I must admit, there is indeed an intimidating part about this particular Litany. A holy priest I admire once said, “I don’t pray that Litany anymore, it works!” The oldest nun in my community in Carmel said, “I prayed that once, once was enough.” I remember when I first starting praying it, I would call my Grammie and tell her about all the humiliating things that would happen to me after I prayed it. She would say, “why do you pray that?” I was a Novice for almost a year and a half and I grew a bit nervous when my Novice Mistress told me when I entered that they pray the Litany of Humility, DAILY in the Novitiate.
While I feared this Litany, I was also sort of irresistibly drawn to it. Before I explain why, in case you are not familiar with it, here it is:
Let me explain the bittersweet title of this post. You know when you love something or someone, but it requires a sacrifice? Take Our Lord for example. He did not just say, “I love you.” He showed His love by being nailed to a cross with His arms outstretched nailed in place as if to say, “I love you this much.” It does not take a genius or even a Catholic to decipher, that that love didn’t hurt. He has the wounds to prove it! If you will, loving Jesus hurts. This Litany proved it to me. The wounds to prove it, however; were not found on the body but in the heart. To be quite frank, this is a hard Litany to pray. I will be upfront with you, it usually works right away.
I experienced so much humiliation from it in my Novitiate that I would catch myself NOT reciting the words when we prayed it as a group with all the sisters. I had had enough and could not take anymore- the humiliations hurt! Another Sister would be chosen and I set aside. My hard work would go unnoticed. I was forgotten by my Mother Superiors or misunderstood. When these daily humiliations became my daily “food”, I brought it to my confessor. As if trying to be funny, yet totally serious he asked:
Have you every prayed the Litany of Humility?
“Yes, Father”, I told him- “that’s the problem!” Yet, I realized that all the desires on my heart were totally disordered. What does it matter that I go unnoticed or set aside by others? The more I embraced these humiliations from the world, I realized I was indeed being chosen and noticed by that Prince, by Him. “Oh, Jesus! Meek and humble of Heart.” He was shaping my heart to be meek and humble, like His. Like Mary’s. It was SO providential and fitting that my title was Sister Rosa Maria of the Sorrowful Heart. I was named after Mary’s Sorrowful Heart, but the more I pondered it, I liked to imagine it as the Sorrowful Heart of Jesus, Mary and my own heart combined all into one. I also became very aware that my own sorrow of rejection was really Their own; I was simply sharing in it.
Their whole lives were smothered in humiliation and rejection. Our Lord called “possessed”, Barabbas was chosen over Our Lord; He was even considered dumb and uneducated, “how does this Man know letters having never learned?” And Mary? She had to watch Her own Son, Her creator suffer it all. (And Her own rejection, “is not this the Son of Mary?”) As if She were a nobody. The more I came to know Them through the Litany of Humility, through sorrow, the more I loved Them and wanted to offer all I could to prove my love. After having experienced two Lents in Carmel, I can attest that offerings such as the sorrow experienced in the interior are more valuable in God’s eyes, than giving up chocolate. Not that it isn’t pleasing to Him, but He looks at the heart above all else. Father Ripperger the famous exorcist priest in a podcast once said, “try asking your guardian angel to humiliate you interiorly each day”, not to punish you, but to humble your heart; to attain perfection! We are not born saints, it’s a process. A wise friend just told me, “Our Lord likes the process”, whereas we like the outcome.
Lent is not about what we appear to do on the outside. It is all about letting Him fashion our hearts and our interior to become “meek and humble”, like Him. Maybe once, each day this Lent (and even after Lent)- ask Our Lord and Our Lady, which part of this Litany do I need to work on? Let Them show you. I won’t sugarcoat it- praying this Litany hurts and it’s painful; it’s that good old fashioned martyrdoom of the heart! A martyrdom only They can see. Isn’t that kind of the point, though? Overtime, what might seem like a burden will turn to love. Love always requires a little battle or a certain heartache, but once attained you will no longer remember the pain, only the victory. Just like a mother giving birth to her child; in the process all she feels is the pain, but once that baby is in her arms, she says, “what pain?”