Author: Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange
Source: The Three Ages of the Interior Life — Prelude of Eternal Life, Chapter 21
“I am come to cast fire on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?” — Luke 12:49
To show what charity should normally be in the illuminative way of proficients, we shall discuss the zeal which every Christian, especially the priest and religious, should have for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. If this zeal is lacking, or does not exist in the degree that it should manifestly have, it is an additional and at times striking sign of what our love of God and souls should normally be, of what the living, profound, radiating knowledge of the things of God should also be in us. Those whose duty it is spiritually to feed others, themselves need a substantial daily food, that to be had every day in intimate participation in the Sacrifice of the Mass, in Communion, and in prayer.
We have seen that love of neighbor is the extension or the radiation of the love we should have for God: this love should extend to the children of God. It is one and the same supernatural theological love; it is essentially divine, like grace, a participation in the inner life of God. This love should become so ardent in a fervent Christian soul as to merit the name of zeal. Especially for a soul consecrated to God, it is a duty to have zeal for His glory and the salvation of one’s neighbor. Basically it is one and the same zeal, the ardor of one and the same love, which should subsist, though not always sensible, in the midst of aridities and trials of all sorts, just as in the heart of a good soldier ardent love of country subsists in the most trying hours when he can only be patient and endure. Zeal is the ardor of love, but of a spiritual love of the will, which is at times proportionately more generous and meritorious as it is less felt.
We may with profit consider the motives of zeal, what its qualities should be, and the means to exercise it.
The Motives of Zeal
For every Christian the first motive of zeal is that God deserves to be loved above all things. This motive is not the object of a counsel, but of the supreme precept, which has no limits; it makes it our duty to grow continually in charity while on earth, to love the Lord with our whole heart, with our whole soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind. Even in the Old Testament the supreme precept was already formulated in the same terms. We know what zeal in corresponding to it was shown by the prophets, whose mission it was ceaselessly to remind the people of God of their great duties. The Psalmist says to the Lord: "The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up: and the reproaches of them that reproach Thee are fallen upon me." "My zeal hath made me pine away: because my enemies forgot Thy words. . . . I am very young and despised; but I forget not Thy justifications.” Elias, reaching Mount Horeb and being questioned by God about what he had done, replies: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant: they have thrown down Thy altars, they have slain Thy prophets with the sword, and I alone am left, and they seek my life to take it away.” It was then that the Lord told Elias that He was going to pass before him, and, after a violent wind and an earthquake accompanied by lightning, there was “the whistling of a gentle air,” the symbol of the divine gentleness; then the Lord gave the prophet His orders, and revealed to him that Eliseus was called to succeed him.
Likewise we read in the first book of the Machabees that the priest Mathathias, exhorting his sons to begin the holy war, said: “Phinees our father, by being fervent in the zeal of God, received the covenant of an everlasting priesthood. . . . Elias, while he was full of zeal for the law, was taken up into heaven. . . . Daniel in his innocency was delivered out of the mouth of the lions. . . . You therefore, my sons, take courage, and behave manfully in the law; for by it you shall be glorious.”
This zeal led Jesus to cast the buyers and sellers out of the temple and to overthrow their tables, saying to them: “It is written: ‘My house shall be called the house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.’ “ Especially after Pentecost, the apostles had this zeal; it led them all even to martyrdom. It still exists in the Church wherever the testimony of blood is given and in numerous lives consecrated to the service of God even to immolation. The first motive of zeal is, therefore, that God deserves to be loved above all and without measure.
The second motive of zeal is that we should imitate our Lord Jesus Christ. The predominant virtue of the Savior is zeal, the ardor of charity, as He Himself says: “I am come to cast fire [of charity] on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?” St. Paul writes: “Wherefore when He cometh into the world, He saith: ‘Sacrifice and oblation [of the Old Law] Thou wouldest not: but a body Thou hast fitted to Me. . . . Then said I: Behold I come . . . that I should do Thy will, O God.’ “ All during His life, our Lord offered Himself; at twelve years of age He announced that He came to be about His Father’s business. He offered Himself continually during His hidden life, showing us in what humility and abnegation truly divine works should be prepared. From the beginning of His public life, He saw the indifference of the Jews of Nazareth, who called Him the son of the carpenter, and He experienced the hatred of the Pharisees, which would increase even to the point of demanding His death on the cross. The Word of God came among His own to save them, and many of His own were not willing to receive Him; they did not wish to let themselves be saved. Opposition came from those who should least have opposed Him, from the priests of the Old Law, the prelude of the New. The suffering which this attitude caused the Savior was profound like His love of souls: it was the suffering of ardent and overflowing charity, which wishes to give itself and often meets only with indifference, inertia, lack of comprehension, ill will, and spiteful opposition.
