“Zeal for your house devours me” (Ps 69) – Reflection on the virtue of Vincentian Zeal

by | Jul 16, 2023 | Formation


The evangelist John saw in vision the fervour and the cooling; the apostolic journey made of fidelity and betrayal of the Church of Laodicea (Rev. 3, 14-22) and says: “I know your works, your toil and your constancy. You have endured much for my name’s sake without growing weary. You have endured much for my name, yet I have to reproach you, you have forsaken your former love!” The love of this Church for its Lord knew toil, sweat, persecution, abuse and blood. In spite of everything, it was a Church that had been able to resist many temptations, but all the negative experiences of its faith journey had made it forget its love: the heart of this Church had grown cold! John puts it into Jesus’ mouth and makes this Church say it this way: you see that you are not like before because before you loved me more; before you made more sacrifices for me and were more generous; before you were ready to put your life on the line and compromise your life for me; yes before you were ready to go up on the cross for Him and for my Kingdom; now you are no more. Now, you have forgotten your first love. You look resigned, disappointed and frustrated. He concludes with an exhortation to: “get up, repent, and walk”.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC # 1803): virtue is a habitual and firm disposition to do good … the end of a virtuous life consists in becoming like God’. In recent decades, the Congregation of the Mission seems to be showing signs of fatigue in its historically zealous legs and is going out on mission (popular traditional and mission ad gentes). Its zeal is less enthusiastic than before. As the CCC says, if the aim of all the evangelical virtues is to make us similar to God, the virtue of zeal for us Vincentians, makes us similar to Jesus: missionary par excellance, the C.M. rule since the charisma of the C.M. is “to continue the work of the Son of God on earth”. John’s exhortation to the Church of Laodicea to get up and walk also applies to us, the children of CM.


  • “The zeal of your house devours me,” prays the Psalmist. The book of Proverbs also states: zeal (anxious desire) without knowledge (without reflection) is not a good thing (19:2). Thus, zeal without knowledge is a running wild, an apostolate without substance, a journey for the sake of walking. Scripture encourages us to have a heart full of God’s love capable of setting the hearts of the world, of our neighbour, on fire. In the language of our founder, this zeal is the flame of a heart in love with God. “For,” says St Paul, “I testify to them that they have a zeal for God” (Rom 10:2).
  • Jesus’ disciples are asked for zeal. “As for zeal, do not be slothful” (Rom 12:11). The Lord exhorts each of us by saying, “be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). Of course, there is also unhealthy zeal, such as that of Paul the Apostle before his conversion: “he was extremely zealous in the traditions of the fathers” (Galatians 1:14). Paul, however, justifies himself by saying: “I was acting out of ignorance, in my unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13). However, it takes healthy zeal, the expression (flame) of a heart madly in love with Jesus. Only a heart in love with God can set the world on fire. Therefore, to us, as to the Hebrews, the Lord recommends: “We desire that each one of you show the same zeal to the end, to make certain the fullness of hope” (6:11). In what should we be zealous? Zealous for the Gospel and for doing good: “who will harm you if you are zealous for good?” (1 Peter 3:13). The FV in general and the C.M. in particular need to awaken their zeal for Jesus, for the poor, for the local church and its clergy. To do this, it needs to be existentially united and in love with Him.


  • Zeal is one of the characteristic virtues of Vincentians. Who wants to follow Christ and continue His mission on earth, needs more than any other virtue, zeal. The Vincentian Family needs to imitate the zeal of Jesus to be able to continue His mission on earth: who went about doing good and healing all (Acts 10,38). The virtue of zeal must spur the members of the C.M. to be and to do more like the Church of Loadicea. It needs a fervent zeal. This virtue, of course, concerns all of us and all areas of our lives: thoughts, desires, pastoral actions and community life; a fervour of gratuitous love capable of changing the world.
  • What is the virtue of zeal for SV? Zeal is “the flame” of a heart burning with love. In the words of St Vincent: ‘If love is a fire, zeal is its flame’; If love is a sun, zeal is its ray’. As a “flame” he intends to set the heart of the world and his neighbour ablaze with love. The missionary, therefore, if he is rooted in the love of God, zeal, that is, his flame is a natural result. This flame starts from a heart burning with love and is directed towards his neighbour: the love of God and neighbour.
  • What are the enemies of zeal:
    • The ultimate goal of the zeal of which we speak is the salvation of souls; this virtue requires compassion, absolute availability, generosity and many sacrifices and renunciations on our part. Above all, for us missionaries, it requires a spiritual and human sensitivity to the needs of the poor (spiritual and corporal).
    • The main enemy of this virtue is “love bent in on itself”. And it is the main adversary of our spiritual and apostolic life. This selfish, self-centred love is concerned with its own comfort zone and convenience. It is a worldly love contrary to Paul’s advice: “do not be conformed to this world” (Rom 12:2). This self-bent love makes us prey to individualism, pride and conceit, laziness, and idleness. We cannot have fiercer enemies than these in our personal and community life.


St. Vincent reminded us that our evangelisation requires a renewed ardour of love and a living witness to the truth of the Gospel lived in active charity. We are called to unite affective and effective love: to be contemplatives in action! Although it is not St Vincent’s, the following phrase, ”Carthusians at home and apostles in the country” expresses well the underlying idea St Vincent had about his community: ”we must all be God’s and given over to the service of our neighbour; we must give ourselves to God for this, consume ourselves for this, give our lives for this, undress ourselves, so to speak, to clothe him” (EP 188).

If love is fire, zeal is the flame (SV); zeal is contrary to ‘lukewarmness and mediocrity’. The lukewarm resembles an untilled vineyard, a house without doors. For us too, then, to have zeal means nothing other than to live with a burning love for God and a passion for the service of man, our neighbour. “His disciples remembered that it is written, ‘Zeal for your house will devour me,’” says Jn 2:17. It will always be essential to cultivate all the virtues, including the virtue of zeal, practising them with ‘gentleness and humility’.

Fr. Zeracristos Yosief, C.M.
Source: https://cmglobal.org/