May This Be Our Prayer

Bapto-catholic…that was what the Catholic trauma chaplain at the hospital where I did my residency in Clinical Pastoral Education called me. He was intrigued that I made use of the lectionary, had an interest in and used liturgy, and made use of the prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. He told me I wasn’t like other Baptists he had ever met. I think his description of me is accurate and I think I was probably set up for it. Though I grew up in Baptist churches my whole life, until I went out to west Texas for college (at a Baptist university) I lived in a small Catholic community known as Lindsay. Lindsay was down the road from the slightly larger Catholic community known as Muenster (yes, these were German Catholics).

The result of this was that I grew up around Catholics my whole life, but at church I often heard about how Catholics weren’t really Christians. They were just caught up in religiosity in which they were trying to earn their way to heaven. There was no way that their faith was genuine. This may sound harsh (and it was) but this was the sort of thing that I heard from Baptist pastors, deacons, and church members alike. One deacon used to tell me that the phrase ‘vain repetitions’ was invented just for Catholics.

I am thankful for the few (like my mentor Donnie York) that did tell me that many Catholics actually were capable of genuine faith and it was probably about same percentage as Baptists – maybe a little more! As a chaplain/CPE resident I had ample opportunity to speak with Catholics as they faced traumas and many times death. I am grateful to these Christian brothers and sisters for teaching me about their deep faith in Christ during these times of deep grief and lament. Yes, we have theological differences, but this does/did not cancel out the depth of their faith in Jesus. I cringe whenever I hear fellow Baptists or other rather ‘conservative’ evangelicals say that Catholics can’t possibly be Christians.

In the sermon yesterday morning the pastor told a story about when Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto became Pope Pious X in 1903. Sarto apparently did not want to accept the position of pope initially but was encouraged to do so by his friend, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val y de Zulueta (that’s quite the name!), who would become Pious X’s Secretary of State. Merry del Val gifted the new Pope with a prayer that would become known as the Litany of Humility, and one which del Val was said to have prayed every day after the Mass. The full text is below. Read it slowly and meditate on it.

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

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, O Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
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.

Can I just say that I think that Baptist deacon was wrong? There is nothing ‘vain’ about this prayer. If you can pray this prayer and it falls under the category of ‘vain repetition’ … well, my friend, don’t blame the prayer because that’s not where the problem resides. Church father John Chrysostom said that the lack of humility and the search for ‘popular praise’ was (in a reference to the ancient Hydra slain by Hercules) an ‘invisible and savage monster’ that needed its many heads cut off, or better yet, to have prevented them from growing altogether. Those that are able to slay this monster of popular praise and esteem and the lack of humility will enjoy the ‘quiet heaven of rest’ while those that don’t will suffer ‘manifold struggles, personal confusion, deep dejection, and a host of other passions.’

We Protestants (of all flavors) can learn much from our Eastern Orthodox (represented here by the ancient wisdom of Chrysostom) and Catholic brethren. May we take Chrysostom’s advice and slay the monster of pride and the lack of humility. Oh that the Litany of Humility were prayed more often in ALL expressions of the ekklesia!

May it gradually shape and form us into the humble image of our Liberating King.

‘Deliver us, O Jesus’ … ‘Jesus, grant us the grace’ …  may this be our prayer!

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