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Lord, Grant Me Humility – But Just Not Yet!

The Virgin of the Annunciation, by Carlo Dolci. c.1653-55.

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I am a member of a spiritual association which requires the recitation of certain prayers each day. And each day, one section of the prayers is substituted with another, focusing on a different aspect of the spiritual life. On Fridays, the members say The Litany of Humility.

From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.

I will share a little secret with you: I have never liked this prayer. Oh, I’ve always admired it, found it a beautiful expression of an authentic Christian disposition, and had the utmost respect for those devoted to it. But I don’t like praying it. Like Augustine and his famous plea for the grace to be pure, I feel my heart cry out, “Lord, give me humility – but just not yet!”

From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.

I may not be a member of Generation Narcissus, I may be just a little too old to have gotten a trophy for participation rather than achievement, I might have actually enjoyed the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in various forms of competition over my lifetime, but I have not escaped the cult of self-esteem. I’ve been told for as long as I can remember to believe in myself, love myself, trust my gut, follow my passions, live my dreams, and get anyone who drags me down out of my sphere of influence.

From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus.

I’ve also come of age during the reign of the Internet, wherein the joys of contemplation and the observation of regular, prayerful silence were replaced by endless digital distraction and the nearly-compulsive publication of every waking thought. I have never, not since I was about 15 years old, been without a medium through which I might broadcast my opinion to any willing listener. As the phenomenon of local dial-up computer bulletin board systems was replaced first with Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL, and then, a nascent Internet, my sense of self-importance grew. I wasn’t just a kid in a small town in Upstate New York, I was a crusader with a cause, dammit!

From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus.

In 2003, I discovered the joy that is blogging, and as I set up shop in cyberspace, I quickly found that what had been an opportunity became an obligation. Once, I had been able to discuss topics at length with my online peers; now, if I neglected to update my site for more than a few days, I felt the need to apologize to my infinitesimal audience. You see, I owed it to them to keep a steady series of diatribes coming, direct from my brain to their glowing screens.

From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.

When I got a job with a public relations firm in 2006, a new world was opened to me. Social Media — we called it “New Media” at first — was a whole new way people were communicating. Facebook opened its doors to the general public that year, and Twitter was also launched. It wasn’t clear right away what the potential was for Social Media, but one thing about it was clear: more opportunities to tell the world about every little thing happening in your life, all the time.

From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.

I’ve always had a fairly high opinion of my own…opinion. But now, I could put numbers on it. Followers! Engagement! Klout score! Traffic!!! I was an influencer! People heard what I had to say! PEOPLE LIKED ME!!! WOOO-HOOO!!

From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus.

It became pretty clear, pretty fast that I had to figure out what I was doing that was working and start selling it more effectively. Selling myself, that is. Because, after all, I had a “personal brand.” I needed a “consistent voice” and it was super important to figure out my “Social IQ” and “Social ROI”. Using various analytical tools, I was able to ascertain that I was influential on certain topics — Catholicism, writing, politics — and could focus more on being super important in those areas.

From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus.

As a Catholic writer with gigs at a couple of major publications, I might not have been a household name, but my stock, as they say, was rising. When I had a piece go viral, earning hundreds of thousands of page views in just one day and getting picked up by the Drudge Report, I was on cloud nine. The next year, something I wrote got me interviewed by NBC News and the New York Times; I started getting interview requests from other outlets as well, both at home and from around the world. I was asked to go on television. I was asked to go on radio.

I was really somebody.

From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.

Of course, I made enemies. People who didn’t like the things I was saying. People who, no matter how hard I tried to be civil toward them and reasonably discuss issues, just wanted to tear me down. Some of them were people with big audiences. Some of them were people who were brutally unjust. Some of them were people who flat out slandered me.

I had a platform, though. I had a megaphone. I had thousands of followers, tens of thousands of readers. I WASN’T GOING TO TAKE THIS LYING DOWN.

From the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus.

