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Zeal is one of those words that human wisdom warns us to use carefully these days. It’s close to zealot and extremist, which are considered the root of the many evils plaguing our society. In the runup to this presidential election, extremist is the label almost everyone likes to apply to their opponents. Of course, extreme, fringe, or radical don’t say anything about the beliefs of a person or group. They are ad hominem—attacks on a person rather than an encounter with their arguments, much less the person. 

However, the word zeal means passion, enthusiasm, aliveness. If we are honest with ourselves, in whatever side we take in religious or political matters, we should be full of zeal. In his sermon “Christian Zeal,” St. John Henry Newman teaches us that zeal is a signature mark of belonging to Christ and we have much work to do in cultivating and tempering this virtue.

Here’s how Newman describes Christian zeal:

  • “One of the elementary religious qualifications; that is, one of those which are essential in the very notion of a religious man.”
  • A disposition of “earnest desire for God’s honour, leading to strenuous and bold deeds in His behalf.”
  • “A religious temper is one of loyalty towards God … to be loyal is not merely to obey; but to obey with promptitude, energy, dutifulness, disinterested devotion, disregard of consequences.”

A husband who loves his wife is loyal and faithful to her. A mother who cares for her daughter wants the best for her. Friends are said to do anything for one another—in fact, that’s how we tell who our real friends are. We should have the same zeal, and even more, for our Father in heaven in Whom we live and move and have our being. God Himself is a jealous God Who chastened His people throughout the Old Testament for being unfaithful to Him by chasing after other gods. It’s one of the great ironies and tragedies of our faith that God, Who doesn’t need us, desires us beyond our understanding; and we who need God for every breath often don’t desire Him.

If we want to imitate Christ, we need to be zealous, as His own disciples see the Psalmist’s words applied to Him (“Zeal for Thy house has consumed Me”). In the Book of Revelation, the Lord judges those who are neither hot nor cold, telling them that because they are lukewarm He will ‘spit them out of His mouth.’ Zeal for God is not a personality trait but a virtue of faith and something “equally belonging to the young convert and the matured believer; displayed by Moses at the first, when he slew the Egyptian, and by St. Paul in his last hours, while he was reaching forth his hand for his heavenly crown,” Newman says.

But zeal needs faith to keep it in check because it “is very apt to be self-willed; it takes upon itself to serve God in its own way. This is evident from the very nature of it; for, in its ruder form, it manifests itself in sudden and strong emotions at the sight of presumption or irreverence, proceeding to action almost as a matter of feeling, without having time to inquire which way is best. Thus, when our Lord was seized by the officers, Peter forthwith ‘drew his sword, and struck a servant of the High Priest’s, and smote off his ear.’” Faith helps us act prudently, guiding us in choosing the means (in addition to the end) of our actions. 

Newman tells us zeal is a good and necessary co-worker, but a terrible boss. However, when love and faith perfect our zeal, we begin to look like the saints. “Moses ended his life as ‘the meekest of men,’ though he began it with undisciplined Zeal, which led him to a deed of violence.”

Zeal perfected by love and faith doesn’t look like zealotry. It doesn’t look like extremism, while unchecked it certainly does. We should pray for a holy zeal, but not one that lacks the charity we should have for our neighbors. This is undeniably hard. It’s much easier to be aggressively zealous or indifferent and cowardly. In our political and social opinions, it’s easier to either attack our opponents or fall silent. Christ calls us to something entirely different: passionate loyalty to His name, truth and justice, and at the same time prudence in speaking and acting, and trust that He is in control. 

May God grant us to grow in these virtues and in the joy of imitating our Lord in each and every way.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

The true light of Christ’s divinity was made visible to the Apostles at the Transfiguration.

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What is the doctrine of the Trinity? The Athanasian Creed, in common use around the sixth century, formulates it this way: "We worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity, without either confusing the persons or dividing the substance; for the person of the Father is one, the Son's is another, the Holy Spirit's another; but the Godhead of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal."

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About Cardinal John Henry Newman

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A Guide to John Henry Newman will interest educated readers and professors alike, and serve as a text for college seminars for the purpose of studying Newman.