This thirst for the glory of God and the salvation of souls was the great cause of the sorrow which the Savior experienced at the sight of the sins of men. It was also the cause of Mary’s suffering at the foot of the cross.
All His life long Christ felt this desire for the salvation of souls and continually carried this cross of desire; He aspired strongly to realize His redemptive mission by dying for us on the cross. For this reason He said at the last supper the night before He died: “With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you, before I suffer”; and then instituting the Eucharist, He said: “This is My body, which is given for you. . . . This is the chalice, the new testament in My blood, which shall be shed for you.” Christ desired with a great desire the accomplishment of His mission by the perfect sacrifice of Himself, by the most complete gift of self.
The suffering that accompanied this ardent desire ceased with His death on the cross, but this desire, this thirst for our salvation, still endures; He is “always living to make intercession for us,” especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass, which continues sacramentally that of Calvary. In the Eucharist our Lord continues to make His appeals heard and to give Himself to souls, even to repentant prisoners and criminals sentenced to death.”
This hunger and thirst for the salvation of sinners which is still living in the holy soul of Christ led St. Catherine of Siena to write to one of her spiritual sons: “I should like to see you suffer so greatly from hunger for the salvation of souls that you could die of it like Christ Jesus, that at least because of it you would die to the world and to yourself.” Such thoughts are to be found on every page of this great saint’s letters.
A third motive for our zeal is precisely the value of the immortal souls redeemed by the blood of Christ. Each of them is worth more than the entire physical universe, and each is called to receive the benefits of the redemption and eternal life. We should remember the zeal of the apostles who “went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus,” and who could say to the faithful, as St. Paul did: “I most gladly will spend and be spent myself for your souls; although loving you more, I be loved less.” Zeal prompted St. Paul to write: “We are buffeted, and have no fixed abode. . . . We are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it; we are blasphemed, and we entreat.” Zeal led the apostles even to martyrdom, and for three centuries after them the same was true of many bishops, priests, and laymen of every rank and age. The martyrs, whose heroism gave rise to numerous conversions, had such eminent zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls that it became an undeniable proof of the sanctity of the Church. If when a man’s country is in danger he loves it to the extent that he will sacrifice himself for it, with what greater reason should we love the Church which leads us to the eternal country, where all the just of all peoples should meet.
Lastly, a fourth motive of our zeal is the contrary zeal with which the enemies of the Church toil at works of disorder, corruption, and death. What should draw us out of our somnolence, is the impious, spiteful, satanic war waged against our Lord and our holy Mother the Church; a war surpassing all others, a war of the spirit, which is carried on in the innermost depths of hearts, even in the souls of little children, whom they desire to snatch from our Lord that they may make them reprobates and atheists. This war is indescribably perverse like the sins of the spirit; it is loaded down with crushing responsibilities. The Church sees the formidable consequences of this struggle on those who are intent upon it; it continues to pray for them, that God may cure their blindness and halt them on the road of damnation, into which they are dragging so many others with them.
The principal motives of zeal are consequently: the glory of God, the imitation of our Lord, the salvation of souls, and the relief of the souls in purgatory.
The Qualities of Zeal
Zeal, according to its definition, should be ardent since it is the ardor of love; but here is meant enduring spiritual ardor, and not a sudden impetus, sensible enthusiasm of temperament, natural activity eager to take outward form through personal satisfaction and the seeking after self which wearies others. That it may not lose any of its spiritual ardor and may preserve it for a long time, zeal should be free from all excessively human self-seeking; to be so, it must be enlightened, patient, meek, and disinterested.
Zeal should, first of all, be illumined by the light of faith, by that of obedience and Christian prudence, and also by the gifts of wisdom and counsel. The light of natural reason does not suffice, for it is a question of performing not only a human work, but a divine work, of laboring at the salvation and sanctification of souls with the means indicated by our Lord. Zeal animated only by the natural spirit, instead of converting souls to God, gradually allows itself to be converted by the world, to be seduced by high-sounding phrases devoid of meaning. It dreams, for example, of a future city and loses sight of the supernatural end of the true city of God which St. Augustine speaks of. This zeal, which is that of restless, blundering, ambitious people, is impulsive, unseasonable, and inopportune; it forgets the indispensable, supernatural means, prayer and penance, recalled by Mary Immaculate at Lourdes.
Especially in difficult circumstances, zeal should beg the Holy Ghost for the light of the gift of counsel, not that it should propose to do extraordinary things, but to accomplish as perfectly as possible the ordinary duties fixed by the wisdom of the Church and obedience: to say Mass well or to unite oneself intimately to it, to be faithful to prayer under its different forms, and to one’s duties of state. Sometimes heroic obedience may be demanded; should it be lacking, the greatest qualities of mind and heart would not suffice to compensate for its absence. Some servants of God, who were manifestly called to sanctity, seem not to have reached it because they lacked this heroic virtue.
