The powerful prayer that works too well

I’d only been praying the Litany of Humility for a week or so when I realized this particular prayer needed to come with a warning label. I’d forgotten how challenging growing in virtue can be, and that once you begin to pray for something like increased hope, joy, patience or peace, God will soon answer with opportunities to do just that. And let me tell you, those growing pains can be rough.

For many, many months, the Litany of Trust had been my default daily prayer. I kept a hard copy beside my bed and a tab of the PDF open on my phone. The prayer was fruitful in that it taught me more concretely how to trust in Jesus each day — by begging deliverance from “the rebellion against childlike dependency on [Jesus] … From refusals and reluctances in accepting [his] will … From anxiety about the future,” and it helped me learn to rest in the knowledge “That [he gives] me the grace to accept forgiveness and to forgive others … That [he gives] me all the strength I need for what is asked … That my life is a gift.”

Each day, I offered this prayer, I recognized one phrase or another that applied very directly to what was going on in my life. But after two or three years, I started to sense that it might be time to take a different approach to a morning prayer. Not that the Litany of Trust wasn’t bearing fruit any longer, but more that I felt the need to stretch myself in another direction.

A new prayer

Enter the Litany of Humility. This prayer had crossed my path a couple of times, and I knew it would fit into the same place in my routine that had been left open by the Litany of Trust. I thought I knew where I needed to grow in humility, but this practice showed me much more about myself than I had anticipated — the good, the bad and the ugly, for sure.

It turns out, I desire to be esteemed, loved, honored and praised on a daily basis. I appreciate being appreciated, and I am not yet humble enough to perform certain acts of generosity without expecting a show of gratitude. I was surprised by the times I had to put my pride aside, and unfortunately, I didn’t always do a great job of it. I soon found myself in need of the Sacrament of Confession, which I received as soon as I was able.

The reality of my pridefulness initially felt like a blow, but on closer examination, it also prompted me to think about how generous God is to me without my giving him thanks. When I accept one of his gifts without acknowledging it (another thing I do on a daily basis), he doesn’t get grumpy or snarky. He doesn’t start reconsidering how much of himself he’s willing to pour out. He continues to give selflessly, mercifully and fully.

(I need to add a note here that the situations I’m referring to do not involve any sort of abuse or manipulation on another’s part. In another set of circumstances, this would not be a healthy approach. If you find yourself in such a situation, please seek help.)

Grant me the grace

I also came to see how much stock I put in my being consulted about certain matters, about where I seek approval, about my fear of being forgotten or left out. Each of the lines asking Jesus to deliver me from these things showed me where my attachments lie and what is obstructing a closer relationship with the Lord.

In the second half of the prayer, as in the Litany of Trust, the refrain changes. In this case, it switches from “Deliver me, O Jesus” to “Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.” What powerful phrasing! Here I found confidence and renewed hope that Jesus and I are on the same team, as it were. He is always by my side on the path to richer, deeper holiness, however prideful I am.

The last line really brings this home: “That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it” (my emphasis added). Our culture thrives on comparisons, but Christ sees each of us as a wonderfully and fearfully made creation, formed in the image and likeness of his Father. For him, there is no comparison to make between souls. Each of us has our own vocation, our own path to holiness. If we can stay on that track, or if we can at least quickly get back on it when we inevitably fall off, we can have hope of eternal life with our Savior, which is precisely what we were made for.

If pride goes before the fall, how beautiful the fruit, how great the joy of a life lived, instead, in Christ-centered humility.

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