Bless God at All Times!

The following is the speech I gave at IHM School’s graduation yesterday. Readers should know that our school in rural southern New Hampshire is very small. We had one graduates this year (we had three last year!). 

HERE we are once more in the month of the Sacred Heart Jesus, sending another IHM Graduating class to sally forth into an unsuspecting world. I can say without any fear of contradiction that never before has IHM had a class that was so utterly unified and completely single-minded in its faith, its convictions, and its sense of purpose. This is no doubt owing to the fact that Matthew does not, thank God, suffer from split personality disorder.

The occasion is all the more auspicious for its being the Sunday in the Octave of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the external solemnity of which is observed in Catholic parishes across these United States today. Because of this observance, many of us this morning had the privilege of assisting at a High Mass followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. One part of the ceremony of Benediction is the recitation of the Divine Praises. This ritual is not so ancient as is our traditional Latin liturgy or its Eastern cousins. The Divine Praises, in fact, go back only as far as 1797, when they were composed by Father Luigi Felici, a Jesuit priest, as a prayer of reparation for blasphemy and profane speech. Soon after, in Italy, they were added by a popular custom to the rite of Eucharistic Benediction. Eventually, the Holy See would not only approve this use, but Pope Pius VII granted an indulgence to its recitation in 1801, and subsequent Popes would issue decrees adding acclamations to the original eight that Father Felici wrote.

  • Saint Joseph was added by Pope Benedict XV in 1921.
  • The Assumption was added Pope Pius XII in 1952.
  • “Blessed be His Most Precious Blood” was added by Pope John XXIII in 1960.
  • “Blessed be the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete” was added in 1964 by Pope Paul VI.

The praises as we now have them should be familiar to us all:

  • Blessed be God.
  • Blessed be His Holy Name.
  • Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man.
  • Blessed be the Name of Jesus.
  • Blessed be His Most Sacred Heart.
  • Blessed be His Most Precious Blood.
  • Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
  • Blessed be the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete.
  • Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
  • Blessed be Her holy and Immaculate Conception.
  • Blessed be Her glorious Assumption.
  • Blessed be the name of Mary, Virgin and Mother.
  • Blessed be Saint Joseph, Her most chaste spouse.
  • Blessed be God in His Angels and in His Saints.

My purpose in drawing our attention to this devotion is to invoke the spirit behind it. The times during which Padre Felici lived were revolutionary. Indeed, the Pope who indulgenced the Divine Praises, Pius VII, was, like his predecessor of the same name, imprisoned by Napoleon. But of all the problems plaguing Christendom at the time, the good Jesuit wanted to make reparation for blasphemies against God by doing the very opposite of blasphemy and impure speech: blessing God, blessing the Holy Name of Jesus, as well as Our Lady, the Angels and the Saints. It is a lesson that any worthy disciple of Saint Ignatius of Loyola would know from his days as a novice: that the way to oppose vice is not simply to avoid vice, but to implant virtue in its place.

I reckon that public blasphemy and profanity are no less a problem in our day than they were in Father Felici’s. We, too, live in revolutionary days, and certain forms of evil displayed on screen in our modern movie theaters would likely make the anti-clerical Freemasons of those days blush. We can take a page from the Italian priest’s playbook: We must absolutely resist the revolutions against the Church and Christian morals, but we resist them by granting that God’s rights come first, and by fulfilling man’s fundamental duty to render to the Holy Trinity all the homages that are His due. So, we say, “Blessed be God!” “Blessed be his Holy Name!” And all the rest.

It is hoped that this spirit will penetrate the lives of all of us, the faculty, students, and graduates of Immaculate Heart of Mary School — and all our families. God’s rights must come first and foremost in our interior lives, in our inmost thoughts and desires. His rights must come first and foremost in our families and homes. His rights must come first in our friendships and and other personal and even professional relationships. This is so by virtue of His being God, and, at the risk of sounding impolitic, I will point out that only a spiritual imbecile could possibly think otherwise.

Traditionalist Catholics often invoke the patristic axiom lex orandi lex credendi — the law of praying is the law of belief. In the Our Father, there are seven petitions. The first three pertain to God and the next four to us. That first petition, as we all know, is “hallowed be Thy name.” God first, man second. In the collect for today’s external solemnity of Corpus Christi, we pray in these words: “…grant us, we beseech Thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood that we may ever experience within us the effect of Thy redemption.” We venerate, adore, and glorify first, and then we experience within ourselves the effect. God first, man second. In the Maronite Divine Liturgy, the Anaphora of Saint Sixtus reads thus: “O Lord, hasten to transform all that is harmful and detrimental into that which will help and benefit us, that we may raise glory to you, now and for ever.” Our purpose in praying for our own help and benefit is what? That we might glorify God! There is a long Old-Testament pedigree for this kind of petition. Queen Esther prayed, when her nation was afflicted, in these words: “Hear my supplication, and be merciful to thy lot and inheritance, and turn our mourning into joy, that we may live and praise thy name, O Lord, and shut not the mouths of them that sing to thee (Esther 14:9).

