“I think if there’s any prayer we make that God responds to immediately, it’s a prayer for humility,” says Joel Stepanek. Using the Litany of Humility, a prayer made popular by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, his book “Chasing Humility: 8 Ways to Shape a Christian Heart” (Ave Maria Press, $12), aims to bring Catholics to the realization that a life of humility isn’t a bad thing — it’s a clear path to bring us closer to God.
Kris McGregor: A very wise monsignor told me that once you start to pray the Litany of Humility, you will be affected.
Joel Stepanek: I had a rough first year as a youth minister in Wisconsin, and a lot of my prideful aspects manifested themselves. A spiritual adviser said, “Why don’t you try this Litany of Humility?” And it became a daily practice.
McGregor: The selfie isn’t just a millennial thing — everything in our culture feeds the great sin of pride. It’s all about us.
Stepanek: Pride is the primary sin. You go back to the fall of humanity, and what is the temptation? To be like God, to be on the same level as him.
When people think about humility, I think they think it’s self-deprecating, like we don’t get to be full and alive. But living a humble life actually makes us free. It gives us the freedom to think of others more and to be present to who we are before God. There’s profound joy in that.
McGregor: What is so important about being authentic?
Stepanek: As a teenager struggling to find my identity, my dad and I had a conversation that has stuck with me and informed my view on humility.
In order to be authentic, he told me, we have to know who we are before God and who God says we are. Then we have to know who we say we are, the truths that we say about ourselves, and we have to know who people say that we are.
When these things line up, we experience harmony, because we’re being authentic. How others perceive me is congruent with who I say I am, which is congruent to who God says I am.
McGregor: How does having confidence play into living a life of humility?
Stepanek: The litany says, “From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus. From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus. That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”
This was the toughest one for me. I sometimes experience a lack of confidence in who I am, and who God created me to be, and that makes me want to be others’ choice, to be preferred, because then I feel wanted. How good does it feel when someone says, I would prefer to hang out with you?
If we don’t have confidence, we’re always going to want to be someone’s preference, and we’re going to get anxious when we’re not. A lack of confidence produces a fear of being humiliated, and that can be destructive.
But if we have confidence in who we are before the Lord, and we allow that to drive our identity, moments of humiliation become moments for growth. We don’t allow them to define us, but they form us and shape us.
McGregor: Loving others can be a great challenge because we expect things. It’s difficult to love, give, and expect nothing, but isn’t that what the litany asks us to do? “That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.”
Stepanek: The moment we start to say, I’ll love my neighbor if he loves me back, we put conditions on love, and conditional love is ultimately not love. It’s liking somebody, but it’s contractual.
When we talk about being delivered from a desire to be loved, the truth is, an ordered desire to love and be loved is at the core of who we are. We’re made in the image of God, who is love, so love is at the foundation of our being.
But a disordered desire to be loved can push us to do some things to seek love that are not actually love. People fear not being loved, and they fear being despised.
If God loves us perfectly, and infinitely, that love is enough for us to tap into. Confident in that love, we can go out and pray that others may be loved more than we are. And we have the power to affect that. I can seek to love others more in my conversations, in my service, in how I approach my enemies and those who have wronged me.
McGregor: Jesus told us repeatedly, “Be not afraid.” Is this the key to truly allowing ourselves to be loved?
Stepanek: In the first letter of St. John, he says that perfect love casts out fear. If we want to start to address the fear in our lives, especially the fear of sharing Christ with others, we have to say, I don’t need the approval of other people. God loves me, and he approves of me.
When we break those boundaries, we find that people are hungry for what we have to share. It’s almost a breath of fresh air — somebody who believes in something so much that they want to share it. But the only way we can do that is by letting in the love of God.