1. Zeal in what is good consists in working out one’s salvation with all earnestness and fervor.
Unless zeal springs from the love of God it is valueless. It must also be discreet, or it will do more harm than good. He whose zeal is without discretion is like a man who is gathering up the cockle in a field, roots up the wheat together with it (Matt. xiii. 29). Blind zeal is only pernicious. If Alexander the Great performed such great achievements for the sake of earthly renown, what ought not we to do, who aspire to eternal glory! We ought each day so to serve God as if it were the first day of our consecration to His service. We should be like the merchant, who never thinks he has made enough money, but is continually on the watch for fresh gains; or like the traveller who does not look back upon the way he has traversed but only onward to the goal before him. He who is zealous in what is good avails himself as far as he can of the means of grace the Church affords for his sanctification; he is assiduous at prayer, he frequently approaches the sacraments, he listens attentively to the Word of God, and reads spiritual books. He neglects no opportunity of doing good works; he never refuses an alms to the poor man, he conscientiously observes the fasts of the Church, he devotes his free time to prayer. Moreover he who is zealous in what is good cheerfully makes sacrifices for God; he is glad when he is ridiculed or persecuted for his faith; he rejoices in the sufferings that come to him from God; he will give up anything rather than commit sin; he is even ready to lay down his life for Christ, if need be. He who is zealous in what is good exerts himself also for the salvation of others. He strives to deter his subordinates, his friends, his relatives, from sin; he admonishes them and prays for them; he prays besides for the conversion of heretics and sinners; how much the saints did in this way! Zeal is like fire which spreads to all around, both far and near.
2. Without zeal in what is good we cannot be saved, for the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.
Our Lord says: “Not every one that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. vii. 21), and in another place He says: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Matt. xi. 12). Of those who run in a race only he who perseveres will receive the prize (1 Cor. ix. 24). Let us not imagine that it is an easy matter to be saved. Eternal felicity is spoken of as a kingdom, the city of God, the house of God, paradise, a crown. All these things can only be acquired by a fierce battle, or for a large sum. Only those who have had a long training can obtain a high salary. Yet the kingdom of heaven is bought cheaply; the price paid for it conies infinitely short of its value. Without zeal and energy nothing good can be accomplished. God allows obstacles to be placed in the way of every good work, to test our will. No good work can be performed without some sacrifice; no virtue can be gained without a struggle. “The greater violence thou offerest to thyself, the greater progress thou wilt make” (Imitation, Book 1, ch. 25). We cannot expect our prayers to be heard, unless we persevere in spite of all hindrances. Remember the example of St. Monica, and the blind man by the wayside (Luke xviii. 35).
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14. THE OPPOSITE OF ZEAL: SLOTH
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