Our Vincentian virtue of zeal is more than simply enthusiasm or evangelical fervor. It is, St. Vincent de Paul said, “a pure desire to become pleasing to God and helpful to our neighbor”. [CCD XII:250] Zeal, then, requires first our own interior conversion, and then our concrete action.
As the first Rule explained, we must always serve the needs of the poor without regard to whether they are Christian. Even if they are “impious” we should always to speak to them in a way that makes them comfortable, for it is “by charitable gifts that we prepare the way for spiritual benefits.” [Rule, 1835, Intro]
Similarly, St. Vincent once advised his missioners “show no apparent difference in your treatment of Catholics and Huguenots, so that the latter may know you love them in God.” [CCD VIII:209] It should be noted that the Huguenots were a Calvinist sect that was fanatically opposed to the Catholic Church, going so far as to kill priests and to destroy churches and relics. Yet Vincent’s advice was to seek their conversion by being “more reserved in their presence, more humble and devout toward God, and more charitable toward your neighbor so that they may see the beauty and holiness of our religion and be moved to return to it.” [Ibid]
We evangelize through our works, “through our witness to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love.” [Rule, Part I, 1.2] As Pope St. Paul VI explained, the Gospel must above all be proclaimed by the witness of our own devotion and action:
“Through this wordless witness these Christians stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? Why are they in our midst? Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one.” [Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21]
Zeal, of course, is a necessary part of the evangelical nature of our charitable works. After all, the challenge our founders answered in 1833 was to “show the good of the church in the world”. Distressed by the attacks on the church, Frédéric proposed bearing witness through action, as a group of friends “who would work as well as talk, and who would thus, by showing the vitality of their faith, affirm its truth.” [Baunard, 65]
As we seek to grow in holiness, we seek also to draw others to Christ, by demonstrating our faith through our works.
If you were accused of being Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
The Rule, Part I