Wholehearted Prayer in Humility

Nov 8, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

I so appreciate when our Resilient Catholics Community members reach out to me with their struggles, allow me to accompany them into their inner worlds and to be with them.  Part of that “being with” involves listening to their questions and concerns.  Recently an RCC member whom I will call Beatrice (not her real name) sent me a message with questions related to her struggles with the Litany of Humility attributed to Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val y Zuelta (1865-1930). Beatrice agreed to share her questions and my responses in today’s weekly email:

Hi Dr. Peter,

I wondered if you could address a struggle of mine that keeps coming up with my parts when I pray. It’s related to the Litany of Humility. I struggle with pride and have prayed this prayer on and off for many years. After diving into parts work in the RCC, however, praying this prayer has become unsustainable. 

It seems to me that most of this prayer is praying against having my attachment needs and integrity needs met. e.g., “from the fear of being forgotten…deliver me Jesus”…don’t I want and desire to be seen, known, understood and valued? I’ve had to change the words to make them more grounded in attachment to Jesus in order to make praying it more bearable, e.g. “From the desire of being extolled…by anyone other than you, Jesus….deliver me, Jesus.” But I also know that in a sense, we also need others to see us and attune to us, too. Also, if one were to be delivered from all these desires and fears, would that not make them less human?

Praying this litany also seems to make my exiles even more out of reach and my protectors stronger at keeping them “off limits.” And then my shame bearing part and Catholic standard bearer jump in because, “how can I be a good, faithful Catholic and try to grow in humility, to modulate my desires and not react to all my fears if I can’t even pray THE prayer that the Church holds up as the solution to the deadly sin of pride? What am I missing here? I feel stuck.

Thank you for all you do!

First off, thank you for writing, Beatrice.  Thank you for connecting with your parts and for bringing them with you into your prayer.  Thank you for your earnest desires to connect with Jesus and to be humble.  And thank you for sharing this part of your story with us.  This weekly reflection will offer a long answer to your short questions.

I have rolled up my sleeves and am ready to delve into several themes that you raised. I will start by defining our terms and looking at the “big picture.”

What is prayer?

Let’s start with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part IV which is entirely dedicated to prayer (and is excellent nourishment for souls and hearts).  In paragraph 2558, the CCC defines prayer as “…a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God.”  Let’s hold on to that.  Prayer is a living and intimate relationship, a closeness with our God.  That’s what we are invited to experience in prayer, even when subjectively it doesn’t feel that way.

The CCC in 2558 quotes St. Thérèse of Lisieux who wrote: For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” and in 2559, St. John Damascene’s famous line, “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God…”  Prayer is all about your personal relationship with God; I discuss this at length in weekly reflection from January 4, 2023 titled The Secret Psychological Reasons We Fail to Make Time for Prayer.

And what is humility? 

Fr. John Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary defines humility as:

The moral virtue that keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and leads people to an orderly love of themselves based on a true appreciation of their position with respect to God and their neighbors. Religious humility recognizes one’s total dependence on God; moral humility recognizes one’s creaturely equality with others. Yet humility is not only opposed to pride; it is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which would fail to recognize God’s gifts and use them according to his will.

Humility invites us to love ourselves in an ordered way, so that we can love our neighbor and God better, realizing our complete existential dependence on God, and appreciating Him for who He is and ourselves for who we are.  The etymological root of humility is the Latin “humus,” meaning soil or ground.  Humility requires us to be grounded in reality, in what actually is.

In the CCC, paragraph 2559, we learn that “…humility is the foundation of prayer.” Thus, your prayer is best grounded in humility, grounded in reality, grounded in who God is, and appreciating who you are.

But in our fallen human condition our prayer is not often grounded in these ways.

How we usually pray…

After having been invited into the inner worlds of hundreds of faithful Catholics, I firmly believe that for most of us, our spiritual lives are usually governed not by our innermost selves, but by one, two or three spiritual manager parts of us.  These spiritual manager parts are like officers on the deck of our ship, who have forced all our other parts into the hold, and then nailed down the hatches so that these “unwanted” parts don’t interfere with prayer time.

