A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Words and God’s Word

By Fr Tom Ryan SM

Part 4 of 10

“You did a good job”.

 “Well done!” “You were great!”

When you think about it, such phrases are first cousins of ‘thank you’. 

To give praise, to acknowledge someone—these imply a sense of being grateful. 

A compliment is important for many reasons. It is a way of expressing to someone that I appreciate and value what they have done. It might be as simple as the family meal. Or it may be when someone does you a favour. It can be so easy to take others (and what they do) for granted, especially at home and in daily life. 

Giving and receiving compliments are also important in the workplace, not only in fostering good relationships but also in promoting a healthy environment in which to work. This is not just amongst one’s colleagues. A hallmark of good leadership is to acknowledge (and encourage) positive behaviours and, at times, initiatives and creative thinking.

Still, we are human: some of us may, at times, feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed, in receiving a compliment. If that is the case, it is perhaps easier to handle by just keeping things simple: “Thank you. It’s nice of you to say so”. 

Perhaps later one might comment to the person: “What you said earlier; it really made my day”. 

Some basics for good compliments: offer them with eye contact; be sincere and be oneself; say it with a smile; be specific: “thank you for helping Bill out with that tricky situation”. 

In many ways, what we find at work here are the rhythms of grace, the dynamics of giving and receiving but also of the adage: courtesy costs nothing.

Perhaps that suggests a rule of thumb: offer praise generously and accept it gracefully. 

But there is another level to all this. 

Acknowledging what someone has done is a way of recognising them. It is not just a particular action or behaviour that I appreciate. These are windows that offer insight into who the person is, and, importantly, what matters to them. 

A compliment, a word of praise, then, is a way of affirming and honouring that person for who they are.

But what can we say about God when it comes to compliments?

God’s Word, Acknowledgement and Praise

Think of the many psalms of praise for God or of creation as the work of the divine artist. Again, there are scripture passages where divine happiness is reflected in the delight God takes in the ways his goodness and love are reflected in those he loves: “The Lord delights in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation” (Ps 49:4).

Compliments and words of praise are peppered throughout the Gospels. The parable of the talents, for instance, sets the tone. “Well done good and faithful servant” is another way of saying “you’ve done a good job”. It reveals how important it is to acknowledge this person beneath the actions. Here, it is for being loyal and devoted over the long haul. 

But the recognition does not stop there. Such persevering discipleship wins an eternal accolade: “Enter into the master’s happiness”. In other words, I want you to share in my joy. 

Another side to this is reflected in another parable; of the faithful servants and the master of the house (Lk. 12: 35-40). Attentive loyalty and devoted service attract not only praise: when the master returns, he “sits them down at table and waits on them”. This not only a gesture of ‘well done’. It is also one of gratitude. 

Praise and thankfulness merge, then, when the person is honoured according to God’s scale of values, captured in the image of a meal and shared celebration. 

Let’s take this a bit further. Think of the times when Jesus is not just observant, but attentive. He notices a particular individual: the widow amongst the milling crowd in the temple; Nathanael under the fig tree; Zacchaeus above the crowd. 

He spots each of them. He picks them out. Each of them could say “He noticed me”. More than that. In being attentive to how they behave, each of them could also say: “He recognised me; he thought I was important enough to give me his time”. 

Again, the scope of praise extends to the life of the Church, as in the Te Deum (a traditional hymn of praise): 

We praise you, O God;
We acclaim you are the Lord.
Everlasting Father,
All the world bows down before you.

Finally, ‘you did a good job’ finds its cosmic fulfilment (and contemporary relevance) in creation itself praising God with St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon: 

Praised be You, my Lord
through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure…

Praised be You, my Lord
through our Sister, Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs….

Next month: “What is your opinion?”

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