The Litany of Humility – A Powerhouse Prayer

When asked what the three most important elements of the spiritual life are, St. Bernard of Clairvaux responded, “Humility, humility, humility.” Jesus Himself tells us in the Gospel of Matthew, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

And while humility is one of the greatest virtues, it is also one of the most difficult. Most of us want to be recognized, to be praised, to be highly regarded by those around us. But humility calls us to recognize our own defects and that every good thing we have is from God, not ourselves.

One way to grow in the virtue of humility is through prayer; and the Litany of Humility is a powerful prayer that helps us recognize our need for greater humility as we ask the Lord for His help. But much like the virtue of humility, the Litany of Humility is not easy.

Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ discussed the Litany of Humility and what makes this prayer so beautiful and so necessary for our spiritual life. He said:

“The Litany of Humility is one that is quite unique, quite different. It is commonly attributed to a cardinal from the 19th century. But was it actually him who composed it? We’re not sure. Which is kind of appropriate, when you think about it. That somebody who composed the Litany of Humility wouldn’t get credit for it. Fr. Matthew Spencer

The interesting thing about the Litany of Humility is that it is a litany directed to Jesus, but not invoking His wonderful titles. Instead it’s a litany of intercessions, of prayer requests.

The wonderful thing about it is that it identifies all the sources of pride that affect us. In order to grow in humility we have to be waging war against the pride that seems to confront us at every step. So the Litany of Humility is a way that we can confront those areas of pride, of weakness, of self-centeredness. And then at the end it is this invocation of how we can truly be a source of grace for others, a witness to the Lord. Let me share it with you:

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…

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Do you see what I mean, by the first invocations are from the desire of being extolled, esteemed, preferred to others , that inordinate desire we have in our lives to find our value in comparison to others.

But then the next set of invocations are all about fear. All about the way that fear drives us to not be humble. We’re afraid of being humiliated and so we avoid any occasion that might lead to that. We’re afraid of being ridiculed, and so we put up a shell and pretend that others can’t hurt us.

But the ending ones are the ones that, to me, are really powerful. Especially that last one, which almost sounds like you wouldn’t want to say it. That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should. Now that’s a prayer for you. You become as holy as you should, and let others grow in even greater holiness than you.

Because who are we? Poor, simple, humble instruments of the Lord. Who am I but simply God’s cooperator, his handservant, the one that’s out there to try to help Him in whatever way I can. That’s what humility is all about. Not pretending that I am anything less than a beloved child of God, but certainly not pretending that I deserve to be acknowledged or receive anything more than to simply follow the Lord with my whole heart.”

Listen to the full reflection below:

St. Joseph’s Workshop with Father Matthew Spencer airs weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio®.