Let me share a few paragraphs from a favorite author of mine, Dom François de Sales Pollien (1853-1936). They come from his excellent book, The Interior Life. Before I read them, let me point out that we can simplify one of this great Carthusian’s central ideas in three sentences:

  • God’s rights come first, man’s second.
  • God’s glory comes first, man’s satisfaction second.
  • God first, man second.

Now, here are his words:

In the ages and countries of faith, how much more real and living was the place assigned to God in the customs of His faithful peoples! Nothing expressed it so vividly as popular speech. It is in the turns of everyday conversation that we find the best reflection of this state of mind. But how and when was God spoken of in the times and ages in which the notions of faith prevailed?—The name of God perpetually occurred with an appropriateness and reality which were indeed admirable. They used to say with such simplicity and sincerity: “Thank God,” “God be praised,” “Please God,” “With God’s help,” and so forth. Private documents began with the Sign of the Cross, and public deeds were drawn up in the name of the Blessed Trinity, and laws were promulgated in God’s name; the custom of giving first-fruits, inherited from the ancient faith, consecrated to God the first-born of everything; paternal, judicial, and civil authority acted as a delegation of that which is divine; there was respect for persons and solemnities and things sacred; the dread of the punishment of blasphemy and so many other customs, unfortunately so far removed from our days; all these testified in practice how far the thought of God held the foremost place in everything. God lived in people’s thoughts and conduct, in their customs and institutions. Human wretchedness no doubt made its appearance, for it always does. But God also was manifested above human wretchedness. It was felt that He was the King of souls and bodies, of individuals and peoples, of time and eternity, and His sovereignty remained above all.

In our utilitarian age, if we still have recourse to God, it is rather because we need Him than because of His glory. We still know what carnal love means, but what of the love of benevolence! . . . To ask above all else that God may be glorified, and to rejoice above all that He is glorified, this is the case of a few, but they are daily becoming fewer. And the great heresy which breaks asunder the union of God with man, the co-ordination of the One with the other, is drunk in by everyone, it enters everywhere, it darkens the mind, it misleads the feelings and perverts action. “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are vain” (Ps. xciii. 11).

He goes on in the same vein, but I don’t want this to get heavier than it already is. Let me come to the point by saying that, of all the problems we have in Church and State, this is the root of them all. We have put ourselves, our rights, our satisfaction, our ideas, and our programs before God, His rights, and His glory. It’s all perfectly topsy-turvy, inside-out, and insane — and things will never get better until we put God’s glory in its place and all our powers at its service.

And with God’s grace, we can do just that. We can put Him first in our thoughts, words, and actions. We can live like Christians and not like heathen who go to Mass on Sundays. We can cultivate the spirit of Father Felici and bless God, not only in Church, but in all we think, say, and do, so that when we come to say that most excellent prayer, the Act of Charity, we are actually telling Him the truth when we dare to say, “O My God, I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul….”

We Brothers and Sisters — and I know I can speak for all our other teachers as well — would like to have a school where our students and their families can say that prayer and mean it, where Jesus Christ is really King, and not a mere figurehead, and where God’s glory comes before all else.

I joked at the beginning that this year’s graduating class is particularly unified and completely single-minded in its faith, its convictions, and its sense of purpose. Let me point out that this is not as ironic as it might sound; each one of us can be divided in ourselves if we lack the wisdom that comes from grace and the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Our passions and our bodies become divided against our intellects and wills, and we suffer thereby an internal division. It is a sad condition that Saint Paul narrates with great pathos in the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Romans.

The founder of this community, Brother Francis, wrote that “Wisdom is order, putting first things first.” When that order is present, then there is a supernatural singleness, integrity, internal unity that can only come from God. Such a blessing is what I wish today for this fine young man, Matthew … .

Speaking of whom, let me close these thoughts with a parting piece of advice to the lad. (It’s the last chance I’ll have to teach him before he gets his diploma.) The advice comes from the words of Tobias the Elder to his son, who bore the same name, as does the book in which these words are found:

“Bless God at all times: and desire of him to direct thy ways, and that all thy counsels may abide in him” (Tobias 4:20).