Some years ago, at my morning prayer group, my cherished friend Deacon Larry brought copies of the Litany of Humility. I never had heard of that prayer until that day. The men in my group trust Larry implicitly, so we dove right into reciting the prayer. We read the first line together: “O Jesus!, meek and humble of heart, hear me.” Then each of us took turns delivering the first half of each line, with the rest of us in unison voicing the second half.
“From the desire of being esteemed … deliver me, Jesus.”
“From the desire of being loved …”
“Hold on”, I thought to myself, “does humility mean I’m not supposed to want to be loved?” I can’t want that. How could anyone want that? Why would anyone want that? If that’s necessary for humility, I’m not sure if humility is for me. I continued with our group’s recitation, but the more I prayed that morning, the more convinced I felt that the writer of the prayer clearly took humility way too far. “From the desire of being honored … From the desire of being praised … From the desire of being preferred to others …”
I have admired writers ever since, as a precocious seven-year-old baseball fan, I read an adult-level biography of major-league baseball pitcher Bob Gibson written by a New York sportswriter. From that moment, I devoured every written word I could squeeze into my days. The affection included magazine features, newspaper stories and books about baseball, but I couldn’t get enough of biographies about historical figures, truly classic novels and the Bible as well. My heart and soul filled with dreams of the life of a writer.
Writers might declare that they write for themselves first and foremost, but as a writer, I craved readers, an audience that admired me just as I had admired all those writers in my formative years. I wanted people to enjoy my efforts, and I enjoyed their approval and praise. As I moved into adulthood, new passions joined my desire to be an honored writer, as I became a fiercely devoted husband, dad and Catholic Christian. I felt loved and approved; I couldn’t get enough.
That personality didn’t find the Litany of Humility to be a good fit for my prayer life. “From the fear of being humiliated, from the fear of being despised, from the fear of being calumniated, from the fear of being forgotten.” Something about the Litany repelled me. It was like the first time I tasted brussels sprouts as a kid Yet the prayer attracted me because of the nutrition it provided my soul. In prayer and reading, humility clearly belonged among the basic spiritual food groups for anyone desiring sainthood. So as an act of love for my God, I vowed to privately recite the Litany of Humility every evening.
“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 … ” As time passed, the prayer embedded itself into my inclinations. I hungered for humility. “That others may be praised and I unnoticed … That others may be preferred to me in everything … ”
The publisher with a well-established Catholic company contacted me several months ago. He and his staff had liked one of my book ideas. They wanted to see a sample chapter and outline. About that same time, an editor requested samples of my writing and examples of topics I might pursue if they named me columnist in her monthly magazine, and yet another magazine asked for the same about the same time. In each instance, I assumed the movements of the Holy Spirit; I presumed success. Since seeking my first job 40 years ago, at the age of 15, I never had interviewed for a job that I didn’t land. As recently as the first half of 2015, four different Catholic websites regularly accepted my work.
“That others may be chosen and I set aside … ” During the last several weeks, the publisher informed me his staff didn’t think I had adequately developed my book idea, that I didn’t have a name recognizable enough in Catholic circles to sell a book. The time isn’t right, he said. One magazine editor said she had filled all available blogging spots with other writers; the other editor said her people weren’t ready to make a decision. In the midst of all that, I had offered friendship to someone facing great turmoil in life; that person rejected my offer.
I might have felt shattered. My already inflamed depression could have dragged me even deeper into the sadness. Instead, I thanked God for His wisdom and grace. I prayed for the people who had been chosen over me. “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.”