The first time I encountered this prayer, I disliked almost everything about it.
“When pride comes, disgrace comes; but with the humble is wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2
One way I try to be a “good Christian” is by never taking an exalted place at any social gathering. The memory of one banquet from years ago still stings. I was supposed to sit at the head table. Without assigned seats – that I could discern, at least – I plopped down next to a man I knew and began talking. Soon, someone much more honored than I came up to me, cleared his throat and said, “Um, you’re in my seat.”
Jesus sure knew what he was talking about. It only makes sense, which is another way of saying it’s naturally wise, to sit at the lowest spot at a dinner. Then, if you are supposed to have a more exalted place, the host can usher you there.
It’s a lot easier on the old ego to move from humbled to honored than the other way around. And if you end up staying in the lowest spot, well, what makes you think you deserve better?
Jesus loved the subject of humility. A perusal of the Book of Proverbs tells you that King Solomon loved the subject, too.
Same for Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, who lived from 1865-1930 and served as Secretary of State for Pope St. Pius X. Though it’s not certain, most people speculate that he wrote the Litany of Humility, and tradition at least attributes it to him.
Whoever wrote it certainly emphasized the challenge presented by Jesus and King Solomon.
It’s especially difficult for Americans. Often instead of striving to be and give our best, we’re striving to succeed without question, to win. We also hear that, sometimes, it’s important and perhaps even necessary to “toot our own horns.” If you don’t point out to others your role in success while silencing your shortcomings, you won’t get that raise or promotion you’re wanting so badly.
Humility implies quite the opposite. And the Litany of Humility stresses that in no uncertain terms.
“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what any day may bring forth. Let another praise you, not your own mouth; a stranger, not your own lips.” — Proverbs 27:1-2
The first time I encountered this prayer, I thought it would be my last. I disliked almost everything about it. Yes, I wanted to be humble. When complimented, I could say “Aw, shucks, it wasn’t anything special” with the best of them. I even meant it a lot of times.
But I like being honored and praised. That feels good, especially if it’s the result of doing something God would like from me. I don’t want to be forgotten or humiliated. I want to be chosen for many things, especially things that serve God and His people.
I have come to understand that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying such moments; that’s a perfectly human reaction. And praying for humility doesn’t mean I never will be praised or consulted, that I always will be forgotten and humiliated. I simply shouldn’t live for the compliments (or act in ways designed to get human approval before God’s) and I shouldn’t have such fear of humiliation.
The more I pray the Litany of Humility, the more I increase the appropriate desires and decrease the corresponding fears that lead to genuine meekness and modesty. And so I pray almost enthusiastically this prayer:
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each following line)
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. (repeat after each following line)
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.