One of the graces of living in this moment of the Church is that we are inheritors of 2,000 years of saints who have developed theology and exhaustively studied Scripture. We have an equally rich inheritance of prayer from the saints over these two millennia. In fact, it can be a challenge at times to know which prayers we want to commit to. As we grow in our discipleship, as our life takes certain twists and turns, we may find ourselves turning to different prayers to assist us. One of my favorite prayers is the “Litany of Humility.” This prayer was a favorite of a Spanish Cardinal working in the Vatican under the saintly Pope Pius X. He made it popular during the early 20th century and it has grown in popularity even until today. I challenge you to pray this short prayer every day for one month; it will change your spiritual life!
From the desire of being esteemed; from the desire of being preferred to others; from the desire of being approved, Jesus deliver me.
The first section of this prayer is a list of desires. We all have desires for the good things in this life. It is normal for us to want to be important, consulted, preferred or honored. But these are passing things. In the view of eternity, it matters little how well we are thought of in this life if these things hinder our pursuit of holiness. We do not think of desire as being inherently wrong but it needs to be purified. Our salvation depends not on how well people think of us. St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “Am I now currying favor with human beings or God? Or am I seeking to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).
This litany begins with a list of human-desires; it completes each desire with “Jesus, deliver me.” As true as the corrupting desire for the approval of others has been throughout history, it is an even greater danger now. The line between private and public, between what is authentic and what is done for show or recognition is almost non-existent when social media becomes the medium through which so much of our lives is filtered. This prayer is a great reminder for me — who, as a priest, lives so much of my life in a public way — to seek the approval of God over the approval of others.
These statements also provide a necessary reminder for us to make our lives “other-oriented.” One of my favorite truths Bishop Barron so often repeats is, “Your life is not about you.” I can become insufferably selfish when every part of my life is seen as an opportunity for gain, a chance for me to get something. Praying “from the desire of being preferred to others, Jesus deliver me” helps us to be readily at the service of God to those most in need. Does someone need my listening ear? Then we need to be ready to be God’s agent. Does someone need to be recognized, praised or affirmed? Then we need to be the one to speak this affirmation, praise or recognition. This mindset is exactly how a “joyful missionary disciple” is called to live. Mother Teresa would tell her Missionaries of Charity, “When you encounter a situation where there is no love, you bring love to that situation. When you encounter a situation where there is no joy, you bring joy to that situation.” This prayer helps me make my essential outlook not about what I can receive but how I can be Jesus’s instrument of love for others.
That others may be chosen and I set aside; that others may be loved more than I; that others may become holier than I, provided I become as holy as I should, Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.
The second half of this prayer includes some invocations, not against a desire but for growth in a deeper desire. If you haven’t noticed, this prayer is intense! I will admit that when I first read this prayer a number of years ago, it intimidated me. But there is a beautiful call to holiness in this prayer. It calls us to ask God for better things for others trusting that God will provide for us according to his goodwill.
The most growth I’ve had in my spiritual life is when things don’t work out the way I want them to. When I don’t get my way, when I work hard on something and recognition does not come, when I feel left out or unloved, this is not Christian masochism — it is the cross! It is the beatitude! Jesus invites us to rejoice and be glad when it seems like we are forgotten, for then we have something great to offer in union with the Passion of Christ. Again, St. Paul teaches us how to do this: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” (Col 1:24).
We are often unduly burdened by a desire to be noticed or praised. Too many times we put our self-worth in how many likes, followers or comments we get (online or in real life). I cannot think of a better way to check our ego and selfishness — which we all need to do — than to pray this prayer asking Jesus to help me desire that others may be loved more than I am loved.
This last line — that others may become holier than I — is a real test for us as we mature as disciples. Every parent wants their children to have a better life than they had. They want them to have more wealth and better health. But as missionary disciples, we are called to desire even greater spiritual health for those we serve. God’s grace is not rationed; he will not run out. We do not need to worry that there will not be enough for us. In fact, the surer way to greater holiness is to be less focused on our own needs and more focused on the spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters. I would love to meet you all in heaven, knowing that everyone in the Archdiocese of Detroit has become holier than me, provided I become as holy as I should!