, and quite correctly I must say, that it’s a sin to withhold a compliment from someone when it’s deserved because by withholding our praise, we are depriving him or her of the food that he or she needs to live on.  It makes us alert to the fact that our souls need to be fed as well, and genuine and unaffected compliments are the food for the soul and it comes in the form of affirmation, recognition and blessing.  It provides for the health of the person when these are given “willing the good of the other, as other”.

I strongly believe that a hallmark of one who is truly spiritual and mentally mature is that he or she is able to admire and praise with no other intention than to admire and praise with a pure heart.  It is made doubly hard when one doesn’t have models in one’s life to imitate and look up to as elders who have been doing this well in their formative years.  

I came across a study that Fr Ronald Rolheiser shared recently in a retreat.  He said that there is so much power in a compliment and affirmation, most especially when it is from a top-down direction.  The greatest of all top-down directions or flow is when God affirms and praises, and this happens at every baptism where God declares that the newly baptized is God’s beloved.  It was this incredible power that gave Jesus the clear lens through which he viewed the world as his mission began, allowing him to see in some way that God’s will is woven into even the most challenging and punishing of situations, the passion and crucifixion not withstanding.

On the human level, this power and confidence in life is transmitted from parents to their children, but it is especially powerful when the praise, affirmation and acceptance is given by parents of the opposite gender.  It’s not surprising at all that mothers easily bless and are affectionate to their sons, and fathers just as easily bless and are affectionate to their daughters, giving way to the familiar terms of being “mommy’s boy” or “daddy’s girl”. 

But there seems to be a great challenge when it comes to blessing and being affectionate to parents and children of the same gender, with mothers finding it more difficult to do this to their daughters, and fathers to their sons.  However, when this is done well and often, despite its seeming awkwardness, the result is often that the child has a certain added confidence in life that doesn’t see him or her later on in life needing to assert himself or herself in such a way as to compensate for this ‘power’ that was missing in one’s formative and younger years.  

Sons who had lacked the affirmation and affection of their fathers could find themselves striving to find success and power (hence affirmation and value) in their work and profession.  Of course, this in itself isn’t a bad thing, but the extreme negative effect of this is when it goes completely south and the unaffirmed son or daughter channels this by way of being abusive, whether sexually or physically, toward others, like their spouse or their children, passing down, as it were, a ‘generational sin’.

If praising others and commending the good that we see in them is still something that is foreign to our sensitivities, perhaps we seriously need to rethink this.  What is more important is that we also know that by praising them, we are also praising the God who made them, and that all praise is ultimately given to God, directly or indirectly.  

After all, if heaven’s work is our praising God eternally with the angels and saints, we will find ourselves most unfit and unskilled for heaven’s work if we hardly put any effort in it during our lives on this side of heaven.

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