Review by Catherine Maybanks
(Catholic Herald, April 1, 2023)

Review by Serenheed James
(Antiphon, April 2023)

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Fr Peter Conley takes us on an exciting journey into the spirituality and inner life of Saint John Henry Newman.
 

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Endorsement by Neyra Blanco (Amazon)
I bought this book for my son and he loved it, he wrote this review and urged my to submitted: “I think this book has a very beautiful message, because it shows how the young Newman was so determined to achieve his dream of becoming a priest, but even after his dream he continued to work in the church with passion until the day he died, it’s so admirable that even Newman so old and so weak still had that urge to continued his work of being a priest. And the book is well written with words not too complicated with very enjoyable texts and well illustrated pictures. I highly recommend this book for a 5th grader.  

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What is a Classical Liberal Arts Education? Why is it so important for the development of a person?

Fr. Juan R. Vélez answers these and more questions you might have about University Education in the 21st century. This book is aimed for parents, prospective University students, and educators. It will help you discern why adding Liberal Arts electives to your education will help it form it better, and help the student learn to reason, and not just learn.

He also explains how many Universities have changed the true meaning of Liberal Arts, and the subjects, and gives advise on how to choose College Campus, Subjects, and Teachers.

A wonderful book that every parent should also read way before your children are College bound. A Liberal Arts education can start earlier in life, even from home.

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Endorsement by Christopher Moellering (Goodreads, September 14, 2019)
In Passion for Truth Fr. Vélez gave us an outstanding biography of Cardinal Newman. In this work, he provides a concise overview of his thought and his devotion. This is a great work for someone who, perhaps hearing of Newman for the first time because of his beatification 13 October, 2019, wants to know more about this English saint.Vélez is a wonderful writer in his own right, and the frequent quotations from Newman round out the work nicely. I especially appreciated the frequent citing of Newman’s Meditations and Devotions, which show a different side of his spirituality than his more well-known works, Development of Christian Doctrine and the Grammar of Assent.

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Take Five: Meditations with John Henry Newman, endorsement by Illow M. Roque (Amazon, September 3, 2010)
“There is a time to put direct inquiry on hold and give ourselves to prayer and practical duties.” Sound advice from one of the earlier, thought-provoking reminders in this sparkling gem of a book: Take Five | Meditations with John Henry Newman, written by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Juan R. Vélez and published by Our Sunday Visitor. This particular paragraph, referenced above, which begins with a direct quote from soon-to-be canonized priest, cardinal and poet, John Henry Newman: “Study is good, but it gets us only so far . . .” is actually the 15th in a series of 76 concise, logically organized meditations moving from the elementary to the sublime. Each meditation–one per page–is built upon the great man’s writings and remarkably rich spirituality. Whether taken whole in one reading or in part page-by-page over a course of weeks and months, these wonderfully insightful meditations will open up, even to the busiest reader in the midst of the world, a unique pathway into prayer and contemplation. My advice to spiritual inquirers at all levels, from the novice to the spiritually adept, is to follow the authors’ recommendation to use this book as a guide for daily prayer and meditation. The structure of the book itself is ideal: first, the authors introduce us to Cardinal Newman, the man, where we are given the opportunity to get to know him through a brief sketch of his life and spirituality at the beginning of the book. This is something readers will likely find themselves referring to again and again, prompting many, I suspect, to even wider explorations of this most gifted Christian leader. Then comes the meditations, consisting of a short summary of Newman’s thoughts on subjects taken, as the authors explain, from various salient points for which Newman is justly remembered: The pursuit of objective religious truth; Teaching on the Virtues; Defense of the Catholic Church; A devout spiritual and moral life; and Generosity and loyalty in his friendships, which sets the topic and tone for each meditation to follow. Each meditation consists of an excerpt taken from Newman’s thirty-plus volumes of writings and diaries. Next comes three brief and extremely useful sections entitled: “Think About It,” which establishes a prayerfully resonant tone throughout the book; “Just Imagine,” which provides a vivid, prayerful experience of the Scriptures that tie in, and finally, “Remember,” a pithy summation which the authors suggest may be used as a daily aspiration. Each meditation is given its own page, which makes it ideal for daily reflection for readers on the go. This book is a must have for every serious Catholic who wants to take their faith to the next level, which is to respond appropriately to the universal call to holiness and seek interior union with God.
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