Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Prayer For Humility

First, what humility is not. An eighteen year old young woman was sitting in front of her bedroom mirror getting ready for her high school prom night when her mother walked in and said, "What's all the fuss about, no one's going to be looking at you anyway." The sick and damaging remark was carried well into the girl's adult years. However pervasive that kind of thinking is in the minds of not a few religious people, it's not humility.

Then there is Pope Francis, who the day after his election as pope went to visit the icon of the Mother of God in the Roman Basilica of Saint Mary Major, to say thanks and to ask heaven for help, while leaving a few flowers. 

We notice that the pope made his gift in person - no underling was sent to represent him. We also notice that the gift is small, not a great spray of fabulous imported blooms in a golden vase, but a little bowl of yellow and white roses, much as a boy would give his mother (perhaps with the help of his father).

There are more than a few men who wouldn't understand the gesture. But Francis knows who he is. It's not unlike the young dad who pushes the baby stroller with both hands. Not cool in this world of exaggerated masculinity. 

Humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means good earth. The humble person is down to earth about himself/herself. Humility means, I have a lot to learn. Humility asks for help; it doesn't get ahead of itself. Humility is another word for getting real about myself. 

Cardinal Merry del Vall (1865-1930) wrote a Litany of Humility which perhaps inspired Father Alexander Men who composed is own shortly before he was martyred in 1990,  at the end of the Soviet years in Russia. I'd like to share that prayer with us, making some changes here and there that it might be more accessible to us. There are four of my own footnotes to nuance the prayer-idea.

Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, that I would have a heart like your own.

Jesus, deliver me from minding little slights and offenses.
Jesus, deliver me from the desire to force my own opinion.
Jesus, deliver me from resenting those who don't heed my advice.
Jesus, deliver me from the need to be praised.
Jesus, deliver me worrying about the respect I'm given.
Jesus, deliver me from the need to be first.
Jesus, deliver me from requiring signs that I am loved.
Jesus, deliver me from resenting that I have to wait.

From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus! *1
From the fear of being under suspicion, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being unknown, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being misunderstood, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being not chosen or featured, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being talked about, deliver me, Jesus!
From the fear of being made fun of, deliver me, Jesus! *2

When others are appreciated more than I
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When I am overlooked
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When my birthright is given to another. *3
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When others are considered more upright than I
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.
When others are celebrated and loved more than I
  Help me, Jesus, to bear it in love.

That I would not seek high positions.
That I would not think, This work is beneath my dignity.
That I might see God's will in the directions of others.
That I would detect the desire for power within myself.
That I would be ready to forgive the mistakes and weaknesses of others.
That I would treat others with courtesy and a genuine desire for their good.
That I would be ready and willing to say, I am so sorry. *4
That I would worry less about my own poverty and loss of dignity.

*1 I told a friend in seminary that I wondered if I should go to be a hermit monk at the Charterhouse in Vermont. He said, "You'd leave after a week, waking up one morning and worrying that you'd been forgotten." That cleared the air for me.

*2 Bullying is a serious problem today in our country. Some bullies are dangerous. As we grow in self-respect we might worry less about it. But we should be aware of and attentive to those who might cause real trouble. The prayer is not suggesting we be cavalier or a victim.

*3 Money causes untold problems. Being cheated out of a will or something that is my due can be very painful. "Letting go" of this one can be a real test. But it can be done: Saint Francis of Assisi said to his religious brothers, "Better for you to go outside and kiss donkey dung than to even touch money." Whoa! But that's the difference between just admiring the saints and trying to actually be one.

*4 I'm sorry, let alone, I'm so sorry - these words stick in the throats of many people. Maybe especially between spouses? Or parents towards their children?


  1. This is a very powerful prayer. I can identify with almost every line. I will be keeping it close by until I feel that I can live more freely from these things. Especially letting go.

    1. "I can identify with almost every line." That's honest AND humble! Carry on!

  2. You have taught us well Father. This prayer may be the only one needed to live as a true Christian. To live in Christ's example. Humility and gratitude are all we need.

    1. "Humility and gratitude are all we need." Amen. But we must be sure to have "humility" right and not to get it confused with thinking I'm nothing or degrading myself. That's not God-pleasing.

  3. Amen Father! You are right though, many people won't get what humility really means. In our lives, we try to be humble, but often we are overcome with our human emotions. This prayer will help to keep us centered.

    1. Mindfulness - how am I thinking right now? What are my motives? That's a big one - what's motivating me right now? Showing off? Getting in a pity bag? Entitlement?

  4. This post is an inspiration for me today. It has helped me to be more aware and fight these inclinations that pull me down and make difficult situations even harder. Saying your sorry should be on the menu everyday. Another Spirit led post! Grateful.

    1. O yeah, "I'm sorry" - that's a big one. "I"m sorry" goes a long way.

  5. Excellent. I appreciate the footnotes to the prayer - - - also, particularly, the first paragraph.

    I liked your examples, too.

    My take on humility and accepting reality, in part: "Humility isn't Being Delusional" ( )

  6. Poor Francis is an example of how to live as Christ. Sometimes I can be a cynic and question a person's humility. When you can't speak to someone to know their true spirit, you have to take their outward appearances on faith.