It’s fun to be popular. It hurts to be attacked. I think this is something we can all understand. You don’t have to be a writer like me, or to have your own website, or any of that. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to be praised. Our human nature desires this, and in proper measure, this is to the good. We are social creatures. We require a certain measure of validation. And deep down, we are pining for the love of God, which we find, in more subdued and imperfect shades, in the love of our fellow man.

From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, Jesus.

But we live in a society that constantly tells us to worship ourselves. Gone is the fear of putting too much value on “human respect.” Gone is the desire to be humble as Christ was humble. Gone is the desire, stated so eloquently by Saint John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And because so much is now built around our ability to be confident, proud, and full of accomplishments — try getting a job or running a business without always managing your own personal PR campaign — it has become increasingly difficult for us to seek solace in being small, so that Christ can loom large in our lives.

From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, Jesus.

I have, especially over the past two years, become more accustomed to being lied about and maligned than I ever thought I would be. Success in this business is measured in pageviews, social shares, and reach. But the bigger you get, the more people want to tear you down. I can’t do my job — trying to get the truth, which is often unpopular, in the hands of as many people as possible — without living in a constant state of promotion. But this works against the very virtues I believe we must extol.

From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.

I’ve come to realize what a dangerous thing celebrity is. As a teenager, I wanted to be an actor. I loved entertaining people, telling jokes, doing funny accents, imagining scenes. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would never again be able to live an anonymous life. I couldn’t just go to the grocery store or the movies if I was famous. I’d have to try to hide my appearance. I’d have to travel in cars with darkened windows, surrounded by a staff of people whose job it would be to keep me safe from everyone who thought they knew me. I didn’t want to live that way, so I let go of that dream. I just wanted a normal life.

From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that it would mean giving up more than just my anonymity. Something far more dangerous happens when a person becomes well-known: they begin to believe that they are far more important than they really are. It’s an intoxicating thing, having strangers know your name, receiving fan mail, seeing the size of your audience grow, and beginning to recognize the power you have to influence others. For a movie star or professional athlete or politician, this must be insanely dangerous to their spiritual well-being.

To a well-known Catholic writer or speaker, it is, I think, less so. But that is not to say that it is not still dangerous.

From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus.

The notion of “Catholic celebrity” is, by nature, an oxymoron. To be famous for being Catholic? Very strange. Certainly, there were saints who experienced this, much to their chagrin. St. Jean Vianney, St. Padre Pio, and Ven. Solanus Casey all come to mind. Their intense spiritual gifts created an attraction that brought pilgrims from far away to have the experience of being near to a living saint.

But in the Internet age, one can become a “Catholic celebrity” simply by being prolific. Write books. Be a popular blogger. Do some podcasts. Speak at conferences. One needn’t be pious, one need only be convincingly Catholic. In a Church in crisis, the weary souls who are looking for guidance, insight, or confirmation will come flocking to your door.

From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, Jesus.

We’ve seen this time and time again. “Catholic celebrities” who “go rogue.” People who begin an apostolate that appears solidly orthodox, but gradually develops into a personal magisterium, where anyone not seen as an ideological ally is summarily excommunicated, banned, blocked, has their comments deleted, and becomes the butt of running jokes. Catholic writers or speakers who spend a good portion of their time being defensive, complaining about other personalities, applying derogatory labels and generalizations, accusing others of heresy or schism or scandalous pride, building an army of sycophants who only ever lavish praise upon them and insulate them from the reality that they have gone off course.

These individuals invariably end up beginning wars with other “Catholic celebrities.” Blogger against blogger, speaker against speaker, publication against publication. Personal magisterium against personal magisterium. Each salvo is met in the comment boxes with adulation and acclaim, each broadside believed to be the final say that cannot be rebutted. I can’t claim innocence in this, though I have been working especially hard lately to resist the temptation.

It’s a hideous, ugly thing. It is, I can only imagine, repellent to non-Catholics who are on the outside looking in. And it’s disgusting to our own.

I have a Catholic friend who reads a great deal of Catholic websites and blogs. He periodically sends me the same simple message, “I hate Catholics.”

