The Litany of Humility and its Implications


By Daniel Kocimski

During my first year of Seminary formation, our Vice-Rector preached early one fall morning on a prayer called “The Litany of Humility.” He explained that at the turn of the 20th century, Cardinal Rafael Merry de Val, then Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X, composed a litany for his own private devotion petitioning the Lord for the virtue of humility. After sharing it with a few fellow members of the Curia, he was encouraged to circulate the prayer, which he entitled “The Litany of Humility,” throughout the wider Church.

The Litany:

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…

From Abraham to Moses to Mary to the life of Christ, it is evident throughout Salvation History that the Lord has never failed to fulfill the words he authored in the Epistle from St. James: “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). The litany profoundly testifies to this fact and thus affirms humility as an essential virtue for genuine holiness.

Furthermore, the various characteristics and emotions which we pray to be delivered from underline the nature of sin as an inclination to turn inward to ourselves, or as St. Augustine termed it, incurvatus in se. To combat this, we pray for humility in the litany, and in doing so we profess a belief in the universal vocation to love the Lord with our whole heart, soul and mind and to place the needs of our neighbors before our own (Matthew 22: 37-38). To be clear, the prideful tendencies and social commendations the litany speaks of are not the same emotions experienced when our kid wins an athletic trophy or our boss approves of our project. No, Cardinal de Val is warning us against a deadly vice, the hubris and self-absorption that precipitated the downfall of Achilles, Adam and Eve, and even Judas Iscariot. When we fearfully comply with the social trappings of this world, we place ourselves in bondage to a world where our dignity and happiness are contingent and conditional. Rather, with humility, we echo what the Psalmist sang long ago: “Only in God is my soul at rest” (Ps 61:1).

Therefore, my brothers, let us pray the litany of humility to remind ourselves that there is no resting, no fulfillment, no enthrallment, no completion, anywhere short of a life-long embrace of the Triune God.

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