12: The Mercy of Humility

Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:1-4)

The Lord Jesus is giving us a very important instruction in this Gospel passage. He warns us about the need for human or societal praise, a praise that is in the end empty and devoid of God’s grace. How many times is a person praised for public works, done publicly, making themselves look just and charitable and at times even holy. But the deed or deeds are done either from selfishness, in order to be thought well of, or from a heart that is as empty as the public gesture.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminds of this truth in the Gospel:

The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” Jesus asserts, “so that your alms may be done in secret” (Mt 6,3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one’s own good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf. Mt 6,1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God’s greater glory. Jesus warns: “In this way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt 5,16). Everything, then, must be done for God’s glory and not our own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God “sees in secret” and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.” (Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2008, #3)

In this Holy Year of Mercy, let us make the prayer for the virtue of imitating the humility of the Blessed Virgin our own:

O God, who looks down upon the lowly and knows the heights from afar: grant that your children may with pure heart imitate the humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary; she who was pleasing to you in her virginity and in humility conceived our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son: Who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.