Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thoughts on a prayer for humility



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… 

The first time I heard this snippet of a prayer called the Litany for Humility was on the tail end of an EWTN show. I was taken with the last line: “That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.” This petition was a balm to me. I was in a rough spot spiritually—agonizing over my wrong direction, reeling from the distance I had placed between me and God, mourning a community of believers I had left and struggling to find a place among the ones I had discovered. I especially grieved over the closeness to God I had once felt, and the holiness I had believed myself to possess, only to find it to be a “vanity of vanities.” I guess this was my first real dry spell, my first dark night of the soul.

And here was a prayer, prayed by a holy man, brought forth by another holy man as a model prayer, that told me I didn’t have to aspire to be the holiest person around. This wasn’t necessarily a new concept for me—but there was a new twist to it: the very real possibility that perhaps I ought not to. God had a relationship with me, even if to me it felt tenuous; he had a design for that relationship, and I didn’t need to aspire beyond it, even if I saw others soaring past me to heights of holiness. God would tend to my soul if I let him.

The rest of the litany was hard: "That others may be esteemed more than I." "That others may be chosen and I set aside." "That others may be praised and I unnoticed." This was hard for me to accept. I am the type of person who thrives on affirmation. If I don’t know from others that I’m doing a good job, that I’m on the right path, I wither. And in my new isolation, I was finding out—again, for the first time in earnest—how true that is. I couldn’t see my way to forgoing the accolades for which I was currently starved.

Again I was struck by a grace borne in a particular line: “Grant me the grace to desire it.” Jesus said not to care what others think, but what our Heavenly Father thinks. God, who made me, knows the needs of my heart. He also wants to free me from depending on others who are as sinful as I am, on anyone but him. I cannot be free unless He gives me that grace. So in this prayer he teaches me to ask him for it. He is waiting to give me every grace I need to grow in the particular holiness to which he calls me, including conforming my desires to His will. So that, in the end, he will give me this ultimate affirmation: "Well done, good and faithful servant; come home and take your reward."

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