Litany of humility

I was paging through Robert Cardinal Sarah’s The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise this morning and came across the “Litany of Humility,” a prayer ordinarily (but erroneously) attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val, the former Secretary of State of Pope Pius X. Like most prayers, it takes the form of a poetic, dramatic monologue when spoken aloud, even in private (the prayer is intended for private devotions) —  a monologue driven by the most significant of all dramatic and human conflicts, the conflict of the human heart with itself.

Though Merry del Val was a cardinal of the Catholic Church, the prayer is worth some contemplation whether one is a Christian or a believer or neither, and I find it particularly relevant to our own “twittering world,” as T.S. Eliot would have it. On the other hand, if one is a Christian or believer, the conflicts become even more complex and worth more contemplation.

You may disagree with me, or even find the poem the height of passive foolishness in this culture; if everyone took the prayer to heart, well, what would become of us? In which case I only have recourse to Yossarian’s response to Major Danby at the end of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22:

Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile: “But, Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way.”

“Then,” said Yossarian, “I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?”

As to the prayer’s original author, Wikipedia gently notes: “The original author of the Litany of Humility seems to be lost to history, in the obscurity for which he prayed.” Below, the “Litany of Humility” as it appears in The Power of Silence:

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart,
Make my heart like yours.
From self-will, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire to be understood, deliver me, O Lord.
From the desire to be visited, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being abandoned, deliver me, O Lord.
From the fear of being refused, deliver me, O Lord.
That others may be loved more than I,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Lord, grant me the grace to desire it.
At being unknown and poor,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
At being deprived of the natural perfections of body and mind,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When people do not think of me,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they assign to me the meanest tasks,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they do not even deign to make use of me,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they never ask my opinion,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they leave me at the lowest place,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they never compliment me,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
When they blame me in season and out of season,
Lord, I want to rejoice.
Blessed are those who suffer persecution for justice’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

2 thoughts on “Litany of humility”

  1. It’ll sound like faint praise, but that’s certainly a refreshing thing to read at the end of a day and a week surrounded by a clamor for most of what the prayer eschews. It seems to me an expression of a set of ideals, reminiscent of the goal of extinction in Buddhism, and it also reminds me (maybe for coincidental reasons, because something called her to mind on my way home) of this from Simone Weil:

    “There has never been a more moving description of virtue than the words, spoken in The Book of the Dead by the soul on the way to salvation:

    ‘Lord of Truth … I have brought truth to thee, and I have destroyed wickedness for thee … I have not thought scorn of God … I have not brought forward my name for honours.… I have not caused harm to be done to the servant by his master.… I have made no one weep.… I have not struck fear into any man.… I have not spoken haughtily.… I have not made myself deaf to the words of right and truth.'”

    To your question “If everyone took the prayer to heart, what would become of us?,” all I can say is that it would be a very different world, but I don’t think we’re in danger of fully achieving the condition it evokes. The part of us that’s caught up with the lives of others, the social animal in us, simply can’t be escaped. Nor are many of us likely to be able to say all those words from The Book of the Dead. No reason not to consider trying, though.

    Thanks for sharing this, George.

  2. Indeed. I was unaware of the comment from Simone Weil, thanks for that, and thanks for dropping a line.

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