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Zeal for Souls

The following excerpts were taken from The Paradise of the Soul: Forty-Two Virtues to Reach Heaven by Saint Albert the Great. Here, St. Albert the Great discusses the virtue of “zeal for souls”, how we can imitate Our Lord’s example in this virtue, the invaluable value of each soul, signs of genuine zeal and false zeal, and a prayer to attain this most necessary virtue.

Zeal For Souls

The virtue of “zeal for souls” may be said to be perfect when a person labors for the salvation of souls (both their own and those of others) with all his heart and all his efforts. These labors will be accompanied with holy meditations, fervent desires, tears, prayers, vigils, fasts, and other good works. According to the state of life of the person, it may also include efforts to exhort others in the Gospel, such as preaching, teaching, and the offering of spiritual counsel.

Following Our Lord’s Example

The example of our Lord Jesus Christ ought to encourage each of us to this holy zeal for souls. For in His own life, He exhibited passionate fervor for the conversion of sinners, for the perfection of the life of the virtuous, and for the recuperation of souls that were otherwise lost. So great was this fervor and zeal which animated Him that, in the end, He gave His own life-blood up in a most horrendous death in order to redeem souls for the kingdom of heaven and to restore them to love of the Father. Saint Bernard testifies that Christ was so ardent in His desire to save others that He disregarded completely the cost to Himself. How immense then was the zeal for souls which burnt within the Sacred Heart of Jesus! It was such that He poured forth His blood in torrents to save each one of us. Yet even one single drop of this most precious blood would have sufficed to redeem the entire human race!

The Incalculable Value Of Each Soul

Thus each soul is clearly of an incalculable value to God. The immensity of this value is something wholly beyond our comprehension; yet it was known perfectly to Christ, who is the Wisdom of God. Our failure to grasp and appreciate this great preciousness of our immortal souls is something about which Saint Bernard lamented, saying, “Alas, how little we consider the extraordinary value of our souls while we live in this present life and remain so negligent of the state and condition of our immortal soul. But the preciousness of our souls is easily demonstrated—for we need only consider what becomes of a human body once the soul, the principle of life, has departed from it! God considered our souls to be so important and precious that He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem them for Himself. And even the devil understands the pricelessness of the human soul—for he is willing to offer the entire world to purchase a single one!”

Two Signs Of Genuine Zeal 

  1. A sign of genuine and commendable zeal is when a person cares more for the winning of souls for Christ then he does about his own personal convenience, or even his life itself. King David exhibited such holy zeal when he cried out, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom my son! How I wish I could have given my life for your salvation!”200 And the apostle [Saint Paul] similarly wrote, “I would happily give myself, and give more than my own self, for your soul!”201 Again, he declares, “Each day I die, all for the sake of your glory, brothers and sisters!”202—meaning figuratively by this, “Each day I undergo the peril of death for the sake of the salvation of your souls.”
  2. A sure sign of genuine and holy zeal is when a person seeks in his labors to promote the glory of God more than to obtain any benefits or advancements for himself. There are certain types of holy work which require great effort, and yet carry some rewards and satisfactions—such as preaching, hearing confessions, leading a church or a community, et cetera. But, though there are rewards attached to such works, there are also many perils. On the other hand, there are other types of holy works (such as fasting, keeping vigils, and undertaking acts of penance) which bring no personal advancement or worldly rewards, but, on the other hand, contain very few perils or risks. A person motivated by genuine fervor will undertake both types of works with equal eagerness and dedication. On the other hand, a person whose zeal is not genuine will always incline more towards works of the first variety, since they are more visible and more likely to be received with the appreciation and approbation of others.

A Sign Of False Zeal 

A sign of false zeal or counterfeit fervor is when a person applies himself to spiritual duties more for the praise and rewards he will accrue than for saving souls. Sometimes people appear to be animated by zeal, but they labor more for gaining the friendship and favor of others than for advancing their sanctification and virtue. Such was definitely not the case for the apostle [Saint Paul], who said, “I do not seek to obtain your favor or your possessions, but your very selves.”

A Prayer To God For Zeal For Souls

Lord, mankind certainly does not properly appreciate the immense value of their own souls! Yet You have shown to us how greatly You value our souls—for You descended from the ineffable glory of heaven and underwent death on the cross, all for the sake of gaining our souls for Yourself. If You, O Lord, valued our souls so highly, should I regard them lightly, as things of no consequence? Heaven forbid!

Rather, should I not be fully ready to burn, or to melt, for the sake of the salvation of the souls of others? Shall holy zeal not consume my heart when I see human souls—for which You suffered agony on the cross—perish and be eternally lost?

My Lord and my King, inflame my heart with such holy zeal so that I may be ready both to live and to die for the salvation of my own soul, and those of my brothers and sisters. For in doing this, I shall imitate You, O Jesus, who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

This article is taken from a chapter in The Paradise of the Soul: Forty-Two Virtues to Reach Heaven by St. Albert the Great which is available from TAN Books



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