Some readers might ask, “And what are these ‘parts’ of which you speak, Dr. Peter?”  Here’s my description:

Parts are enduring constellations of emotions, body sensations, guiding beliefs and assumptions, typical thoughts, intentions, desires, attitudes, impulses within us; each part has an interpersonal style, and a worldview.  Each of your parts experiences prominent attachment and integrity needs, each part has a role within your internal system, and when a part of you dominates or blends with you, you will see the world through that part’s perspective.  Each part also has a particular attachment style and a different God image.  Parts have accidental but not substantial form, and are often subjectively experienced as distinct personalities within the person, but parts are not ontologically separate from the person.

For more on parts check out my Interior Integration for Catholics podcast episodes 71, titled A New and Better Way of Understanding Myself and Others and episode 116, titled Why a Single Personality is Not Enough as well as two weekly reflections from our Souls and Hearts philosopher-in-residence Monty De La Torre, Ph.D. titled On the Metaphysics Of The Human Person and On the Metaphysics of Human Formation.

Different parts of us focus meeting the different attachment needs and integrity needs that we have.  As part of our spiral learning, let us briefly review the attachment needs and the integrity needs that so often animate the desires and impulses of our parts.

The six attachment needs:

  • Safety: My need to feel a sense of safety and protection in relationship
  • RecognitionMy need to feel seen, heard, known, and understood
  • ReassuranceMy need to feel comforted, soothed, and reassured
  • DelightMy need to feel cherished, treasured, delighted in by the other
  • LoveMy need to feel that the other has my best interests at heart, holds a position of benevolence and beneficence toward me.
  • Belonging: My need to feel included, of being a valued member of a community with an important role

The six integrity needs:

  1. Survival: My need to exist and to survive
  2. Importance: My need to matter in the world, to be significant
  3. Agency: My need for autonomy, to be able to exert influence on others and to make at least a small difference the world
  4. Goodness: My need to be good in my essence, in my person, to experience a sense of ontological goodness, not just that my actions are functionally useful
  5. Mission: My need for mission, purpose, and a vision to guide my life
  6. Authentic expression: My need to share and communicate with others what is true and real within me rather than pretend otherwise

You can find out a lot more about the attachment needs and integrity needs in episode 62 of the IIC podcast titled Unmet Attachment Needs and Unmet Integrity Needs and in the weekly reflection from October 12, 2023 titled How to Help Your Parts Get Their Needs Met by Working with Daydreams and from September 6, 2022, titled The Top 10 Needs That Fuel Modern-Day Idol Worship.

The spiritual manager parts who oversee our spiritual lives have good intentions for us – they want to help us.  But if these parts are not in right relationship with our innermost selves, their efforts end up working at cross-purposes with our highest good.  We see that phenomenon in Beatrice, when she describes how her Catholic Standard Bearer (a spiritual manager part) becomes critical and even condemning of her for the difficulties her exiled parts’ experience when she prays the Litany of Humility.

Beatrice realizes that to some of her parts, praying the Litany of Humility feels akin to denying them, especially her exiles and their attachment need of recognition, of being seen, heard, known, and understood.

A desire to be loved

Another person reached out to me about her exiled parts’ difficulties in asking to be freed or delivered from the desire of being loved (the third line), in a way that feels like it is denying our God-given attachment need to be loved, to feel that the other has her best interests at heart, holding a position of benevolence and beneficence toward her.

This was a major issue for the author of the article Understanding the Litany of Humility: What’s Wrong with Desiring Love? who wrote that: “Without fail, I hesitate before (and sometimes even contemplate skipping) that unsettling 3rd line: ‘From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.’ Verbally dismissing love in this manner instinctually sends me into a panic.” 

Her reaction makes so much sense to me, as her exiled parts may be reacting against losing the possibility of being loved, forcing the elimination of the desire to be loved, and facing the possibility of never being loved in a way they might recognize, all in the name of humility and holiness.

