Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Scary Prayer...

So today it was suggested to me that I take up praying...the Litany of Humility.  For those of you who aren't familiar with this prayer, allow to me explain the graveness of this situation.  Praying this prayer, is essentially saying, "Hey, pick me!  I'm an easy target!"  No, I'm not saying that humility is bad, or even that this prayer is bad.  On the contrary, I love this prayer.  I just happen to have a healthy fear of this prayer too.

Why?  Well, I'll tell you.  Every single time I have known anyone who took up praying this prayer, major spiritual warfare ensued.  This is not an exaggeration.  It's almost like a Christian bad luck charm.  Don't believe me, try it out.  

Ask for humility and you will be humbled.  Ask for wealth, fame, and fortune, and you might get it, but it's not as consistent.  This prayer for humility has really quick results.

Okay, so I'm half joking, but I do find that it is one of the most challenging prayers.  It challenges our deepest struggle as humans.  It's the sin that got us into trouble from the first.  It's the sin that is at the heart of every other sin.  That's right, folks, I'm talking about pride.

The Litany of Humility is about total self-denial (not to be confused with self abuse).  It's about letting go of how others think of we how often we are affirmed, how often we succeed, how often we are praised, how often we are favored, how often we are congratulated.  It's about stripping away all of the poor motivations to do well.  It makes things extremely simple and intimate.  When we are perfectly humble, we as also honest, kind, patient, persevering, peaceful, attentive, prayerful, disciplined, and pure.

Pick a sin, any sin, and I will show you how it comes from pride. (Are you catching the My Big Fat Greek Wedding reference here?)  Seriously though, let's try it out.
Let's try it on lust.  Why do people lust?  Generally speaking there are two motivations to give in to lustful thoughts and practices, the first being emotional gratification and the second being physical.  (For a definition of lust, see this link.)  So, let's take a look at the physical gratification first as this is the most obvious one.  When one wants to experience this gratification for it's own end, simply to repeat the pleasure for one's own enjoyment, divorcing it from it's larger function and meaning, even at the expense of others, this is a result of self-love.  We are putting our own desires (not even needs) ahead of moral laws, the feelings and needs of others.  It is pride to give our desires such disproportionate importance.  Yet, how often do we hear each other say, "You have to look out for number one.  That's all that matters."  We honor ourselves above others, in regards to meeting our desires.

From the desire to be honored, Deliver me, O Jesus.

The other motivation, in my opinion, or maybe just my experience, is the stronger of the two.  A desire for emotional gratification.  The marital act has biological consequences, one of which is emotional. A feeling of safety and being cherished is often sought in this act or attempts to counterfeit this act.  It's almost a way to cope with feelings of being alone and unnoticed.  It is of course not the only response to these feelings, just as lust is not the only means of achieving physical gratification, but it has been used to that end.  Indeed, it is also often used to that end at the expense of others.  We want to feel loved.  We want to be preferred to others.  We want approval.  These desires to not make their objects come to fruition, but we nurture them anyway through methods like lust, which do not, in the end, actually fill that desire.

From the desire to be loved, Deliver me, O Jesus.

The Litany of Humility is about putting things in order.  It's about controlling desires and making sure that the do not dictate our actions.   Yet, without God's grace, we cannot control these desires.

O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

In the litany, we are not asking that we be abused and unloved but that we are freed from seeking the source of our longing in material, self-serving, and immoral ways.   It is preparing us to love better.  In Catholic Theology, love is total self-donation.  We already know that God loves us perfectly, as He is Love itself.  So we need not fear letting go of our desires and wholly surrendering to Him in love.  Then we are united with the source of our longing and we no longer are slaves to our physical and emotional appetites.  Even when things do not go our way and, trust me, this will happen often, we have peace.  
So why is the litany so hard to pray.  Well it's hard for me, because I'm very attached to physical and emotional comfort.  I like being comfortable and safe in the human sense because it's tangible and familiar.  It's hard to let that go, even when I know that there is something greater for me.  I like affirmation.  I like it a great deal.  I frequently think that if people would just build each other up, we would never feel lonely and abandoned.  But that's not true.

Even if every person we knew were to constantly affirm and praise us in the most sincere manner, it would not be sufficient to overcome out insecurities and our longing.  Human love is not perfect, so the fruits of human love are not perfect.  So while we pray for freedom from the desire to be loved, Christ showers us with that love we so desire.  While we pray for freedom from the desire to be honored, Christ is preparing a place of honor for us in His Father's house.  But if we act out of a desire to achieve these things, then we are not loving for Love's sake but for our own.  We are still asking, "But what about me?"  We are not trusting in the Greatness of God's love.   

From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, O Jesus.

Humility, like most virtues, is not something that can be achieved by our own efforts.  Grace is absolutely essential.  This is another reason why this litany is so valuable.  It reminds us of our need to be humble, then it asks Christ that we might have the grace to be humble.

It's a very hard prayer, because if we say it and truly mean it, then we are asking God to radically transform our lives.  Humility is hard.  Dying to self, is hard.  Anyone who says that it isn't either hasn't tried it or just failed miserably.  Even the most humble of saints, frequently lamented their own lack of humility.   

The Litany of Humility is  powerful prayer.  We would do well to pray it often.  I must warn you, however, that whenever a person begins to make good progress in the spiritual life, spiritual warfare ensues.  Satan is a huge fan of the sneak attacks, and will throw things at you such as public humiliation, snide comments from valued opinions, loneliness, and the general disarray of our own plans.  Pray this litany sincerely and often and your life will be transformed. 

It's time to forget ourselves so that we might be free from the incredible burden of trying to manipulate the factors around us to make us happy.  Here's the short cut: that habit that your using as a distraction from the feeling that the must be something more, it will not fulfill you.  It will not give you satisfaction, but it will drive you on to keep trying in a desperate and ineffective cycle.  Like most things in this world, it is both brief and imperfect.  It will end, and when it does, you'll inevitably be worse off than before.  Even if this act is one such as gluttony, the pleasure may end long before the food is finished.  Good food, good friends, good music, money, a good job, knowledge, education, praise, a good family, not even all of these things together can bring you lasting peace and joy(not to be confused with the emotion of "feeling happy".  They are fleeting as are most things in this world.  There is something more.   Allow yourself to investigate and explore it.  Don't let fear keep you back.

God bless,

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