Thursday, June 08, 2006

Alter Christus - A Burning Zeal for Souls

This is one of the virtues recommended to the priest by the Holy Father. His pressing exhortation, one of the most stirring pages of the encyclical, is like a clarion-call to strenuous action: zeal must be a consuming fire, - coming from the burning Heart of Jesus, - fanned in us by the sight of perishing multitudes, - driving us to the utter dedication of our life to an intense apostolate.


The Sacred Heart of Jesus is the main source of ardent zeal for the priest. He must "take flame from that heavenly fire that burns in the Heart of Jesus; that fire that seeks only to inflame apostolic hearts and through them cast fire on all the earth. Like the zeal of Jesus. . . the zeal of the priest for the glory of God and the salvation of souls ought to consume him" (Encyclical).

To get, then, in us that consuming fire, we must make the Heart of Jesus the constant object of our meditation: study in His life the manifestations of His love for men, from the Incarnation to the Last Supper and to Calvary; ponder over the moving utterances in which He revealed His ardent longing for the salvation of all; treasure up, as addressed to us, the universal mission He gave His apostles to bring all men to the true fold.

Still more directly productive of that zeal in us will be the constant endeavour to live united to Christ, so that we may share the very feelings of His Sacred Heart: by every means that makes us grow in sanctifying grace (our bond of union with Him); most of all by intimate contact with the Euchar­istic Heart of Jesus, in holy Mass and Communion, in visits to the Blessed Sacrament; by frequuent and loving remembrance of Him, even in the midst of our active ministry: "Christum habitare per fidem in cordibus vestris".

* Do I detect in my zeal that characteristic of a burning fire?

If I have reason to lament the coldness of my zeal, is it not because I fail to keep close to the "Fornax ardens caritatis" in meditations, reading of the Gospels, in my cult of the holy Eucharist?

Let me (as another Christ) not frustrate the designs and longings of the Sacred Heart: "I have come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?"


The fire of our zeal must be fanned constantly by the sad plight of multitudes sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. How appealingly the Holy Father emphasizes this! "The Good Shepherd said: 'And other sheep I have that are not of this fold; them also I must bring', and again, 'See the countries for they are white to the harvest'. How can a priest meditate upon these words and not feel his heart enkindled with yearning to lead souls to the Heart of the Good Shepherd? How can he fail to offer himself to the Lord of the harvest for unremitting toil? Our Lord saw the multitudes 'lying like sheep that have no shepherd' . .. How can a priest see such multitudes and not feel within himself an echo of that divine pity which so often moved the Heart of the Son of God? - a priest, We say, who is conscious of possessing the words of life and of having in his hands the God-given means of regeneration and salvation." (Enc.)

This applies with special force to us here, in these mission lands. We need not be told that the greater part of mankind still ignores God and Christ whom He has sent: we see it around us. And of those within the fold we know from daily experience how weak and faltering many are in their faith. The danger is lest we become gradually indifferent to what is so familiar to us: we remain unmoved and cold at what filled the Heart of Jesus with pity and compassion.

* Am I really feeling an apostolic anguish at the paganism that surrounds me, at the weakness in faith of so many Christians?

Let me stir up my spirit of faith: Christ has shed His blood for each one of those souls; He has made me His priest that I may be the instrument of their salvation.

Seek always to grow in my love of them, even as Christ has loved them, so that I may say after St Paul: "Testis est Deus quomodo cupiam omnes vos in visceribus Christi".


If the priest's zeal is indeed burning like a fire, it will con­sume all selfish preoccupations, "make him forget himself and all earthly things", it will "powerfully urge him to dedicate himself utterly to his sublime work, and to search out means ever more effective for an apostolate ever wider and better" (Enc.).

Who can fail to see the urgency of such an all-absorbing, wide-awake activity for the priests in the world of today and of tomorrow? They are, and will be more and more, "engaged in the peaceful but bitter warfare of truth against error, of light against darkness, of the Kingdom of God against the kingdom of Satan" (Enc.).

Piety is indispensable, but not enough; indeed, without zeal it is scarcely genuine. Cf. the severe words of Michonneau: "How can we call a man who lacks the passion for souls a 'good priest', a 'holy priest' simply because he is regular and punctual and has a soothing way of judging all things - so soothing indeed that he soothes within himself those problems which should make his heart bleed and haunt his sleep? . . . Such a priest may be faithful to all his spiritual exercises; but his spiritual life is not real contact with God; it is mere ritualism, material fidelity to a schedule of practices and duties. . . His is an impoverished and shallow spirituality, where the caritas Christi urget nos has no place - a spirituality that is not priestly."

* Let me examine seriously what my apostolic activity amounts to. Is it truly all-absorbing: not cramped by other pursuits foreign to my priestly mission, by selfish attachment to ease and comfort, by pusillanimous fear of difficulties and failures?

Does it make me fervent and generous in prayers and sacrifices for souls, eager and prompt to seize all oppor­tunities to bring them to Christ, ready to adapt my apostolate to changing circumstances and needs?

Am I determined to give myself no rest as long as I have strength to spend myself for souls? "Me oportet operari opera ejus qui misit me, donec dies est."

Adapted from Alter Christus, Meditations for Priests
by F.X. L'Hoir, S.J. (1958)
Meditation 6.

Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood.

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