ZEAL FOR THE SALVATION OF SOULS
St. Augustine says that the zeal for the salvation of souls, and for the growth of Divine charity in the souls of men, springs from love. He, then, the Saint adds, that has not zeal shows he does not love God, and he that loves not God is lost. “If you wish to honour God,” says St. Laurence Justinian, “you cannot do better than labour for the salvation of souls.” “Give me ten zealous priests,” St. Philip Neri used to say, “and I will convert the world.” What did not a St. Francis Xavier do single handed in the East? What did not a St. Patrick, a St. Vincent Ferrer do in Europe? God wishes priests to be the very saviours of the world.*
*St. Patrick was another St. Paul in apostolic zeal for souls. In his famous Confession, which he wrote before his death, he prays: “Wherefore may it never happen to me from my God that I should ever lose his people whom He hath purchased at the ends of the earth … And if I ever accomplished anything good for the sake of my God Whom I love, I ask Him to grant me that I may shed my blood … for His Name’s sake, even though I should want for burial, or my corpse be most miserably divided limb from limb for the dogs and wild beasts, or the birds of the air should devour it.”
To understand how ardently God desires the salvation of souls, it is enough to consider what He has done for the redemption of man. Jesus Christ clearly expressed this desire when He said: I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished! (Luke xii. 50). Jesus felt as if fainting away through the ardour with which He longed to see the work of the Redemption accomplished, so that men might be saved. From this St. John Chrysostom justly infers that there is nothing more acceptable to God than the salvation of souls. And before him St. Justin had said that nothing is so pleasing to God as to labour to make others better. Our Lord once said to a holy priest: “Labour for the salvation of sinners, for this is most pleasing to Me.” So dear is this work to God that as Clement of Alexandria says, the salvation of man is God’s sole concern. Hence, addressing a priest, St. Laurence Justinian says: “If you wish to honour God you can do no better than to labour for the salvation of souls.” According to St. Bernard, a soul is more valuable in the eyes of God than the whole world. And, according to St. John Chrysostom, you please God more by converting a single soul, than by giving all your goods to the poor. Tertullian asserts that the salvation of one sheep that has strayed is as dear as that of the whole flock. St. Paul wrote: I live in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and delivered himself for me. (Gal. ii. 20). By these words is signified, as St. John Chrysostom says, that Jesus Christ would have died as soon for a single soul as for all men. And this Our Lord gives us to understand by the Parable of the Lost Groat. “He calls together all the Angels,” says St. Thomas, “not that men, but that He Himself may be congratulated, as if man were God’s God, and His own Divine salvation depended on man; and as if without man He could not be happy.”
Alas, my Jesus, my Redeemer, how few there are who have the true Faith! O God, the greater part of mankind lies buried in the darkness of infidelity and heresy! Thou didst humble Thyself to death, even to the death of the Cross, for the salvation of men, and these very men ungratefully refuse to know Thee. Ah, I beseech Thee, Almighty God, supreme and Infinite Good, make Thyself known, make Thyself loved by all men.
Zeal, as St. Augustine says, springs from love, and, therefore, according to St. John Chrysostom, God can have no better proof of our fidelity and affection than our zeal for the welfare of our neighbour. The Saviour three times asked St. Peter if he loved Him: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? (Jo. xxi. 17). When assured of Peter’s love, Jesus Christ asked him for nothing else in proof of his love than to take care of souls: He said to him: Feed my sheep. (Jo. xxi. 17). St. John Chrysostom says: “The Lord might have said: If you love Me, cast away your money, fast, macerate yourself with labours. But no; He says Feed my sheep.”
After reading the Lives of the Martyrs and of the holy workers in God’s vineyard, St. Teresa said that she envied these latter more than the former on account of the great glory they that labour for the salvation of sinners give to God. St. Catharine of Sienna used to kiss the ground trodden by priests who were engaged in saving souls. And such was her zeal for the salvation of sinners that she desired to be placed at the mouth of hell, that no soul might enter that abode of torments. And what are we doing? We see so many souls perishing and shall we remain idle spectators of their perdition?
St. Paul said that to obtain the salvation of his neighbours he would have consented to be separated for a time from Jesus Christ: For I wished myself to be anathema from Christ for my brethren. (Rom. ix. 3). St. Bonaventure declared he would have accepted as many deaths as there were sinners in the world that all might be saved. St. Ignatius used to say that he would rather live uncertain of his own eternal lot than die with a certainty of salvation, provided he could continue to assist souls. St. Augustine teaches: Animam salvasti.; animam tuam praedestinasti. By saving the soul of another, you have predestined your own. And St. James has written: He must know that he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his (own) soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins. (James v. 20).
Jesus once said to the Venerable Seraphina de Capri: “Assist Me, O my daughter, to save souls by your prayers.” To St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi He said: “See, Magdalen, how Christians are in the hands of the devil. Unless My elect by their prayers deliver them, they shall be devoured.” Hence the Saint said to her Religious: “My sisters, God has not separated us from the world only for our own good, but also for the benefit of sinners.” And, on another occasion, she said: “We have to render an account of so many souls lost. Had we recommended them to God with fervour, they would not, perhaps, be damned.”
O my Lord Jesus Christ, how can I thank Thee enough for calling me to do the same work Thou didst Thyself on earth; namely, to help with my poor efforts in the salvation of souls. How have I deserved this honour after having offended Thee so grievously and been the cause of others also offending Thee? I will serve Thee with all my strength. Behold, I offer Thee all my labour, and even my blood, to obey Thee. I desire nothing but to see Thee loved by all as Thou deservest.
Most holy Mary, my advocate, who lovest souls so much, assist me.