St. Thomas Aquinas describes the task of humility: “to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately” (Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 161, a. 1). It is truly one of the most important virtues. All sin is pride against God and a denial of humility. Therefore, our obedience to God must be a humble and loving submission to Him and to following His will above our own.

It’s so easy to misunderstand humility. Does it mean being a wimp? Always admitting that you are wrong, even when you are not? Nietzsche accused Christianity of being a religion of sheep (although he was right for other reasons). The best answer to this misunderstanding of humility as weakness is to examine how Aquinas links humility and magnanimity (“stretching forth of the mind to great things”). A Christian man must set his sights on great things, but also must recognize that true greatness comes from God and not one’s own self. Here is how Aquinas connects these seeming opposites:

There is in man something great which he possesses through the gift of God; and something defective which accrues to him through the weakness of nature. Accordingly magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God: thus if his soul is endowed with great virtue, magnanimity makes him tend to perfect works of virtue; and the same is to be said of the use of any other good, such as science or external fortune. On the other hand, humility makes a man think little of himself in consideration of his own deficiency (ST II-II q. 129, a. 3, ad 4).

Praying for humility requires that we admit our dependence on God, our nothingness before him. We did not and could not come into being ourselves. We did not receive and cannot receive God’s saving grace on our own. What we do have on our own is our sin. We must confess this sin before God and in doing so we can arrive at greatness.

If you are not familiar with the litany of humility, I would recommend learning it. It has been ascribed to Raphael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930). Del Val was of Spanish, Basque, Scottish, and Dutch ancestry, and was born at the Spanish embassy in London. He would continue in his father’s footsteps as a diplomat, but within the Church. His illustrious career made it imperative for him to pray for humility, as he unexpectedly became Pope Pius X’s Secretary of State at a young age and then Secretary of the Holy Office under Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI.

Here is the text he composed:

The Litany of Humility

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…

Amen.

Having prayed this beautiful and powerful litany for some time, it has struck me that it could be supplemented (though certainly not replaced) by another litany, comprised mostly of verses of Scripture. The strength of this approach is that it specifically uses the words that God has given us to approach him. Here is one possible formulation of a scriptural litany of humility, which is not a litany of invocations, but a litany of texts. I have included the references to the passages for further reading and meditation.

A Scriptural Litany of Humility:

O Most Blessed Trinity,

You have made me in your image and likeness (Gen 1),

and yet through my sin, I have become a worm and not a man (Ps 22).

This is due of the weakness of my flesh (Mt 26:41),

which is like grass that springs up in the morning, and withers before evening (Ps 90:5-6).

I acknowledge that I am a sinner (Ps 41:4; Lk, 18:13),

as I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Rom 7:15).

I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

I have sinned against You, and have done evil in Your sight (Ps 51).

Truly my mother conceived me in sin (Ps 51),

and I myself have sinned against Heaven and before You, and am not worthy to be called your son (Lk 15).

Therefore, I profess that I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,

but I ask you to say the word that I may be healed (Mt 8:8).

No servant is great than his master (Jn 15:20),

and you have emptied yourself and taken the form of a slave, accepting even death, death on a Cross (Phil 2).

Therefore, help me to deny myself, to take up my Cross daily and follow you (Lk 9:23).

In following you, Lord, may you increase in my life as I decrease (Jn 3:30),

so that it may no longer be I living, but you living in me (Gal 2:20).

You have told me that without you I can do nothing (Jn 15:5-7).

Therefore, Lord, I pray specifically for humility,

for you oppose the proud and give grace to the humble (1 Pet 5:5).

Grant me humility that I may not seek anything too great for me (Ps 131:1),

or think more highly of myself than I should (Rom 12:3).

Jesus, make me like you, meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29).

Give me a spirit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness (1 Tim 6:11).

Humble me and make me like a child in your arms (Mt 18:4).

Make me humble so that I may be exalted with and in you forever (Luke 14:11).

Amen.

God wants us to set our sights on great things. As Christian men he wants us to be leaders for our families and parishes. In order to so we must keep our sights firmly on him and continually recognize that like Peter we will sink in the waters if we take our eyes off of him. We need to continually pray, asking God to instill humility in us so that through our dependence on him we may reach the greatest thing of all: union with him.

08 14 2017
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  • Joe

    This is a fantastic article! Thank you so much, and I especially love the Scriptural Litany. God Bless

    • Matt Wagner

      +1!

      I saved your Scriptural Litany to my "favorite prayers" in Evernote. Thank you!