During the 1990s, I had a devout Catholic friend who decided that he was going to pray every day that he would go straight to Heaven when he died. He didn’t want his soul to have to endure any suffering in purgatory. He decided that he was going to bypass purgatory and go straight to heaven.
Within a month of starting his new daily prayer ritual, he began having severe pain in his knees. It was painful for him to get out of bed in the morning, climb stairs, get into his car, and walk for more than a few minutes.
After enduring the pain for several days, he concluded that the pain in his knees was the suffering he was going to have to endure in order to bypass purgatory. In other words, he believed that he had unknowingly traded one form of suffering for another. The suffering he was experiencing with his knees was the price he was going to have to pay as reparation for the sins he had committed.
It didn’t take very long before my friend decided that the price he was required to pay to go straight to Heaven was too high, so he stopped praying for that specific intention. Within a week after he stopped praying for that intention, he stopped having pain in his knees.
I think of my friend on a regular basis because of the temptations I have to abandon one of my own daily prayer rituals. The prayer ritual I’m referring to is the Litany of Humility that I pray every day. The problem that I have is that I don’t like the price I have to pay in the form of suffering when my prayers are answered.
It doesn’t happen that often, but when I’m forced to endure a humiliation that occurs because of something I said or did, or because of something I had no control over, the suffering is so intense that I want nothing more than to get rid of it.
Every time I’m humiliated, I have to remind myself that God withholds His blessings from the proud and favors those who are humble.
I recently had a devout Catholic woman ask me this question: Why would you ever pray to be humiliated? It doesn’t make sense that anyone would ever pray for that!
From a human standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense to pray for the opportunity to suffer. Humility requires intense suffering. In order for God to grant my prayer for humility, He must either cause or allow me to be humiliated. Why? Because humiliations are the primary way in which a person becomes humble.
I responded to the woman’s question by saying that there are three primary reasons that explain why I pray for humility. The first reason I pray for humility is that if I really do want to be like Christ, I must be willing to imitate Him by doing everything in my power to practice the virtue of humility.
We automatically become more like Christ when we seek out and voluntarily and patiently endure the humiliations that come our way. No human has ever voluntarily subjected himself or herself to the humiliations that our Lord allowed for Himself. Christ told us, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29.
It was Jesus Himself who set an example of humility for us. He relinquished His power and glory by coming to Earth as a helpless human. He was born to a poor and humble couple in a stable surrounded by animals. As an adult, He submitted Himself to the authority of inferior men who mocked Him, publicly humiliated Him, brutally tortured Him, and then nailed Him to a cross, so He could die an ignominious death. If I want to imitate Christ, I must willingly and voluntarily welcome the humiliations that come my way.
The second reason I pray for humility is because regardless of whether I pray for it, I’m going to still suffer humiliations throughout the course of my life. None of us can escape the fact that there will be times when we are humiliated. We don’t have a choice as to whether we are going to suffer as a result of being humiliated. Humiliation equals suffering.
Here’s what Mother Angelica had to say about suffering:
From the time of Adam and Eve, man has tried to escape suffering in any form. It is a mystery to all except the holy ones of God. The Prophets saw it as a call from God to repent. The Apostles saw it as “a happy privilege” to imitate Jesus. Pagans saw it as foolishness. Men of today see it as an evil and try to avoid it, but it follows them wherever they go.
If I’m destined to suffer as a result of being humiliated, why wouldn’t I want to imitate Christ by voluntarily accepting the suffering that accompanies a humiliation, and then offering my suffering up to Almighty God as a sacrifice?
Regardless of whether I pray for humility, there are going to be occasions when I’m going to be humiliated, either by something I did or an event that was outside of my control. If I pray the Litany of Humility every day, when I do go through a humiliating experience, rather than react with anger, revenge, or despair, I will be given the grace to respond with gratitude for having been allowed to follow in the footsteps of my Savior.
The third reason I pray for humility is because according to Saint Teresa of Avila, humility is the doorway that leads to holiness and perfection. On the other hand, Pride is the doorway that leads to all sin. Every sin begins with pride. “Pride goeth before destruction: and the spirit is lifted up before a fall. It is better to be humbled with the meek than to divide spoils with the proud.” Proverbs 16:18-19.
By praying for humility, I am able to speed up the process of growing in holiness and perfection.
Of course, while the reasons I’ve provided for praying the Litany of Humility make perfect sense to me, I still recoil and want to crawl into a cave whenever I’m humiliated. What do I do when humiliations do come my way? I remind myself that they are a part of God’s Divine plan for my holiness and salvation and that it is only through my humiliating experiences that I will ever be able to advance to the next stage of holiness, wisdom, and perfection.
There is, however, one thing that I’m really grateful for when I experience a humiliation. At least my knees don’t hurt.