Rorate Caeli

Epiphany: to work our our salvation is to distinguish ourselves from the rest of men

Jean-Baptiste Massillon,
Bishop of Clermont
The cause, my brethren, of truth being always unavailingly shown to us is that we judge not it by the lights which it leaves in our soul, but by the impression which it makes on the rest of men with whom we live: we never consult the truth in our heart; we consult only the opinions which others have of it. Thus, in vain doth the light of Heaven a thousand times intrude upon us, and point out the ways in which we ought to go; the very first glance which we afterward cast upon the example of others who live like us, revives us, and spreads a fresh mist over our heart. In those fortunate moments when we consult the sole truth of our own conscience, we condemn ourselves; we tremble over the future; we promise to ourselves a new life; yet, a moment after, when returned to the world, and no longer consulting but the general example, we justify ourselves, and regain that false security which we had lost. We have no confidence in the truth which the common example disproves; we sacrifice it to error and to the public opinion; it becomes suspicious to us, because it has chosen out us alone to favor with its light, and the very singularity of the blessing is the cause of our ingratitude and opposition. 

We cannot comprehend, that, to work out our salvation, is to distinguish ourselves from the rest of men; is to live single amidst the multitude; is to be an individual supporter of our own cause, in the midst of a world which either condemns or despises us; is, in a word, to count examples as nothing, and to be affected by our duty alone. We cannot comprehend, that, to devote ourselves to destruction, it requires only to live as others do; to conform to the multitude; to form with it only one body and one world; seeing the world is already judged ; that it is that body of the antichrist which shall perish with its head and members; that criminal city, accursed and condemned to an eternal anathema

Yes, my brethren, the greatest obstacle in our hearts, to grace and truth, is the public opinion. How many timid souls, who have not the courage to adopt the righteous side, merely because the world, to whose view they are exposed, would join against them! Thus, the king of Assyria dares not declare himself for the God of Daniel, because the grandees of his court would have reprobated such a step. How many weak souls, who, disgusted with pleasures, only continue to pursue them through a false honor, and that they may not distinguish themselves from those who set an example of them! Thus, Aaron, in the midst of the Israelites, danced around the golden calf, and joined them in offering up incense to the idol which he detested, because he had not the courage, singly, to resist the public error and blindness. Fools that we are! It is the sole example of the public which confirms us against truth; as if men were our truth, or that it were upon the earth, and not in heaven, that we ought, like the magi, to search for that rule and that light which are to guide us.

It is true, that, frequently, it is not respect for the world's opinion, but the sufferings and self-denials it holds out to us, which extinguish truth in our heart: thus, it makes us sorrowful, like that young man of the Gospel, and we do not receive it with that delight testified by the magi on seeing the miraculous star. They had beheld the magnificence of Jerusalem, the pomp of its buildings, the majesty of its temple, the splendour and grandeur of Herod's court; but the Gospel makes no mention of their having been affected by that vain display of human pomp: they behold all these grand objects of desire without attention, pleasure, or any exterior marks of admiration or surprise; they express no wish to view the treasures and the riches of the temple, as those ambassadors from Babylon formerly did to Hezekiah: solely taken up with the light of Heaven manifested to them, they have no eyes for any earthly object; guided by the truth alone which has enlightened them, every thing else is an object of indifference, or a burden to them; and their heart, viewing all things in their proper light, no longer acknowledges either delight, interest, or consolation to be found in any thing but the Truth.

Bishop Jean-Baptiste Massillon
Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

[Recess for several days.]