And to be honest, I do too. At least, I hate what we have allowed ourselves to become.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

It’s time to reclaim some decency. Some dignity. Some grace. We aren’t always going to see eye to eye — there is division at the very heart of the Church, with bishops opposing bishops and cardinals opposing cardinals — but we need to find a way to move forward with an authentic Catholic love of souls. Not vitriol. Not disparagement.

That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Popularity isn’t the goal of our earthly existence. We are made to know, love, and serve God in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next. We should never diminish or waste our God-given talents; we should always, in fact, do our best. But we should remember from Whom they come, and to Whom the accounting for their use will be rendered.

Some of us don’t have a choice. We need our work to be popular for it to be effective. But we must remember that the Glory is His, and we should be humbled and grateful that we have been chosen, however unworthy, to be His instruments.

That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

It troubles me greatly when I see popular Catholic personalities casting aspersions on others. Labeling them. Condemning them. Mocking them. There is no other way to say it: check your little bracelet – this is not what Jesus would do.

We all get upset. Yes, righteous anger exists. Yes, we can (and should) judge evil actions, even if we are never to judge souls. Yes, we can legitimately criticize others in our Church. But in all of this we should remember the importance of fraternal charity and the love of souls. We should desire conversion, not destruction. We should seek to persuade, not to condemn or shame. We do not need to like our ideological enemies, but we should desire their eternal salvation.

That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

A time is coming in the Church where all faithful Catholics will suffer. We are entering a time of persecution and ignominy. Those of us who care about God and His Church, who are obedient to her teachings, and who love Our Blessed Mother, should all be fighting on the same team. We are going to have disagreements. It’s unavoidable. But we need to work together to come to an understanding of the essentials. We need to be open and honest about what’s happening, and not hide from it. We need to talk about it, but we also need to pray, and harder still, do voluntary penance.

That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

I do this work because I feel called to it. Because it is my passion. It has come at a significant personal cost, and maybe God has kept things difficult to help keep me grounded. I know that I have come to trust Him more than ever since I have started this website. I’ve had no choice. Everything else was falling apart.

That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

And if He made it clear to me that He wanted me to stop doing this, I’d turn over the keys. I wouldn’t want to. But again, I trust Him. And He has blessed me. I am doing the most important work I’ve ever done. I have the privilege of working with some of the most talented writers I’ve ever known, without whom I could not have built this. I am supported by an amazing wife. I have been given six, going on seven, incredible children. I have received an outpouring of support, both spiritual and financial, from all of you. Our readers are loyal. They are intelligent. They are courageous. They have eyes to see, and they see. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are all the better for having found each other.

That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Something has changed in my life recently. Something I can’t explain. I feel His presence in a more profound way. I am aware of His graces. I am aware of the Blessed Mother’s protection and patronage. I desire to be closer to them. I long for them. Despite my incredibly sinful nature, I desire to make the slow, torturous steps toward sanctity. I have not always felt so. For a good portion of my life, I was just phoning it in.

God is doing amazing things. He is testing us. He is preparing us. He is consoling us. And all of it is to ready us for what is to come. We need to be on our knees every day, thanking Him, petitioning Him, praising Him, and atoning for our sins and those of the whole world.

The great thing about being on your knees? It’s hard to look down on people from there.

8 thoughts on “Lord, Grant Me Humility – But Just Not Yet!”

  1. This is a keeper. When I start to look at my little circle of followers/friends and begin to think of myself as “all that”, I need to pull this out of my pocket and come back to Earth. Thanks Steve!

  2. A tremendous prayer and terrific article. Have you ever heard the quote, “It is hard to be humble when you are a great as I am”? Growing up, it was a small plague that hung on the wall. Not only would it garner laughs for the sheer ridiculousness of the statement, but through that laughter came the lesson. Thanks for another worthwhile blog. The best line: “The great thing about being on your knees …”

  3. I learned of this prayer about a year ago; it’s a tough one to say with regularity. Thank you for this perspective.

  4. I will be saying this prayer soon, after going to Confession, and try to say it daily because my time at work always calls me to remember it. Very Great Prayer, especially in our times with the Culture of Narcissism.


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