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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Frustration and Humility… Is there such thing as an “Act” of humility?

April 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Humility

Dear Father John, Your recent comments on frustration, impatience and the need for humility and how to grow in it have been insightful and practical.  Thank you so much!  However, I would like to know how you would advise going about making an “act of humility”.  I am familiar with the Litany of Humility, but I am thinking that there may be a shorter prayer that we could pray a lot, i.e., all the time!  Also, if you could include any additional pointers on the dispositions necessary to go along with such an act, I would be most appreciative.

This question is clearly a direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit: Where else could a desire to make “acts of humility” have come from?  I will try to share some thoughts that will help you follow this beautiful inspiration.

Traditional Catholic spirituality often uses the phrase “act of” when referring to a particular type of prayer.  You have probably heard or read about an “act of faith” or an “act of hope” or an “act of love.”  The term can be traced back to the Latin verb “agere,” which has the past participle form of “actum” (it’s always good to review our grammar!).  That verb is juicy.  “Agere” means about a dozen different things in Latin, but the core sense of the word is to put into motion, to focus energy upon.  Our word “action” is derived from this root.  So, when we make an “act of faith,” we put into action, in a conscious way, the virtue of faith. An act of faith, in this sense, is an activation of our belief, a focused assertion of our assent to what God has revealed as true.

An act of humility is the same conscious activation of the virtue of humility, a focused assertion of our absolute dependence on God for existence, salvation, and growth in all that is good and healthy, naturally and supernaturally.  Your instinct that there may be short acts of humility (ready-made formulas that can help us make this conscious assertion frequently and energetically) is right on target.  All spiritual writers agree that we should frequently lift our hearts to God, even in the midst of our busy schedules.  In fact, the Church has attached a partial indulgence to the lifting of our hearts and minds to God during our daily activities, even for a brief moment.  This is how we stay in tune with our heavenly trajectory in life.

At the end of this post, I will include some formulas for acts of humility that you may like.  But I want to emphasize that the value of these types for formulaic prayers is not in the word themselves.  They are not magical incantations.  Rather, their value is in their ability to help us focus our minds on the deep truths that God has revealed to us in Christ.  They give us words to express our deepest convictions.  And every time we express those convictions consciously, really meaning what we say, we deepen them.  And it is from deep, mature Christian convictions that virtue can grow and flourish, that we can gradually learn to live in elegant and dexterous harmony with God’s unceasing action in and through our lives.

So, by all means, make frequent acts of humility, but when you find yourself falling into the empty or routine recitation, don’t be afraid to switch formulas, or to use your daily prayer time to compose a one yourself! (Yes, we are allowed to write our own prayers – sometimes these are the very best ones, because they come from the very depths of our experience of God.)

Some short prayers that can be used as acts of humility:

  • Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (This is known as the Jesus Prayer.)
  • Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on me! (From the Mass)
  • Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul will be healed. (From the Mass – adapted from the Centurion’s response to Jesus in Matthew 8:8.)
  • Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew within me a resolute spirit (Psalm 50:10).
  • Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you! (Prayer taught to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque by Jesus)
  • Jesus, I trust in you! (Prayer taught to St. Faustina by Jesus)
  • Lord Jesus, I want whatever you want, because you want it, the way you want it, as long as you want it (from the Universal Prayer attributed to Pope Clement XI).
  • Psalm 23, Psalm 131 (you may want to memorize these short and beautiful Psalms)

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, ThD

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at www.RCSpirituality.org and questions and answers on the spiritual life at www.RCSpiritualDirection.com. FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • Jay

    Great post, Father! Let me add a few by St. Ignatius of Loyola:
    http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/prs/stign/prayers.html

  • Cara

    Lord Jesus, I want whatever you want, because you want it, the way you want it, as long as you want it – I LOVE that prayer! Thank for you for this, the post, and this whole website. Always great reflection!

  • Rose Bauer

    I found your response very insightful, I never thought of impatience as being prideful. It really opened my eyes. Thank you.

    When I read your comment I took “act of humility” to mean an action. Like let some one ahead of you in line, let some else have the bigger piece of dessert, etc.

  • Ana

    Your answer has shed many great lights, one being, that those prayers: “Act of…” are actions! I understand the focusing of the spirit to God. I am moved to live these. Thank You for your words. They are a great help to me, especially in making prayer alive and active.

  • Guest

    How sad my laptop has been out of order these few days and I have missed these soul-lifting faith-building articles. Thank God, He has helped me to struggle and come on line again. This is the most helpful Article for me at the moment. Thank you Father, and God bless you

  • Cynthia

    I have spent the past few days internalizing this excellant post. It is rich with jewels for reflection! I had never considered using Psalms 23 & 131 as acts of humility…they have taken on a whole new light for me. Thank you Father.