The transition of presidential power is always a fascinating phenomenon, one I’ve watched on television since I was a child. Winners and losers are called upon to behave well, and in general on such a historic day, they do their best. We watch, commentators comment, and life for little people goes on.
We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly from every player on display. We’ve heard the good, the bad and the ugly from every mogul with a microphone. Would we handle such a grave occasion any differently if given the opportunity? Now that’s a thought worth pondering.
When I sense the judgmental barnacles building on my still too-prideful heart, I sometimes return to the Litany of Humility, a prayer attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry de Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X. And then I know how far I have to go. It’s the best examination of conscience I know for those who desire this virtue, foundation of all the others:
O Jesus! Meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase, and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
And in the context of the transfer of power we’re all observing, quick to judge the side we did not support for their so-observable failings, I was reminded of Dorothy L. Sayers’ observation in the introduction to Hell, Volume I of her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Writing of Dante’s placement of some public figures in Hell, Sayers comments:
Historians are fallible, and God alone knows the secrets of the heart…but in any case, we can scarcely be mistaken in saying: ‘That man represents the image of something in civilization which will corrupt and ruin civilization; of something in myself which (if I do not recognize and repent of it) will surely corrupt and ruin me.’
In this moment of winners, losers and all manner of mudslinging, this thought might be applied to whomever we’ve decided is the enemy of civilization. At some level or other, the enemy represents something in myself which I must recognize and of which I must repent.
I once created a playlist of every song I knew of that drew me into recognizing my inexhaustible need for humility. It includes three versions of the Litany of Humility. Here they are, and if you know of others, I’d love to hear from you.
Grant us the grace to desire it.