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Recovering humility

| Monday, March 26, 2018

Ah humility, the forgotten virtue.

Over spring break I stumbled across the Litany of Humility and was immediately put in my place. Though I’ll admit there is a great irony in my pontifications on this virtue — pretending to have authority we rarely possess is the op-ed columnist’s bread and butter — I hope to encourage my fellow Domers to reconsider humility, especially as we enter Holy Week.

Penned by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), the Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X, the Litany of Humility is a beautiful breath of fresh air in a world that encourages us to be self-centered at every moment. College especially is a time that tempts us to be ignorant of everything outside our personal bubbles. Education is clearly a wonderful thing, and we shouldn’t all drop out because we’re encouraged to look after our own interests here. Yet the situation remains; college life can easily slip into my classes, my internship applications, my social calendar, my homework, my next meal, my sleep schedule, my grades, my resume — the list goes on and on.

The call to be humble is a call to see things in their proper perspective, a call to focus on what is good and right and true and not on ourselves. The last petition of the litany, which reads, “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,” powerfully suggests what this entails — loving God and neighbor above ourselves. To do this, we must reflect on what we have in the way of opportunities, and to turn those things outward and fulfill the duties and responsibilities we have in conjunction with our blessings.

In his recent piece, “The Ignoble Lie,” Prof. Patrick Deneen calls on students at elite universities to push back against individualism and false pride fostered in university cultures and to reconsider the bonds that connect all of humanity. Herein lies the difficulty of humility — we must properly evaluate our own talents and situations (which correspond to our duties and responsibilities to those less fortunate), while refraining from pride and the pursuit of the wrong things.

We are surrounded by voices that ask us to reject humility, sometimes unwittingly. Many of the elements of the litany seem extreme in the modern university context. We’ve created (and participate in) a culture which glorifies praise, approval and positions of power, but despises being wrong or unpopular. This is not to say that leadership and recognition are evils in themselves; instead, this litany encourages us to not seek these things for their own sake. Notre Dame students are smart people going places, but we would do well to remember that the job titles, salaries and social media profiles we seek shouldn’t be our ultimate ends.

As someone who, on occasion, likes the sound of her own voice, I’m not saying that humility is fun or easy. It is, in fact, quite difficult. It will look a little different on everyone. Yet we are called to step off our pedestals, put the world in perspective and pursue the good for its own sake. After all, there’s someone out there in sweatpants who understands Aristotle way better than I do.

Litany of Humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus. (repeat after each line)

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. (repeat after each line)

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, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

 

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),

Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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