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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Hypocritical Humility in Charity
By Jean-Baptiste Massillon (1663–1742)
 
        
Translation of Joel Foote Bingham
  
  A similar heart-searching severity pervades the following chastisement, from the magnificent sermon on Alms-giving.

IN truth, there are few of those coarse and open hypocrisies which publish on the house-tops the merit of their holy deeds; the pride is more adroit, and never immediately unmasks: but what in the world, nevertheless, has less of the true zealot of charity, who seeks, like Jesus Christ, solitary and desert places to conceal his charitable prodigality! One hardly sees any of these ostentatious zealots who do not keep their eye out merely for miseries of renown, and piously wish to put the public into their confidence concerning their largesses; a good many means are sometimes taken to cover them, but nobody is sorry that an indiscretion has drawn them out; one will not seek the public eye, but one will be enraptured when the public eye overtakes us; and the liberalities which are unknown are almost regarded as lost.  1
  Alas! with their gifts on every side, were not our temples and our altars the names and the marks of their benefactors, that is to say, the public monuments of the vanity of our fathers and of our own? If one wished only the invisible eye of the heavenly Father for witness, to what good this vain ostentation? Do you fear that the Lord forgets your offerings? Is it necessary that he should not be able to glance from the depth of the sanctuary, where we adore him, without finding again the remembrance of them? If you propose only to please him, why expose your bounties to other eyes than his? Why shall his ministers themselves, in the most awful functions of the priesthood, appear at the altar—where they ought to bring only the sins of the people—loaded and clothed with marks of your vanity? Why these titles and inscriptions which immortalize on sacred walls your gifts and your pride? Was it not enough that these gifts should be written by the hand of the Lord in the Book of Life? Why engrave, on marble which will perish, the merit of an action which the charity of it was sufficient to render immortal?  2
  Ah! Solomon, after having reared the most stately and magnificent temple that ever was, had engraved on it only the awful name of the Lord, and took care not to mix the marks of the grandeur of his race with those of the eternal majesty of the King of Kings. A pious name is given to this custom; people believe that these public monuments allure the liberality of the faithful. But has the Lord charged your vanity with the care of attracting bounties to his altars? and has he permitted you to be a modest means that your brethren should become more charitable? Alas! the most powerful among the first believers brought simply, like the most obscure, their patrimonies to the feet of the apostles; they saw, with a holy joy, their names and their goods confounded with those of their brethren who had offered less than they; people were not distinguished then in the assemblies of the faithful in proportion to their benefactions; the honors and the precedences there were not yet the price of gifts and offerings; and one did not care to change the eternal recompense which was awaited from the Lord, into this frivolous glory which might be received from men: and to-day the Church has not privileges enough to satisfy the vanity of her benefactors; their places with us are marked in the sanctuary; their tombs with us appear even under the altar, where only the ashes of the martyrs should repose; honors even are rendered to them which ought to be reserved to the glory of the priesthood; and if they do not bring their hand to the censer, they at least wish to share with the Lord the incense which burns on his altars. Custom authorizes this abuse, it is true; but that which it authorizes, custom never justifies.  3
  Charity, my brethren, is that sweet odor of Jesus Christ which evaporates and is lost the moment it is uncovered. It does not cause to abstain from the public duties of benevolence; we owe to our brethren edification and example; it is a good thing for them to see our works, but we should not see them ourselves; and our left hand ought not to know the gifts our right distributes; the achievements even which duty renders the most brilliant, ought always to be secret in the preparations of the heart; we ought to entertain a kind of jealousy for them against others’ gaze; and not think their innocence sure, but when they are under the eyes of God alone. Yes, my brethren, the alms which have almost always rolled along in secret, have arrived much more pure into the bosom of God himself than those which, exposed even against our will to the eyes of men, have been somewhat befouled and disturbed on their course by the unavoidable complaisances of self-love and the praise of the spectators: like those streams which have almost always rolled under the ground, and which carry into the bosom of the sea waters living and pure; while, on the contrary, those which have traversed level and exposed tracts in the open ordinarily carry there only defiled waters, which are always dragging along the rubbish, the corpses, the slime which they have amassed on their route.  4
 
 
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