Parts in this position need to be met where they are, accepted for who they are, in their needs and wounds, and not be rigidly subjected to some spiritual Procrustean bed in a one-size-fits-all-parts spirituality.  I can almost hear a monotone internal command from a part contradicting this idea: “We must pray the Litany of Humility as it is written, according to the protocol and that will make us humble.”  Yet our distrusting parts first need pre-evangelization, a term that Sherry Weddell defined in Chapter 5 of her book Forming Intentional Disciples:

Without some kind of bridge of trust in place, people will not move closer to God.

The first task of evangelization is to find out if a bridge of trust already exists.  If this trust does not already exist, then our first job as an evangelizer is to help build that bridge.

We earn such trust primarily through relationships: through the integrity, compassion, warmth, and joy of our own life and faith.

…for someone at this very early threshold, it is far more important that trust exist than that it make logical sense. Our job at this point is to affirm, strengthen, and if possible, broaden whatever trust exists.

Weddell is writing about evangelizing other people; I take this concept of pre-evangelization inside, calling it inner pre-evangelization, reaching out to the parts of us, parts within our own internal systems who are alienated from God, suspicious of God, frightened by God, angry at God, disappointed in Him, or who for any reason, distrust Him.  You can read more about inner pre-evangelization in my December 1, 2021 reflection titled Inner Pre-Evangelization: A Focus on Internal Trust.

Remember that many of our parts experience themselves as very young, often stuck at the age when they took on burdens of overwhelming experience or extreme protective roles to prevent overwhelming experiences from flooding us and incapacitating us.  I believe that many parts of devout, practicing Catholics do not know God well, and have little access to the virtue of faith within them because of the inner fragmentation caused by sin and trauma.  Why? Because the spiritual manager parts have deemed these parts as unacceptable to God, and have suppressed these “undesirable” parts into the unconscious.

But that’s not what God asks of us.

A total love

In the first Great Commandment, Jesus tells us in Luke 10:27:  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  To love God with all of you, with every fiber of your being.  I understand this commandment as a call to love God with all my parts.

Not just my spiritual managers, who manage my spiritual life.

Not just with the parts of me that those spiritual managers deem “acceptable” to God, who are OK to put in the store window for Him.

But also the parts locked away in the back room, those parts that might not seem acceptable – my inner lost sheep, my inner tax collectors, the blind parts of me, the lame ones, my inner lepers and those struggling with disbelief and a lack of trust.  Jesus came into the world to reach out to these kinds of people, and I argue, to reach out to these kinds of parts within us.

So that we can love Him back wholeheartedly.

“Dadism” warning:  In my family, “dadisms” are my expressions or phrases that include, but are not limited to, cringey plays on words, bad puns, and one-liners that my pre-teen and teenage children find corny, hokey, overdone, and vaguely irritating, but with just enough obvious humor that they can’t help but smile, just a little, in spite of themselves.

I tested the following dadism out on my 17-, 13-, and 10-year-old children yesterday at lunch, and received in response three eye-rolls, one sigh, one groan, one headshake and one comment, “That was really bad…” and three small smiles, so I have verification from empirical testing that what I am about to share with you is a dadism of high quality.

We know that that our Lord so desires us to love Him wholeheartedly – and I see this as loving Him… wait for it… wholepartedly!  (That is, with all our parts.)

[Excuse me a moment while I laugh with relish at my own dadism.  Nota bene:  Laughing at my own dadism and explaining it (as I did for you in the previous paragraph) are all essential parts of a properly executed dadism.]

The point of all this is that when we pray, let’s try to include all of ourselves, all of our parts, and not pray in a way that alienates our parts – as Beatrice describes happening to her when she prays the Litany of Humility which, “seems to make my exiles even more out of reach and my protectors stronger at keeping them “off limits.”” 

Praying with parts is like praying with a gaggle of children

In Matthew 19:14, our Lord told us “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  The apostles were trying to keep the messy, noisy, unpresentable little ones away from Jesus.  But in doing so, those gatekeeping apostles were preventing Jesus from immediately experiencing the awe, wonder, curiosity, humility, candor, transparency, questioning, dependence, playfulness, and vulnerability of these children.

