Praying for Humility

 by Prior Gabriel Landis, OSB

by Prior Gabriel Landis, OSB

 Some time ago I started praying the “Litany of Humility” right after Morning Prayer. I also pray a Novena to the Archangel Gabriel, which is easy.  After all, I’m asking my favorite patron for a favor! The Litany of Humility is almost like purgatory to pray, because it strikes at my pride and fears. There are a lot of “mental-spiritual ouches” that go through my head every time I pray each line! Composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, Pope Pius X’s Secretary of State , it pleads:

  • O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
  • From the desire of being esteemed,
  • Deliver me, Jesus.
    • 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.
    • 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…

Download a printable pdf of the Litany of Humility

Conquering pride and fear and growing in humility are central to Benedictine spirituality. In his Rule, St. Benedict dedicates Chapter Seven to this virtue, writing: “The seventh step of humility is that a man not only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all and of less value, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: I am truly a worm, not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people (Ps 22:7). I was exalted, then I was humbled and overwhelmed with confusion (Ps 88:16). And again, it is a blessing that you have humbled me so that I can ever learn your commandments (Ps 119: 71, 73)” RB 7:51-54. 

Does it sound harsh to our ears? Does it feel harsh in our hearts? It is so counter-cultural. Our fallen world is full of pride and fear. Pride and fear keep Christ out of our hearts.

Humility is the key that unlocks the gate to heaven.  Sometimes I sense I’m on the road to humility, only to be thrown back. St. Benedict and Servant of God Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val have the same point—pride and fear keep us from fully loving God. Pride and fear keep us from fully living in the freedom of Christ.

 St. Benedict ends his chapter on humility, “Now, therefore, after ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue.” 

That is why I pray the Litany of Humility. Re-read what Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val is asking Jesus to deliver him from: the many forms of “desires” and “fears” which can steer us off course as we grow in humility. He does not pull any punches.

Honestly, much of what he asks has caused me to search my soul. Many times I have used this Litany in the Sacrament of Confession. There are a few things in this Litany that are hard for me to ask Jesus to deliver me from. The “desire to be esteemed loved… honored… approved… et cetera.” Sigh! This is the sinful and self-centered me expressing itself.

 Toward the end, Cardinal Merry del Val makes a transition. He is praying to be selfless, not self-centered “that others may be….” 

Yes, I’ve written before about the need to be selfless and I preach on it, too. But the good Cardinal is reminding us that Jesus says, “The first shall be last, the last shall be first.” This desire to put ourselves above others, to think more highly of ourselves than others, keeps our souls chained to sin. In the end we do not truly see ourselves as we are. We fall for the lie, “Well, that is just who I am.” This spiritual blindness makes the ground fertile for the roots of pride and fear to control our lives. These roots blossom into our patterns of behavior, our insecurities, our sins, and how we react in the world. In the end, pride and fear leave us wretched, insecure, chained and bound.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology: “In what does the human being’s wretchedness actually consist? Above all, in his insecurity; in the uncertainties with which he is burdened; in the limitations that oppress him; in the lack of freedom that binds him; in the pain that makes his life hateful to him. Ultimately there is, behind all this, the meaningless of his existence.”

We can say, then, that the root of man’s wretchedness is loneliness, the absence of love. What we need is a communion that goes beyond everything and reaches deep into the heart of man and endures even in death.

I guess that is why I have made it a practice to pray this Litany and to recommend it to others. It is really a prayer of purgation. We either do our time of purgatory now, here on earth, or do it in Purgatory itself. I prefer, for you and me, the former.

Praised Be Our Savior Jesus Christ! Now and Always! Amen!

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