Be careful what you ask for…
“Be careful what you ask God for,” or so the saying goes. Personally, I’ve always felt a little bit frightened to ask God for greater humility. Because, when we pray for virtue, nine times out of ten we end up with experiences that try us–forcing us to grow in the needed area. Yet recently I’ve felt an increasing call to actively seek a more humble heart by praying the Litany of Humility.
The Litany of Humility
Written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, the Litany of Humility is a time-honored prayer of the Church in which the person seeks true humility through three essential parts:
First, the person prays for the grace to abandon any attempts to achieve or the desire to be seen as “special” or admirable to others.
Second, we pray to let go of our natural abhorrence for being hurt or unwanted by others.
And lastly, we ask God to help us seek the good of others above all things, setting aside feelings of competitiveness and self-entitlement.
In other words, by praying the Litany of Humility the person seeks to extricate himself from man’s natural, self-absorbed tendencies, focusing instead on God’s infinite goodness and our universal calling to selflessly love and serve others.
A Beautiful yet Terrifying Prayer
Honestly, the Litany of Humility terrifies me. I mentally tremble at the potential humbling situations that the Lord will use to help me grow in this area. I’m a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser. Even though I know perfection isn’t possible, I still strive for it and like to give off the impression that I’ve “got things together.” I like being liked by people and hate the feeling of someone being disappointed with or hurt by me. It eats away at me, depriving me of sleep as I replay the scenario over and over again in my brain.
Yet when it all boils down, I realize that this is a form of pride. Though our Lord does ask us to be loving in all things, He never promised us that it would ensure our popularity or that it would earn us the admiration of others. Just look at the life of Christ himself, the perfect man who did nothing but love and serve others. Yet even still he was hated, ridiculed and betrayed. If that’s true of him, then how much more so is that of me a very human and imperfect woman?
Pride is the root of all sin. It’s what led Lucifer to abandon the light, choosing instead his own self-glory with the proud statement: “I will not serve.” This is why St. Vincent de Paul wrote:
“The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.”
And why St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said:
“Humility is the mother of all virtues – purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble, nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed, you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”
Humility means True Knowledge of Self
Ultimately, humility is a true knowledge of self. It means honestly facing our weaknesses (even the ones we desperately try to hide) and recognizing that all of our strengths and talents come from God alone. It’s about looking to God for all things, whether that means begging for grace to do better or thanking Him for his gifts.
And, let’s face it, humility is scary. Why? Because we have to abandon the security blanket of human admiration and praise. We have to face those hidden dark spots of ourselves and realize more profoundly our utter dependence on God. It’s hard and terrifying but oh-so-freeing all at the same time.
I can’t say that I’m there yet. In fact, I feel a little sick as I write this knowing how far I am from true humility. By I know that I’m being called to grow in this area, for myself, my husband and my children. I know that if I want to draw deeper into the wellspring of God’s mercy I have to first cultivate this foundational virtue in my heart. For only in recognizing my need for mercy can I fully accept and embrace it:
“…if then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
So, I’m printing out and taping the Litany of Humility to my bathroom mirror and (with much fear and trembling) am committing to making it a part of my daily prayer. I’m sure there will be difficult moments in the journey, as I seek to die to my pridefulness, but know the rewards are far more meaningful. I hope you’ll pray for me and if you’d like to join me in this process, grab your own free copy of the prayer below.