To say #IamVincent means to live a life of virtue. Actually, it means to live a life of five essential virtues. The fifth is Zeal: the virtue of passion.
With a desire to encourage love and respect for the poor, the Rule of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society refers to zeal as the fifth essential virtue that the members are exhorted to practice. Zeal is viewed as a passion for the full flourishing and eternal happiness of every person (Rule, 2.5.1). Therefore, it is a virtue that has a twofold dimension: earthly and heavenly. The members are concerned about the integral well-being of their fellow human beings and view that well-being from the perspective of the fullness of life … a reality to which we aspire in eternity.
Viewed positively, zeal has a certain connotation of great kindness. From a religious perspective, dictionaries define zeal as a great interest in some person or in some cause. Again, restricting ourselves to a religious perspective, zeal is a passion for the cause of Christ, a passion to extend the kingdom of God and a passion to make all people aware of the gift of universal salvation. The Diccionario de la Real Academia states that zeal is an extreme yet effective love for the glory of God and the well-being of souls.
Whatever the case might be, that which distinguishes zeal is the intensity of its intent. We are dealing with a great concern, a passion for a cause, an extreme yet effective love. Zeal is a virtue that encompasses all of one’s senses, ideas and affections and places them at the service of an ideal. Thus, all of one’s life receives meaning as it becomes more closely related to that ideal and loses value when the ideal or the virtue weakens. Zeal, then, is not some mere sentiment or an occasional outburst. Rather it is a constantly increasing force that is nourished by love and is rooted in effective action in service of God and God’s kingdom. In our cultural tradition zeal is not seen as referring to just any cause, but does refer to the glory of God and the well-being of souls.
Viewed from that perspective, zeal is the great virtue of the charism of evangelizers … and as such is the great virtue of those who participate in the Vincentian charism. Thus, zeal is intimately related to the spirit of the charity and mission. In other words, zeal is a dynamic that is incited by charity and is also a force or an energy that impels people to engage in the mission. Vincent de Paul stated very clearly: if love of God is a fire, zeal is its flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray (CCD:XII:250). Therefore, people who are possessed by God’s love, will never rest; in the very depths of their being, they experience a burning desire that leads them to act. From the perspective of Christian iconography, we can come to a deeper appreciation of this virtue when we view the image of Saint Francis Xavier with his chest enflamed by missionary zeal … a zeal which impelled him to travel from one place to another as a result of his desire to gain souls for Christ.
Frederic Ozanam was a man of deep faith who was greatly energized by this virtue of zeal. He stated: The earth has grown cold. It is for us Catholics to revive the vital beat to restore it. Frederic was convinced that the work of restoration was not the exclusive task of religious. He had no doubt that the laity were intimately related to the priests as they engaged in the work of universal redemption. Thus, Frederic understood the Christian vocation as a commitment to the Church’s mission. It was for that reason that Frederic committed himself to the university environment where he was able to instill in young people the Christian spirit. His words are especially valid today … he stated that young people had to be shown that it was possible to be Catholic and to be a person of common sense, possible to love religion and liberty. How did Frederic achieve such a conviction and where did he find the strength of those convictions? There is no doubt that those convictions arose from his passionate faith in the God of Jesus Christ and his passionate desire to recreate society in accord with Christian principles.
In light of the witness of Saint Vincent and Frederic Ozanam, in light of the example of Jesus Christ who was totally committed to the mission because his only food was to do the will of the Father (John 4:36), in light of the words of the Apostle, Paul who stated: for me life is Christ (Philippians 1:21) and in light of the fact that evangelization is not an obligation that is imposed but one that originates in the interior of the human person … in light of all of this, it becomes clear that the virtue of zeal is rooted in the reality of love.
We often view love as an emotional outburst or some tender feeling. Yet love is more closely related to energy than to feeling, more closely related to a dynamic movement than affective feelings. True, love involves all of this: affective feelings, tenderness, energy and a dynamic movement … nevertheless, love is very closely related to creativity and concern. Plato said that love is a belief in beauty because lover enkindles the imagination, awakens intuition, activates one’s sensitivity and generates a more beautiful and more human reality. Love enkindles an interest in others, helps one to focus on those who are loved and makes people passionate about the well-being of their neighbour. Here we are referring to a passion that makes individuals concerned about the salvation of their brothers and sisters who are in need, enables them to share in their life and at the same times enables the poor and the needy to participate in our life. The motto of the Daughters of Charity summarizes all that we have been saying: the love of Jesus crucified urges us (2 Corinthians 5:14). In other words, we are referring to a charity that arises from the love of God and impels us to be passionate about those who are poor.
Because of its charism of charity and mission, Vincentians are called to on-going growth in the practice of this virtue of zeal. At this time of the new evangelization, all the members of the various conferences are called to participate in the mission of the Church by committing themselves more and more to the practice of charity. That implies a great passion for God and for God’s special loved ones, the poor. Thus, we must become involved in cultivating a series of qualities that will reflect our zeal.
- An ardent faith rooted in Jesus that enables us to commit ourselves to the process of evangelization and then, through our personal witness, enables us to involve other people in this same evangelizing mission.
- Total availability that results from surrendering ourselves to the will of God. This in turn enables us to place ourselves at the disposition of the Church and to give witness to the gospel in every situation in which we might find ourselves.
- A missionary urgency that originates in the pulsating heart of those persons who have been won over for Christ and who are dedicated to extending God’s kingdom.
- A passionate love of God, our Father and an equally passionate love for the poor, our brothers and sisters … a love that arises from the depths of our being; a love that expands and reaches out; a love that reveals our commitment; a love that is enflamed.
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM