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Letter XI.—Intemperate Zeal.
To the same person. On intemperate and indiscreet zeal.
I see, my dear Sister, that a mistaken zeal exposes you to dangers all the more serious because they are hidden under the most insidious appearances. Desire for the perfection of our neighbour is, doubtless, very good; the pain that is felt interiorly at the sight of his defects is good also, provided it proceeds from a pure desire for his perfection, But with all this there must needs be mingled much secret self-complacency, confidence in one’s own superior light, and severity towards one’s neighbour. Zeal such as this cannot, you must well understand, come from God; it is an illusion of the devil, hurtful to yourself and to others. However, the evil can be easily cured provided you are sincere enough, and submissive enough to recognise the gravity of it, and to apply the remedy. That which I am about to offer you has already produced a very happy result in a soul which was subject to the same illusion. Let us hope it will not be less efficacious in your case.
I advise you, therefore, and command you in the most sacred name of Jesus Christ, and that of His divine Mother, never more to think of practising the virtue of zeal as long as this prohibition is not expressly removed. I exculpate you before God absolutely, and I take upon myself the responsibility of all the ill consequences that may result from this prohibition. If you should get scruples about it, and the devil should put in your mind that you could do some good or avert some evil, say to God, “My God, although charity is the queen of virtues, I may not practise this zeal until You have made me able to do so without detriment to the charity I owe to others and to myself. When I am found to be sufficiently strong, or rather sufficiently humble, to exercise zeal without disturbing the peace of my soul, and with all possible sweetness, compassion, and thoughtfulness for my neighbour, and a helpfulness, kindness and charity which nothing can embitter, a charity which is scandalised at nothing but its own shortcomings; with all that patience and long-suffering which enables one tranquilly to endure the defects of others, and for as long as You will suffer them, Oh, my God; and when I am neither troubled, nor uneasy, nor astonished that others are incorrigible, then this prohibition will be removed, and I shall be able to think that I can glorify You in my neighbour. But until then, Oh, my God, I must exercise my zeal on myself, in the correction of my numerous defects.”
In fact, my very dear Sister, when humility has dug that deep foundation indispensable to every virtue, I shall be the first to urge you to resume the practice of zeal; until then think only of yourself. Remember that God, to punish those who have practised this indiscreet zeal, and to correct them, has often allowed them to fall into much graver faults than those which has scandalised them in others.
In the second place I command you never to speak of God, or of anything good, unless in a spirit of humility and meekness, in an amiable and gracious manner, with moderation and encouragement, and never with bitterness and severity, or in a way to wound and repel those who hear you, because, although you may only say what is in the Gospel and in the best books, I believe that in your present state of mind you might say it very badly and in such a way as only to do harm. Did not Satan make use of the words of Holy Scripture to tempt our Lord? Truth is the proper relation of things. It is changed when pushed to extremes, or wrongly applied. Your peevish temper is like a smoked glass, which, if you do not take care will prevent you seeing things in their true light, or showing them to others. Keep always on your guard against this fatal influence, and feed your mind on thoughts and feelings that are contrary to those inspired by temper. Entertain yourself and others with conversations on the infinite goodness of God, and on the confidence we ought to have in Him. Compel yourself to offer an example in your whole conduct, of a virtue that has no bounds, and which imposes no restraint on others. If you have nothing kind to say keep silent, and leave the care of deciding to others. They can avoid better than you too much laxness, and will be exact without being severe. If exactitude be praiseworthy, severity is blamable, it does nothing but revolt people instead of convincing them, and embitter their souls instead of gaining them. As much as true meekness, with the help of God, has power to repel evil and to win to good, so much has an excessive harshness power to make goodness difficult and evil incurable. The first is edifying, the latter, destructive.
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