Many books of the Bible, especially the Psalms, honor God with praises (“Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as in a besieged city,” Psalm 30:21), but the Bible also sings the praises of man—the subject of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sermon on the text “And his father and mother marveled at what was said about him” (Luke 2:33).
Meditating on the theme of Christ’s beauty of body, mind, and character as the subject of the homily, Hopkins cites Christ’s ready willingness to praise as an aspect of the beauty of His character and as one of the divine attributes.
He Loved to Praise, Loved to Reward
Hopkins cites the following examples to illustrate that “He loved to praise, he loved to reward.” After feeling pity for the suffering and performing miracles on behalf of those who believed with unwavering trust, Christ extolled them: “Thy faith hath made thee well.” He honored Nathaniel with words of admiration, calling him “an Israelite without guile.” He distinguished James and John with the honorific title of “sons of thunder.”
Christ gave to John the Baptist the accolade that no man born of woman was greater than this prophet. He extolled Peter with the title of the first pope: “Thou art Rock.” While many condemned Mary Magdalen, Christ defended her as a model of generosity and marveled at her large heart: “She hath loved much.”
The final example Hopkins cites in the sermon are the words of gratitude to the faithful and loyal: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Christ is indeed lavish in his praise.
More Examples from Scripture
To add to these examples, Christ also praised Mary, Martha’s sister, for having “the better part” when she listened to every word He spoke rather than being busy, anxious, and worried like Martha in the kitchen preoccupied about “many things” instead of the one thing needful.
He honored children as those belonging to the kingdom of God and spoke of their angels beholding the face of God in heaven. He complimented the widow for contributing her mite to the collection that she offered from her poverty rather than out of surplus.
He said of the centurion who pleaded with Christ to heal his servant, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” To the Canaanite woman who implored Christ to heal her daughter possessed by a demon and who persisted, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table,” the Lord gave this tribute: “O, woman, great is your faith.”
When Mary of Bethany poured out expensive ointment and washed Christ’s feet with her hair, He commended her: “For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Christ expressed his undying appreciation to Peter and the disciples for following Him with this high praise: “Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children to follow me . . . who will not receive manifold more in this time and in the life to come, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Christ praises at every opportunity.
Praise and Repeat
To follow Christ, then, obligates a person also to praise others, to pay compliments, and to express appreciation and gratitude. In other words, Christ’s example teaches the graciousness of kind, thoughtful words that validate the virtues of others and encourage imitation.
Naturally, words of praise inspire a person to repeat these good works and affirm their great value. Although charity performs good deeds from a pure love of virtue for its own sake with no intention of reward or kudos, justice demands an expression of gratitude or compliment. The rhythm of love is to give and receive, to act and react, to speak and respond, to sow and to reap.
This cycle of love’s coming, going, and continuing depends on the giving of true praise and appreciative compliments to move the heart and will to persist in these habits of virtue. A host who welcomes guests with hospitality soon loses the love of entertaining when guests take these occasions for granted and fail to pay compliments for the thought, time, and effort spent in preparation.
Christ’s example teaches that praise pleases God and blesses others.
Hoarding up Beautiful Sentiments
Why do many begrudge the giving of compliments and fail to express heartfelt thanks by the spoken or written word? Some unwittingly take things for granted and lack the refinement or sensitivity to acknowledge gifts, favors, or acts of thoughtfulness; the habit of gratitude has not been fully formed.
Some do not like the sense of being beholden or do not extend themselves to do anything “extra” beyond the minimum, for example, to include a written letter, thank-you note, or personal call.
Many do not want to give the impression of flattery or sentimentality, failing to distinguish between the insincerity of empty words and the praise that is due by way of justice. Of course some are too prideful and feel no obligation to deign to pay compliments to others which they imagine detract from their image and reputation. They like receiving compliments but do not enjoy giving them.
As Christ’s example of generous praise teaches, the imitation of Christ obliges a person not only always to give thanks to God but also to pay deserving compliments to all people for all the charitable acts that a person receives in the course of a human life. All human beings, not just children, thrive on praise.
All good and faithful servants who do an honest day’s work with a sense of duty and vocation—mothers, fathers, teachers, nurses, students, priests, bishops, and ordinary people—rejoice at the surprise and spontaneity of the gift of praise that gives meaning and vibrancy to the day. Not to praise is a form of selfishness, not giving to others the esteem they deserve.
Not to praise is a form of avarice, a hoarding of good words and beautiful sentiments that are never dispensed for the benefit of others. Not to praise is a form of envy, resentment at the compliments offered to others rather than given to one’s own self. Not to praise as Christ praises is a form of inhumanity, a failure to love’s one neighbor and a lack of charity.
Christ, true God and true man, teaches not only of the love and mercy of the Father and of the miracle of eternal life but also instructs man on how to be human, warm, cordial, kind, considerate, and thoughtful about the little things as well as the great things worthy of praise.
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