Luke 15:1-2, the Gospel for tomorrow’s daily Mass, reads: The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus wants to connect with our inner tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes and addicts, the undesirables, the untouchables within us.  Jesus welcomes sinners.  All parts of sinners.  Jesus welcomes your parts in the same way.  He wants all of you in relationship with Him.

You might imagine praying “wholepartedly” as your innermost self leading and guiding a small daycare – with parts of different ages, different levels of engagement, different positions, inviting these little ones into relationships with a visitor, Jesus.  With little ones, we work in a way that is developmentally appropriate and attuned.  Forcing your parts to pray in ways that they experience as violating their integrity or depriving them of the hope of getting their attachment needs met is unlikely to attract them toward God.  The artwork in the header captures Beatrice’s innermost self accompanying her parts in prayer in an attuned way, helping them connect with Jesus and Mary.

Let’s change it up…

My Challenger part want to gently push back on Beatrice’s description of the Litany of Humility as “…THE prayer that the Church holds up as the solution to the deadly sin of pride.”  First off, the Litany of Humility is not approved by the Catholic Church for public recitation – it’s not one of the six litanies allowed for communal worship.  The Litany of Humility (along with many other litanies) are fine for private devotion, but many, many other prayers could help us with humility.

Secondly, many other people have found the Litany of Humility as it is written to be unattuned and have altered the wording.  Catholic psychologist Raymond Lloyd Richmond argues that praying this litany should be “done in a psychologically healthy manner” in this article, and he rewords parts of litany in his “adapted version to make the psychological meaning of humility understandable for the contemporary reader.”  Valerie Keinsley, in her Blessed Is She article titled How to Pray the Litany of Humility describes how write your own litany or add extra lines to the existing litany that fit you.

I take my hat off to Fr. Joseph Marin Hagan, O.P., who in his article A Thomistic Litany of Humility described how the Litany of Humility raised questions for him and some of his fellow Dominican friars, along with a need to make some crucial distinctions (like Dominicans do).  So those Dominicans wrote their own—Yay for Dominicans!  And two of my manager parts, my Good Boy and my Evaluator (who also need to make distinctions) just love the totally revised litany that these Dominicans wrote.  Why? Because it fits these parts much better, the revised litany is much clearer theologically, much more precise, and frankly, in my opinion, a much more resonate prayer, a prayer that helps my manager parts connect with Jesus much more readily than the original version, and does not alienate any of my exiled parts.

Circling back…

Let’s remember what prayer is: “…a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God.”  [CCC, 2558].

When we pray, let’s use means that foster a vital and personal relationship with God.  Let’s dare to try new ways of connecting and relating, as we do in any other important relationship where we seek deeper intimacy and connection.   Let’s relate with all of our parts as they are right now – God invites our parts to “come as they are.”

When I’m really blended with parts or feeling fragmented and unrecollected inside, parts of me have difficulty not only with the original Litany of Humility, but also with the Litany of Loreto and the Litany of St. Joseph, especially the opening lines where parts feel like they are begging Jesus to hear me; that kind of asking or requesting to be heard feels like Jesus doesn’t want to listen to me and needs to be nagged or cajoled or bothered into paying attention.  So when I am in that situation, I am much better off praying the Litany of Trust by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, SV or the Litany of Self-Love by Micole Amalu who works in the human formation corner of the vineyard with her outreach The Face of Mercy.

My primary go-to litanies when my parts are really struggling are the Litanies of the Heart by Souls and Hearts co-founder Gerry Crete – the Litany of the Closed Heart, the Litany of the Fearful Heart, and the Litany of the Wounded Heart.  These litanies were written with parts’ attachment needs and integrity needs in mind, attuned not only to spiritual realities, but also to natural realities, human formation deficits and issues that we so commonly face.  In contrast to “From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus,” they Litanies of the Heart all read: “Lord Jesus, you created me in love and for love. Bring me to a place of vulnerability within the safety of your loving arms. Help me today by transforming my [closed, fearful, or wounded] heart into a heart that can love you, myself, and my neighbor as you intend.”

