In these Lenten columns, I am trying to study the Gospels and reflect more deeply on the human character of Jesus Christ — his priorities and concerns, his way of thinking, feeling, and acting.
I hope that together we can learn this habit of reading the Gospels with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to help us to know the person of Jesus that we meet in these pages and enter into the mysteries of his life. Always, in reading “about” Jesus, we want to pray to “become” Jesus — to have his mind and his heart, to do what he would do.
We have considered his humility and his tender mercy toward sinners. This week, we look at his desire to bring salvation to others, what earlier generations of spiritual writers called his “zeal for souls.”
Jesus gave everything he had in his ministry, without limit and with no thought of himself.
The Gospels in several places tell us that he was hungry and thirsty and weary from his journey. Even when he wanted to rest, it seemed the crowds would not let him, and his love drove him to keep going, teaching and feeding them.
Jesus lived with a burning desire for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. We see his compassion, his excitement to share God’s love, on every page of the Gospels.
I love the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He was one of so many whom the righteous and religious leaders of the time had written off as a “sinner,” not worthy of their ministry or concern.
Jesus sees something else in Zacchaeus — a lost soul in need of salvation, a sinner waiting to hear the call to become a saint.
For Jesus, every soul matters, every soul is precious. He does not want even one to be lost.
His love is passionate and personal. He weeps for Jerusalem, he is moved to pity for the crowds who feel troubled and abandoned. He is the Good Shepherd who leaves his flock to go off in search of the one lost sheep.
We need to develop in our hearts his same love, his same burning desire to bring others to salvation.
Zeal for souls is Christian love in action. Love desires what is good for the other. And there is no greater good that we could share with someone than the love of God and his promise of salvation.
We live in a culture of radical individualism, and this can lead us to think that we should just leave other people alone, stay in our own lane or tend our own patch, as the expressions go.
Too many of us, I fear, have adopted a “privatized” kind of faith, a faith that is turned inward, self-centered, without much concern for the salvation of others.
That is not how Jesus lived and that is not how he wants us to live.
Jesus asked Saint Peter three times if he loved him. When Peter said yes, Jesus told him three times to prove his love by caring for the souls of others.
Jesus puts this same question to you and me. Do we have a deep concern for the salvation of our loved ones and neighbors? Are we praying and working every day to bring people closer to God?
If there are 100 people in our lives, Jesus wants us to be concerned for the salvation of everyone, with no excuses and no exceptions.
For Jesus there is no one who is unworthy, no one who does not deserve another chance. He desires everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Even on the cross, he was working to save the soul of the good thief.
That is a high standard for us to follow, but it is absolutely important. We need to pray and work for the salvation of every sinner — even the enemies of the Church, even those who commit or cooperate in the gravest evils.
Zeal for souls does not mean we should be aggressive, pushing our faith on others or wearing our beliefs on our sleeves.
Sharing the love you feel as a child of God should be as natural as breathing. A smile that is sincere, a willingness to listen, to try to understand what others are thinking or feeling, a cheerful attitude, a hopeful conversation. These are all good beginnings.
And remember, we are only instruments. Do everything you can for the glory of God and the salvation of souls — and Jesus will do the rest.
This week as we continue on our Lenten journey, pray for me and I will pray for you.
And let us ask the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, to increase our zeal for souls.