Things that Amaze Should Lead to Praise

Posted December 6, 2010

John H. Hampsch, cmf

After one of Bill Cosby’s performances a young couple went backstage hoping to get the comedian’s autograph on the baby book that was to chronicle the infancy of their newborn son. Cosby’s aide brought the book to him for his signature, but when it was returned, the couple was disappointed to find no signature inside the cover. Days later they found Cosby’s scribbling on an inside page, under “Baby’s First Complete Sentence.” It said, “I like Bill Cosby.”

Celebrities like Bill Cosby are accustomed to receiving the admiration of their devotees—often with more hero-worship for their entertainment idols than that given to the Creator of the universe. (Witness the all-night sidewalk campers before Oscar night, waiting for a glimpse of their movie idols; many probably have never in their life spent a full hour in prayerful worship of God.)

Nature itself exposits countless activities that spawn our wonderment and awe. For instance, the origin of the universe 13 ½ billion years ago, starting with the  Big Bang—the now accepted theory proposed in 1927 by the abbot-astronomer, Lemaitre. Easterbrook’s fascinating book, Beside Still Waters—Searching for Meaning in a World of Doubt, says that astrophysicists have ascertained that with a slightly less violent explosion the cosmos would have collapsed back upon itself, while a slightly more violence it would have left the cosmos too thinly dispersed to permit the aggregation of stars and galaxies. The very nature of that unimaginably condensed pinpoint of matter allowed for an extremely small “margin of error” between too much and too little explosive energy. That “margin of error” was about one-quadrillionth of 1% of the ideal. How could one not be amazed at that? And how could anyone not admire the divine wisdom and divine power that engineered the drama of creation?

Thus, admiration starts with amazement—a kind of wonderment and awe in recognizing someone’s ability or attractiveness. This sort of amazement-admiration was often directed to Jesus during his earthly sojourn—sometimes in response to his incisive and awe-inspiring teaching—such as his “render-to-Caesar” teaching; but also in his miracle-working, as when he cured, physically and spiritually, the crowd-evading paralytic lowered through the roof (Luke 5).

The transition from amazement to admiration requires some degree of spiritual insight and maturity. A child can be amazed by a magic trick without admiring the magician. A spiritually immature adult can be amazed by the wonders of nature without adverting appreciatively to the Creator that caused those wonders of nature. Amazement without admiration is truncated insight.

Once the amazement is person-focused, it becomes admiration; that is, admiration of the person who causes the amazement. But a third stage is called for, namely articulating that admiration. When articulated, one’s admiration becomes an act of glorifying the person who is admired for his greatness. Every creature with a functioning intellect is morally obliged to glorify the Creator with what is theologically referred to as “formal glory.” It is classically defined by St. Augustine as clara cum laude notitia (full acknowledgement by praise).

A simple example of this theology of glorification can be found in the case of the miraculously healed paralytic in Luke 5. The gospel says that “he went home glorifying God.” The onlookers, it says, by “seeing incredible things that day were seized with astonishment” and “glorified God.” Thus, they grew rapidly through three stages—from amazement to admiration to glorification.

To glorify someone is to praise that person. When one’s praise is directed to God, you can be sure it is incipiated by the Holy Spirit, as Paul says in Romans 2:29. And the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifier, fashions that praise into a sanctifying experience, as we are reminded in Psalm 89:5.

Take a moment to engage in this sanctifying experience: Meditate, for example, on the awesome event of the God’s Incarnation in the Mary’s womb.  The hypostatic union of the divine and human natures is positively awesome! St. Augustine says it’s far more awesome (and humbling) than a man choosing to become a worm and live among worms while maintaining intellectual acuity. Considering this, doesn’t you heart fill with amazement, admiration and praise?

Think of the awesome priestly power of transubstantiation, or absolution of the most heinous of sins. Doesn’t’ that deeply move your soul to glorify God?

Think of the birth of Jesus, who, from the Bethlehem manger surveyed his creation with infant eyes. Isn’t that amazing, admirable, and praiseworthy? Cap your prayer with the glorifying angelic anthem: “Glory to God in the Highest!”