March 25, 2022

Love’s Litmus / Natalie Hoefer

True humility teaches us less of ‘I,’ more of ‘you’

Natalie HoeferA mix of shame and gratitude mingle on the father’s face as he speaks with a food pantry volunteer.

“I don’t like asking for help,” he admits. “But I lost my job in the pandemic, and there’s just not enough money to feed my children and pay the bills.”

Elsewhere, a group of people gather around a table. One by one, they say their name and acknowledge the truth: “I am an alcoholic”—or overeater, compulsive gambler, drug addict, etc.

Meanwhile, in a confessional, a sinner kneels or sits, head down, and says, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”

A common thread runs through each scene: humility. It is the virtue inferred when St. Paul notes that love is not arrogant (1 Cor 13:4).

Church history abounds with examples of humble people. Think of St. Teresa of Calcutta serving the poorest of the poor in India. Or St. Maximillian Kolbe, who offered his life to save that of another in a World War II concentration camp.

Of course, there is the Blessed Mother. Her words to the Archangel Gabriel model perfect humility: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

And no greater example is there than Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh who “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

Admittedly, these are some pretty extreme (albeit imitation-worthy) examples. But humility takes many forms, and living humbly doesn’t require extreme circumstances.

For instance, admitting the need for help is an act of humility—and not just help from a charitable organization. Arrogance says, “I can do it myself.” Humility says, “I can’t do this on my own.” It’s like the line from the hymn “The Servant Song”: “Pray that I may have the grace [humility] to let you be my servant, too.”

Acknowledging a wrongdoing is another act of humility. It may be for something grave, like the prodigal son apologizing for mistreating his father (Lk 15:11-32). Or it may be for something as common as snapping at a co-worker, friend or loved one. Wrong is wrong. Humility admits it and says, “I’m sorry.”

When interacting with others, humility listens more than speaks. It means “saying less of ‘I’ and more of ‘you,’ ” a lesson I learned from my dad, one of the must humble people I know.

Sometimes humility means not speaking at all. Humble is the person who remains silent while others vie to be heard. Humility does not interrupt, nor—against human nature—does it continue speaking when interrupted.

Unlike the vice of arrogance or pride, humility sets the ego aside and puts others and their needs first. Yes, that can mean through acts of charity like the ones St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Maximillian Kolbe performed.

But it can also mean little acts, like (gasp) letting a driver cut in front rather than speeding up to block them. Or even (double gasp) taking the blame when you’re not at fault.

I recall an incident along those lines. It happened at an archdiocesan-sponsored event that was held at a parish. The archdiocesan office supplied the food, and the parish supplied plastic utensils and plates.

A disgruntled woman complained to one of the archdiocesan staff.

“You’re not being good stewards by using plastic,” she said. “You should be using paper plates or things that can be reused.”

“You’re absolutely right,” said the archdiocesan staff member. “I’m sorry we didn’t think of that. Thank you for pointing that out.”

Dumbfounded, I waited until the woman left, then said, “But the parish supplied the plastic stuff!”

“Well, she thinks we did, and that’s OK,” the staff member gently explained. “She just needed to be heard.”

Humility is not easy. The ego will fight against it: What if my view isn’t heard? What if my needs aren’t met? What if I get overlooked?

Those are some difficult fears to face. The Litany of Humility can help.

It is attributed to Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State to the Holy See under Pope (now St.) Pius X.

At the beginning, my ego and fears fought hard against the petitions in the litany. For a long time, I replaced “Deliver me, Jesus” with “help me want to want to be delivered, Jesus.” And “Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it” became, “Jesus, help me want to want the grace to desire it.”

May the Holy Spirit give us all the grace to, as Micah 6:8 notes, “walk humbly with [our] God”—and with others.

Litany of Humility
Lord Jesus. Meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
(Respond to the following with, “Deliver me, Jesus.”)
From the desire of being esteemed,
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,
(Respond to the following with, “Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”)
That others may be loved more than I,
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.

(Send your stories of people you know who live out agape as described by St. Paul in 1 Cor 13:4-7 to Natalie Hoefer at nhoefer@archindy.org, or call 317-236-1486 or 800-932-9836, ext. 1486. Include your parish and a daytime phone number where you may be reached.)

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