Zeal should be not only enlightened, but also patient and meek. While preserving its ardor, and indeed in order to preserve it, zeal should avoid becoming uselessly irritated against evil, pouring itself out in vain indignation and sermonizing indiscriminately. The Gospel shows us that in the service of the Lord the Boanerges, or sons of thunder, as James and John were, become meek. Zeal should know how to tolerate certain evils in order to avoid greater ones and not itself turn to bitterness. What is only less good should not be cast aside as evil; the smoking flax should not be extinguished nor the broken reed crushed. We should always remember that Providence permits evil in view of a superior good, which we often do not yet see, but which will shine forth on the last day under the light of eternity.
To be patient and meek, zeal should be disinterested, and that in two ways: by avoiding appropriating to self what belongs only to God and what pertains to others. Some people are zealous for the works of God, but, motivated by unconscious self-seeking, they consider these works too much as their own. As Tauler says, they resemble hunting dogs that are eager in running down the hare, but that eat it after catching it, instead of bringing it back to their master; thereupon he whips them soundly. Thus these people keep for themselves the souls which they should win for our Lord, and as a result God punishes them severely to teach them to efface themselves, that He may act in them and through them. When they are less sure of themselves, less persuaded of their importance, and somewhat broken or at least more supple, the Lord will use them as docile instruments. They will then completely forget themselves in the hands of the Savior, who alone knows what is necessary to regenerate souls.
Let us not appropriate what belongs to others. Often we wish to do good, but we desire too greatly that we should do it in our way. We should not wish to do everything, or hinder others from working and being more successful than we are. Let us not be jealous of their success. Above all, we ought not to take upon ourselves the direction of souls that have not been entrusted to us; we ought to be on our guard not to take them away from a salutary influence, for the Lord might require a severe accounting from us in this matter. It is for Him we are working and not for ourselves. This is what He wished to make His apostles understand one day when they had been disputing among themselves about which was the greatest. He then asked them: “What did you treat of in the way?” But they did not dare to reply, and it was then that, “calling unto Him a little child, [He] set him in the midst of them, and said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” He wished to make them understand that their zeal should be humble and disinterested.
He wished to convince particularly the sons of Zebedee, James and John, of this when their mother came to Him and asked for them the first two places in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said to them: “You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to Him: We can. He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on My right or left hand, is not Mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by My Father. . . . And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many.” Thus our Lord taught the sons of Zebedee to dominate their natural ardor by humility and meekness, in order to transform it into a pure and fruitful supernatural zeal. Similarly He cures us sometimes by rebuffs and trials administered to our self-love and pride. He corrects us thus until we no longer wish to do our work; then, after permitting the lower part of our nature to be broken by events, and when selfishness has been overcome, He makes use of us for His work, the salvation of souls. Then zeal, though it preserves its spiritual ardor, is calm, humble, and meek, like that of Mary and the saints, and nothing can any longer crush it: “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
This zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls should be exercised by the apostolate under various forms: the apostolate by the teaching of Christian doctrine and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; the apostolate by prayer, which draws down divine grace to render fruitful the labor of those who toil in the Lord’s vineyard. When profound, this hidden apostolate is the soul of the exterior apostolate. Lastly, there should also be the apostolate by reparatory suffering; hidden, too, like that of prayer, it continues, as it were, in the mystical body of Christ the sufferings of Jesus during the Passion and on the cross for the regeneration of souls. When, in the mystical body of Christ, a member voluntarily suffers through love, another infirm member is healed, as in our human body painful remedies relieve infected organs, which then gradually resume their functions. When the servants of God immolate their bodies and hearts, the Lord spares the body of an unfortunate person whose strength is spent, or cures a sick heart which had not the courage to break its chains. When in the mystical body a generous soul sacrifices its own will, in another the Lord revives a dead will and grants it the grace of conversion.
Such are the qualities of zeal, which is the ardor of charity, an enlightened, patient, meek, disinterested, and truly fruitful ardor that glorifies God, imitates our Lord, snatches souls from evil, and saves them.
It is clear that this zeal should exist, that too often it is lacking, and that it is in the normal way of sanctity. But to subsist, it should be kept up by profound prayer, by prayer that is continual and like an almost uninterrupted conversation of the soul with God in perfect docility. We shall now discuss this docility and this prayer of proficients; it is this prayer that gave its name to the illuminative way in which the soul is more and more penetrated by the light of God.
The Sources of Spiritual Progress and Divine Intimacy
What we have just said about the progress of the moral and theological virtues leads us to speak of the sources of spiritual progress and divine intimacy. We shall do so by treating of what docility to the Holy Ghost, the discerning of spirits, the Sacrifice of the Mass, Holy Communion, devotion to Mary, should be for proficients. We shall finish Part III by examining the questions relative to the passage from acquired prayer to initial infused prayer, to the nature of infused contemplation, and to its progress.