Do you know about the Litany of Humility? It’s a prayer that is probably a good test to see if Colleen Carroll Campbell’s book, “The Heart of Perfection: How the Saints Taught Me to Trade My Dream of Perfect for God’s,” is for you.
The prayer is attributed to Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930), secretary of state for Pope Saint Pius X. It begins:
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus….
It gets into some fears:
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus….
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus….
This is not easy stuff. It gets to the heart of our everyday lives and decisions and responses in the most practical ways to the situations we find ourselves in.
You might not consider yourself a perfectionist. But if any of this is hard to pray, you might just be. And aren’t so many of us?
There is another prayer in the spirit of the Litany of Humility that has become popular in recent years, the Litany of Trust, distributed by the Sisters of Life.
Early on, it includes:
From the false security that I have what it takes, deliver me, Jesus.
It goes on:
That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me, Jesus, I trust in you. That Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings, and transforms me, Jesus, I trust in you. That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on You, Jesus, I trust in you. That you are with me in my suffering, Jesus, I trust in you.
That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next, Jesus, I trust in you. That You will not leave me orphan, that You are present in Your Church, Jesus, I trust in you. That Your plan is better than anything else, Jesus, I trust in you.
Whoa. Those can be hard prayers to pray and really mean. Maybe especially now, in life, in the world, in the Church. These are all elements, of course, of our lives, and we are all members of the Body of Christ, the Church. And our souls, the souls of those around us and throughout the world need us to pray these prayers and get our perfectionism — our self-reliance — in check, so that we really live the lives we are called to as Christians.
Colleen Carroll Campbell didn’t see herself as a perfectionist — even when she was returning love letters from a high-school boyfriend with corrections. But she emphasizes: “You don’t have to be a congenital perfectionist like me to have a problem with perfectionism. Nor must you demand flawlessness in every part of your life. Perfectionism is simply an addiction to control and a refusal to accept imperfection in some human endeavor. Looking at our culture today, I’d say a whole lot of folks suffer from that.”
And she pinpoints a series of saints to help break the cycle, among them Saint Jane de Chantal. The relatability factor is high for Campbell, a wife, mother, and former White House speechwriter, newspaper columnist, and TV (EWTN) news anchor. She writes: “A seventeenth-century French wife, mother, widow, and nun, Jane spent years struggling to break free of that cycle. She waged her struggle in the same circumstances that most of us must wage ours today: in the midst of a busy, high-pressure life spent raising children, running a household, managing difficult relatives and coworkers, keeping up with social and charitable obligations, and navigating a culture that told her to focus more on looking good than loving God. Jane also waged it while wrestling with an impatient and exacting personality, on the heels of an aristocratic upbringing and a series of traumatic losses that seemed destined to cement her natural severity and perfectionism.
“Yet for all that,” Campbell writes, “Jane became a saint. And not just any saint: a patron saint of gentleness and a founder, with Saint Francis de Sales, of a religious order dedicated to the very virtues of gentleness and patience that never came naturally to her.”
The book is about some of the tools de Chantal and others offer for our toolkits so that we can actually live the Christian difference with some more success. De Sales and de Chantal demonstrated the gift of spiritual friendship, and his pithy practical wisdom could transform our lives through social media as much as he helped de Chantal in her life and the life of her community. “Be on your guard against haste and worry, for nothing hinders us more on our journey toward perfection.” Now we’re talking the real perfection we’re called to, surrendering our lives to the God who made us for himself. This is the struggle and the gift, and it’s the journey of our lives.
“Francis believed that the best sacrifices are not the ones we choose but the ones that choose us,” Campbell writes. “Those frustrations, anxieties, and aches of everyday life that challenge us to respond with patience and love rather than irritation and anger.” De Sales presented gentleness as the antidote for the overload of our lives — as de Chantal “complained”: “I am never satisfied, but I do not know why.”
Of course, Saint Paul mentioned it first in his Letter to the Galatians. “A fruit of the Holy Spirit…gentleness typically expresses itself in kind words and calm responses to the people and things that upset us. Yet those external expressions are merely means of cultivating the much greater interior gift of gentleness: the peace of a recollected soul that can maintain its equilibrium no matter what disasters, disturbances, and delays come its way.”
This is “spiritual strength,” as far as de Sales is concerned. It also might be terrifying as “Christian meekness” can be seen in the world “as mousiness and patience as infinite pliability. We worry that softening our hard edges could mean losing our edge altogether, surrendering the spunk and drive that make us ourselves and make us free.”
It’s also the path to freedom. As Campbell put it, Jane de Chantal was “being controlled: by her expectations, by the demands of others, by the dictates of the angry idol she had substituted for the living God. Francis wanted Jane to practice gentleness and patience so that she could reclaim what he described as ‘the liberty of the children [of God] who know that they are loved,’ echoing Paul’s Letter to the Romans. This freedom enables us to love God for his own sake and accept trials and disruptions of our plans without losing our peace or fearing God’s or another’s displeasure.”
“Every day, every moment,” Campbell writes, “presents a new choice. And all those choices — to greet a rude sales clerk with snark or a smile, to discipline a child with loving firmness or fiery condemnation, to skip meals and sleep to meet a deadline or take a breather to care for the body God gave us — help shape us into the people we become by the end of our lives. They determine whether we’ll spend our years locked in that negative feedback loop or steadily progressing toward transformation in Christ.”
Going along the path of more Christian love, being drawn out of herself and into sacrifices for others with that kind of gentleness that is the way of Christ, “Jane found new liberty and a great longing to leave the world and give everything to God.”
These 17th century French friends are only two of the saints who have become friends to Campbell. Thérèse of Lisieux, Ignatius of Loyola, and Francis of Assisi are among the others.
Campbell has love for her family and the end of her days in mind with the gift of her book. “I know how I want to live, how I want my children to see me living. And that means I have no more time for fear. I’ve wasted too much already.”
Does that resonate with you? “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by the yoke of slavery,” as Saint Paul tells the Galatians (5:1). And let Campbell and her holy friends help you along the way.
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