Check out our Litanies of the Heart landing page for downloadable PDFs, audio versions, and our Litanies of the Heart Guide, all available in English and Spanish.

For more weekly reflections on parts and prayer check these out:

January 4, 2023 The Secret Psychological Reasons We Fail to Make Time for Prayer

January 11, 2023 Distraction and Prayer: Satan, Symptoms, or Something Else?

January 18, 2023 Distractions in Prayer: When our Parts Cry for Help

January 25, 2023 Distracted Prayers: Hidden Reasons for Avoiding God

May 31, 2023 The Baptism of Jesus: Illuminating Parts through the Luminous Mysteries

Jun 7, 2023 The Wedding at Cana: Illuminating Parts through the Luminous Mysteries

June 14, 2023 Proclamation of the Kingdom: Illuminating Parts through the Luminous Mysteries

June 21, 2023 The Transfiguration of Jesus: Illuminating Parts through the Luminous Mysteries

June 28, 2023 The Institution of the Eucharist: Illuminating Parts through the Luminous Mysteries

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Dr. Gerry on the air…

Last week, our Dr. Gerry was on the Catholic Morning Show by Iowa Catholic Radio to discuss the upcoming release of his new book and the anthropological and clinical aspects of Internal Family Systems, parts work, all grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person with a discussion of secure attachment and prayer.  Check out the 13-minute episode here.

Be With the Word for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Join Dr. Gerry and me for our 40-minute episode titled Some Things Can’t Wait Until The Last Minute where we discuss how we are called by Wisdom, or the Holy Spirit, to grow in virtue and our relationship with God over the course of our lives. We also explore the common psychological impediments that get in our way to responding to that call.  Those Mass readings are here.

The Interior Integration for Catholics podcast

Episode 125 of the IIC podcast titled “Borderline personality” according to the conventional secular experts released last Monday, November 6, 2023.  Episode 125 focused on the internal experience of borderline personality dynamics, what it feels like.  Next, I shared how “borderline” is a relatively new diagnosis, and previously indicated a range of personality development, rather than a specific disorder. I then discussed the standard diagnostic criteria from the DSM-5 and the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual, 2nd Ed., summarizing the symptoms in plain English. I explored the etiology or the origin of “borderline personality” and the underlying unmet attachment needs that fuel borderline dynamics. I described different subtypes of borderline presentations and explored the types of partners to whom those with borderline dynamics are romantically attracted. From there, I described five major treatment approaches and briefly discussed an outcome study. In closing, I reviewed some suggestions for living with someone who presents with borderline characteristics.

Register here to join Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Gerry Crete and Dr. Peter on Zoom on Wednesday evening, December 13, 2023 from 7:30 to 9:00 PM Eastern time for Episode 128 titled “Relating well with family members with ‘borderline’ dynamics.”  Dr. Gerry and I will have a 15 to 20-minute conversation followed by a Q&A.

The Resilient Catholic Community

“No man is an island.”  So sayeth John Donne in his 1624 poem.  Let’s work on our human formation together, let’s journey on a pilgrimage to shore up the natural foundation for our spiritual lives together.

That is what the RCC is all about.

The Resilient Catholics Community (RCC) is for you if you:

  • are a psychologically minded, faithful, orthodox Catholic who loves the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, especially the experiential exercises and want to learn to love yourself in an ordered way
  • are committed to spending time, energy, and resources on your own human formation
  • appreciate both the multiplicity and unitive aspects of the human person, informed by Internal Family System thinking and grounded in a Catholic worldview
  • have committed to personal, relational prayer with God and Mary, even if you struggle with it
  • deeply desire to come to God our Spiritual Father and Mary our Spiritual Mother with childlike trust and complete confidence, even if the prospect brings up fear or trepidation

Check out our 19-minute experiential exercise to help you discern about applying to the RCC.

Pray for me and Souls and Hearts

And, once again, I ask for your prayers.  All good things from Souls and Hearts come from God’s grace.  Please pray for Souls and Hearts, and especially keep those about to apply for the RCC – the ones who will be joining the 200+ current members in the great adventure of their human formation.  Thank you.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

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